How to recognise if your dog is healthy

'How to recognise if your dog is healthy' image

Vital signs

Here are a few tips and tricks about recognising normal healthy signs in your pet. Please remember that if your dog is ill you shouldn't wait around . Contact us immediately on ph: 01 272 3857 to make an appointment.



A healthy dogs breathes about 20-30 times a minute at rest. Puppies breathe faster than adult dogs. If a dog is panting you will not be able to count the respiration so wait until it is lying quietly.Watch your dog while it is calm and resting and count the respirations. The breathing should be even and regular and not laboured.


Measuring your dogs pulse will give an indication of its heart rate. Placing the ball of the finger over an artery and counting the pulse beat over a minute will give you the reading.

The best place to feel you pets pulse is the femoral artery, which lies inside the thigh in the groin. While your pet is relaxed put the ball of two fingers inside the thigh and feel the pulse. In some slim dogs you can also feel the heart beat if you place your finger over the heart behind the left elbow in a standing dog.

A normal dog pulse will vary according to the breed. Small breeds have a higher pulse of between 90-120 beats per minute while large dogs will have a pulse of between 60-90 beats per minute.


A normal dogs temperature is higher than ours being 38-39C. For obvious reasons most dogs hate having their temperatures taken so we don't recommend you check your pets temperature unless you are an experience dog owner or breeder

Puppies will have a slightly higher temperature than adult dogs. If your dog has diarrhoea or is overexcited you may also get a false high reading.

Colour of the gums

A healthy dog should have salmon pink gums. Some dogs have pigment on their gums so you may have to look at the insides of their eyes instead. The colour of the gums or eye lining gives a good indicator of your pets well being.

Lift the jowl and look at the gums. Press the gums with the ball of your finger - the gums should turn white briefly but return to normal pink colour within 2-3 seconds.

Healthy dog

  • Salmon pink gums
  • Return to normal colour within 2-3 seconds

If your dog is sick the gums can change colour

Pale pink gums: Your dog could be anaemic or have a circulatory problem. Gums also go pale when a dog is in shock like after a road traffic accident. When you press the gums the colour will be slow to return. Seek veterinary attention.

Blue tinged gums: This means your dog is not getting enough oxygen throughout circulation. This is usually caused by heart or chest problems or something blocking the airways. This is serious and should be checked immediately by a vet. Keep your pet cool and quiet.

Yellow gums: This is called jaundice. Dogs can get jaundice for a variety of reasons but the most common one is liver problems. It can also occur if you dog has not had its annual vaccination against Leptospirosis - a potentially fatal disease spread by rats. Your vet may need to do blood test to investigate this further.


Owners often think a wet nose means their pet is healthy. Unfortunately this is not a good indicator of health as many very sick dogs have wet noses and older dogs have dry noses. It is more important to look and see if there is any discharge form the nose.

Nasal discharge

  • Clear coloured - this could be an early sign of respiratory infection like kennel cough. It is not serious but your pet may need antibiotics. It can also occur if you dog has an allergy to pollen or house dust
  • Pus coloured - this means your pet has an infection so may need antibiotics.
  • Blood from the nose - if it is bleeding from just one nostril then it may have something like a grass seed up its nose. Often your pet will sneeze violently to try and expel it. Other cause of nosebleeds can be nasal tumours and fungal infections. Your vet will need to x-ray the nose to investigate this.


Eyes should be bright and clear. There should be no discharge from the eyes. The whites of the eyes (called the sclera) should be completely white with no red or yellow tinge.

Many breeds suffer from eye problems. Cocker spaniels, Sharpeis and St. Bernard's often have baggy eyes, which can make them suffer from recurrent eye infections.

Eye discharge

  • Clear white discharge - this could be caused by an allergy to pollen or dust mite
  • Pus discharge - this could be conjunctivitis or 'dry eye' ( lack of tear secretion)
  • Tear staining of the fur at the corner of the eye. This is common in certain breeds like white poodles and bichon fries and is cause by blocked tear ducts. The tear overflow causes the fur to stain a red brown colour.

How to give your pet eye treatment

  • Bathe the eye first with warm water and damp cotton wool
  • Lift the upper eyelid and apply a thin smear of eye ointment or eye drops according to your vet's instructions.
  • Close the eyelids and massage the eye to disperse the medication.
  • Never use medication that has been opened for longer than one month as it may be harmful for your pet


Lift the ear lobe and look into your pet's ear canal.

Healthy ear

  • No hairs blocking the opening to the ear - some breeds like poodles have very hairy ear canals, which should be plucked regularly.
  • No smell
  • No redness or inflammation
  • No discharge like pus, blood or excessive wax
  • No pain on examination


  •  Thick dried brown wax - this can be caused by ear mites or a yeast infection called Malassezia
  • Pus discharge - this can be due to bacterial infection and often carries a foul smell
  • Blood on the ear - this is usually due to the animal scratching its own ear due to an ear infection.

How to give your dog ear medication

Many dogs hate having their ears medicated so try and do it after a walk when you pet is more relaxed.

  • Encourage your dog to sit quietly
  • Lift up the ear lobe and locate the ear canal. Ask your vet to show you the correct place
  • Insert the nozzle in the ear canal aiming towards the nose. Squirt the correct amount of medication down the ear canal according to your vets instructions
  • Massage the ear well to disperse the medication
  • Give your dog a treat if he has been well behaved

Giving your dog a tablet

In the food

Ask your vet to prescribe a palatable tablet, which can be crushed and mixed with the food. If your dog is sly about avoiding the tablet in the food bowl crush the tablet into powder mix it with something sticky like butter or cream cheese and disguise it with a small part of your dog's dinner. Only feed him the rest when he has eaten the tablet.

Into the mouth

Get your dog to sit quietly and don't let it get stressed or excited. Open the mouth wide with one hand and with the other put the tablet right to the back of the tongue. Then shut the mouth and hold the dog's mouth closed with its head up slightly up and wait until you see it swallow. If the tablet slips to one side or doesn't get far back the your dog will easily spit it out.

If your dog is naughty hold the dog between your legs with your knees behind its shoulders so that it cannot escape or get a second person to restrain the dog for you. Small dogs can be wrapped in a blanket to stop them wriggling. At the practice we sell pill poppers which make it easier to pop the tablet to the back of the mouth.

Once your dog has taken the tablet always remember to give it lost of praise and even a food treat. That way it will learn to associate medication with reward.