Regular Home Examination of Pets Can Save Lives

Too often a pet’s illness goes undetected until it gets to a critical point then you have rush vet visits and bills and treatments. If you take the time to perform weekly home examinations of your pet and learn what to look for, you may be able to detect potential problems early enough to take care of them before they get to a critical point. It’s not that difficult if you follow some basic guidelines.

There is much when it comes to your pet’s health that you can not only check, but treat at home.  Armed with the proper knowledge there are many home and natural remedies that you can employ to care for your pet.

Get comfortable in examining your pet. He should be fine with letting you put your fingers in his mouth or brushing his hair to feel for lumps. The first thing that you have to be familiar with is what is normal.

Vital Statistics: Pulse and Heart Rate

Normal resting rates:
Cats: 150-200 bpm
Small dogs: 90-120 bpm
Medium dogs: 70-110 bpm
Large dogs: 60-90 bpm

Pulse should be strong, regular and easy to locate.

Checking the pulse

The easiest place to locate a pulse is the femoral artery in the groin area. Place your fingers on the inside of the hind leg and slide your hand upward until the back of your fingers touches the abdomen. Gently move your fingers back and forth on the inside of the hind leg until you feel the pulsing blood.

Count the number of pulses in 15 seconds and multiply that number by 4. This will give you the beats per minute (bpm).


A normal dog’s temperature is 101 F (38.0 C), and a normal cat’s temperature is 102 F (38.5 C). Taking your pet’s temperature involves placing a thermometer in their rectum. If your pet has a temperature of 103.5 F (39.5 C) or more, they have a fever.

Thermometer should be almost clean when removed. Abnormalities are indicated by blood, diarrhea, or black, tarry stool.

The Eyes

The surface of the eye (cornea) should be clear. The middle of the eye (pupil) should respond to light. You can shine a light into your pets’ eyes and see the pupil constrict. The right and left pupils should be equal size.

The pink tissue around the eye is called the conjunctiva. It is normally a light pink color. In infections it becomes a darker pink and the eyes will produce a white or greenish discharge.There are a number of home remedies to treat conjunctivitis.

The Ears

Your pet should not be shaking their head; if they do there may be an ear infection.

The outside of the ear (pinna) should be a light pink and palpate as being flat. Any thickening could indicate an ear infection, allergy or a blood blister in the ear (aural hematoma).

The inside of the ear (ear canal) should be easy to see and free of discharge. A small amount of light yellow discharge is probably normal wax. Any foul smelling odor indicates an infection. A yellowy discharge often indicates a yeast infection. Hard black debris in your cats’ ears likely indicates ear mites. If debris and odor are present, then clean your pets’ ears.


Check for any signs of discharge from the right or left nostril. The occasional clear discharge is normal for some pets, but ongoing discharge indicates a problem, such as an allergy.

Your pet may benefit from a hypoallergenic diet, which can be bought commercially. Alternatively, you can use an at-home diet you make yourself. Whatever food you choose, it must be fed for 12 weeks.

If after 12 weeks your pet it still scratching, then she probably doesn’t have a food allergy.

The Mouth

Examine the outside of your pets’ mouth first. The base of the chin can become infected in cats with a condition called feline acne. The lips should appear smooth and have no signs of inflammation.

Pay close attention to lip folds in the large breed dogs with lots of extra skin. If saliva accumulates, then wipe the area with a medicated antiseptic such as Hibitane.

Lift up your pets lips and examine their teeth. The gums should appear a healthy light pink color (except in breeds such as Chows with dark pigment). Pay close attention to the area where the teeth begin.

Inflamed gums appear a darker red and may even bleed if you touch them. This is a sign of gingivitis and may mean your pet needs a dental cleaning.

The Neck

Palpate the base of the jaw and the beginning of the neck. In this area you can feel the corner of the bottom jaw (mandible). Here you should be able to feel the submandibular lymph nodes and parotid salivary gland. In a healthy pet, most of the time you won’t feel anything in this area.

Any lymph node swelling is serious, so have your veterinarian look for the causes of the swelling. It is very important to catch the signs early. Your pet may benefit from some immune stimulation.

The Larynx and Thyroid Gland

The last area of the neck to focus on is your pets Adams Apple (larynx). Feel for your pets’ airway with your thumb and forefinger. Move your hand along the windpipe (trachea) until you feel the large firm cartilage in the middle of the neck. This is the larynx. In palpation you should find that with mild pressure your pet shows no discomfort and doesn’t cough.

In cats pay close attention to the area around the larynx as this is where the thyroid gland sits. In cats with hyperthyroidism the gland is enlarged and often palpable. If your cat is 10 years and older you should regularly check the thyroid gland and if it is enlarged, have your veterinarian screen for hyperthyroidism. There are some things you can do at-home for your hyperthyroid cat.

The Skin

The skin is the largest organ of your pets’ body and reflective of what is going on in the body. Regularly brush your pet looking for fleas, lice or ticks. The hair coat should be soft and shiny.

If you are seeing areas of excessive shedding in your pet then you may be dealing with certain skin conditions such as mange, ringworm, hypothyroid disease or allergies.

If your pet has areas of hair missing around the face that are not itchy, then he may have a type of mange called Demodex. This small parasite shows up in pets with depressed immune systems. One very safe, effective treatment is Vitamin E given at 400IU per 40lbs, once daily for 3-4 weeks.

Take note of any palpable lumps or bumps.

Lipomas (benign fatty tumors) commonly occur on the chest wall. If your dog has a soft moveable lump on her chest, then it is probably a fatty tumor.

