You are probably already familiar with the importance of regularly checking your dog for new lumps or bumps during routine brushing or cuddle time. But only some parents think to familiarize themselves with how their dog looks, feels or usually smells.
A bump may be obvious, but do you know what your dog’s ears normally smell like? The shade of pink or the colour of their gums? How warm their ears are when resting?
Knowing your dog’s ‘normal’ or typical condition is essential for two reasons. It can help you identify when something ISN’T normal. This is helpful when they aren’t quite themselves and want to determine if you should monitor them. And it is crucial when assessing whether you need to go to the vet.
Being familiar with your dog will also prevent those moments when you notice something ‘for the first time’ and wonder, “Is it normally like that?” Apart from the stress, it can also make us feel silly when we don’t know something as commonplace as the regular colour of our dog’s gums.
The Four Parts of Your Dog’s Body That You Should Be Familiar With
If one of your dog’s ears is warmer than usual, it can indicate an irritation specific to that ear. If both ears are warm, your dog may have a temperature or systemic inflammation.
A change in the colour of the underside of the flap or ear can also indicate an irritation or inflammation. A change in colour (a brighter pink or red) is often accompanied by increased temperature.
If you notice brown or black material in the ear folds, it could be ear mites.
A pungent or foul smell might indicate a yeast imbalance, an infection or mites. It is important to determine the cause so you can take appropriate action. Proper cleaning may be adequate in some cases, but drugs may be required. If this is a recurring issue, the cause may be systemic and diet and environment need to be addressed.
Puffiness or a hardened area can indicate either a hematoma or abscess. Both of these are painful conditions. A vet can determine which it is and recommend the appropriate treatment.
Even though we may spend a lot of time looking lovingly into our dog’s eyes, many people may not know how big their dog’s pupils are compared to the iris. Of course, the pupils should contract and expand in bright light and low light. But if this happens in regular light conditions, it may need your attention.
A release of hormones, such as adrenalin, can cause the pupils to dilate temporarily. This can happen during a fun play session. It can also occur when the dog is experiencing stress and is in ‘fight or flight’ mode. In this case, it’s best to step in and support your dog to help them out.
Pupil dilation can also occur for medical reasons. These include:
- eye conditions such as glaucoma, eye tumours or age-related conditions
- head trauma
- brain tumour
- ingestion of toxins
Prolonged dilation of the pupils is not normal. It can be an early indicator of a serious problem before other symptoms are present.
The pupils should also be free of clouding and be the same size.
Another part of the eye to monitor is the sclera – the white of the eye. Ideally, it should be white, not discoloured. Any visible blood vessels should be thin, not enlarged or dark. And finally, the mucous membrane around the eyes should be the same colour as their gums – pink, not white or red.
How does your dog’s tummy feel when you lightly palpate it? Do you know how it normally feels when empty and after meals? This will help you gauge if there is distention, bloating, or impaction. All of these require your attention. Bloat can be life-threatening if not dealt with immediately.
Regularly checking your dog’s weight will help you track whether food intake is appropriate. Calories fed versus activity and metabolism for the life stage must be balanced. This is especially important with young pups and growing adolescents or when there have been dietary changes.
Routinely checking by gently running your fingertips over your dog’s spine, hip bones, and ribcage will help you stay on top of any changes that need your attention before they become an issue.
When “Normal For Your Dog” Isn’t Normal
OK. This isn’t an actual separate body trait, but it deserves attention. Some dogs have conditions that are common or typical to them, but they are not ideal for the dogs. Examples include chronic itchiness, eye discharge, or a bad ‘doggy’ smell. These could be the signs of a chronic condition, such as a yeast infestation or allergy, and should be addressed.
It’s good to get in the habit of routine body checks during cuddle time, when cleaning paws or doing their nails. However, being familiar with the normal status of your dog’s ears, eyes, tummy, and weight will help you make informed decisions, be more proactive about their care and ensure their well-being.