Sebaceaous cysts are another common lump; they can often be distinguished by squeezing out a cheesy substance. They are also very soft. Lumps and bumps become more prevalent as your pet ages and their immune system weakens. The most important thing in helping your pet is having them on a premium quality diet and supplementing with additional antioxidants. The ones I suggest using are Vitamin E, Vitamin C and specific flavonoids.

Any lumps that are firm, rapidly growing, not easily moveable should be considered serious and examined by your veterinarian.

Evaluation of the Genital and Urinary System

In male dogs look at the sheath of the penis to ensure there is no abnormal discharge. This is more common in intact males, so an easy remedy is to have your dog neutered. In female dogs examine the vulva. A common problem is skin fold infections. These can be treated by washing the skin folds twice daily with an antiseptic such as Hibitane and applying a soothing cream such as Aloe Vera.

The urinary system is more difficult to evaluate, but there are some things you can do at home. Signs of a bladder infection are frequent urination, which may have blood and may be painful.

If you have a male cat, then it is imperative to determine that he is not completely blocked up. Using your thumb and other four fingers, palpate the entire lower abdomen. An obstructed bladder will feel like a firm distended balloon. If your male cat has this condition, it is an emergency and he must be treated by a veterinarian, IMMEDIATELY.

The most important way to deal with obstruction is to feed a diet higher in moisture. This is accomplished with canned food. Then depending on the type of crystal he has it is important to either acidify the urine (with struvite) or make the urine more alkaline (oxalate crystals). An easy way to acidify the urine is to raise the meat protein level. Making the urine more alkaline involves decreasing the protein level and adding a supplement, potassium citrate.


In this part of the exam we focus on the muscles and bones that help your pet move. Starting at the neck, run your hand along the spine to the base of the tail. Feel the muscles on both sides of the spine and notice if any feel unusually firm or knotted.

Pets can get a variety of conditions that will lead to muscle spasms in their back muscles.

Massage any tight muscles and take note of the area. A common condition in active dogs is to develop fusing of the spine (spondylosis). This can lead to decreased mobility, pinched vertebrae and back pain. Your pet will benefit from regular massage of the lower lumbar spinal muscles.


A common problem for pets is vomiting and diarrhea. Any vomiting pet must be evaluated for dehydration. If your pet is profusely vomiting (i.e. every few hours), then they are becoming dehydrated and need veterinary care. If your pet is still consuming water and occasionally vomiting, then you can try some home remedies.

Diarrhea can be caused by a number of different things, from garbage, to parasites, to infectious agents (such as parvovirus). Most cases of diarrhea respond to symptomatic treatment at home.

The Heart

Your pets heart is easiest palpated on the left side of the chest at the 3rd, 4th and 5th rib space. This is located directly behind the left armpit.

Place your hand over the heart to feel it beating. You should be able to count the number of heart beats in one minute.

Normal resting rates:

Cats: 150-200 bpm
Small dogs: 90-120 bpm
Medium dogs: 70-110 bpm
Large dogs: 60-90 bpm

Listen to the heart by placing your ear directly over it. You should be able to hear a quiet “lub/dub”. In some pets with heart problems you can actually hear a heart murmur. This sounds like a swish; at times you can actually feel a sensation with your hand (in veterinary terms this is called a precordial shrill).

If you suspect a heart murmur, have it confirmed by your veterinarian. Discuss treatment options, for there are some new effective conventional medications. But there are some things you can do at home.


The lungs provide the oxygen to your red blood cells that allow our bodies to function. In evaluating the lungs, stand back and watch your pet breath.

Normal respirations are only with slight rises and falls of the chest. The rate is quite low, 10-30 per minute.

Put your ears over the chest and listen to the lung sounds. They should be clear. Listen on both sides of the chest.

Any cracking is abnormal. This may indicate fluid in the chest, which is common in heart disease.

The Airways

Put moderate pressure in the airway (trachea) located just below the larynx (Adams Apple). Coughing indicates a problem.

A common one in small dogs is due to a condition called Tracheal Collapse (the airway collapses in on itself).

There are a number of home remedies for coughing.

Checking the pulse and evaluating blood pressure

Evaluate your pet’s blood pressure by palpating their pulse.

The best spot to do this is on the inside of the back leg (thigh). Place your three middle fingers across the middle of your pets inside thigh and apply moderate pressure. Here you are feeling the femoral artery. This is more difficult in small dogs and cats.

Count the number of pulses in 15 seconds and multiply that number by 4. This will give you the beats per minute (bpm).

Normal resting rates, again:

Cats: 150-200 bpm
Small dogs: 90-120 bpm
Medium dogs: 70-110 bpm
Large dogs: 60-90 bpm

The pulse should be strong and regular. In some conditions, the pulse can be too strong (high blood pressure).

This is a common condition in cats with kidney failure. If this is the case, then your pet must be seen by a veterinarian, who may check for diseases that can cause elevated blood pressure.

Mucous Membrane Color

This refers to the normal pink color of your pets’ gums. Lift up your pets lips and examine the gums. They are normally a light pink color, although this is difficult to tell in breeds with dark pigmented gums.

Assess your pets’ blood pressure by measuring capillary refill time. Press your index finger on the gums and count the time it takes for the pink color to return. Three seconds or less is normal.

Greater than three seconds suggest low blood pressure, as is seen in cases of blood loss. In cases of bleeding your pet may become anemic. This is seen by the gums becoming a paler color, and at times even white. In this situation it is first important to have your veterinarian determine the cause of the anemia, but there are things that you can do at home.

For more on home diagnoses and treatment, just CLICK HERE!

Posted in Article, Health, Tips.


  1. Pingback: Taking the Time to Learn How to Examine Your Pet at Home | Article | Current Dog News, Tips and Information for You and Your Canine Companion

  2. This was a useful page, my cat has hair missing from around just outside his lip area. I’m likely going to have to go to the vet.

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