1. Eyes: Healthy eyes are bright and shiny!
Besides the eye being beautifully bright and shiny the pink lining of the eyelids should not be inflamed or swollen. While a small amount of mucus and watery tears is normal, any yellow-green pus, a lot of watery eye discharge, or a sticky eye can all be signs of an eye problem. The whites of your dog's eyes should not be red or yellowish.
There are a number of potential causes for eye problems – and you need to see your vet to find out what is causing the problem, as how to put things right will differ depending on the cause. Your dog could have something in its eye, an infection or maybe some other problem. Eyes are very delicate and any problems can also be painful for your pet so the sooner you have it checked, the better
If you see brown ‘tear stains’ then it’s also worth checking with your vet. It can be a sign of too much tear production or problems with draining the tears away but it can mask something more serious.
So with any condition affecting the eye, it is best to get it checked out by your vet..
2. Skin and coat: Healthy skin is supple and smooth!
Regular stroking and grooming is not only a chance for some fun bonding time with your dog, it’s a chance to check out its skin and coat.
It is good to look out for scabs, lumps and bumps, white scurfy flakes or red areas, which are all potential warning signs. Your dog may have different colour skin tones – from pink to black and even a mixture of both – this is healthy and normal and just depends on the colour of its coat.
Check your dog for fleas, ticks, lice and other external parasites. The symptoms of fleas can vary from no visible signs to severe itching. This may involve scratching, or commonly chewing, the lower back or tail-base, sometimes rubbing the tail base against furniture. Close inspection can reveal either small black insects or more often tiny black dots which are flea faeces. Flea faeces can be identified by brushing your pet’s coat with a fine-toothed flea comb and placing the debris you collect on a wet piece of white paper. Flea faeces will dissolve in the water to produce brown / red swirls on the paper.
A healthy coat, whether short or long, is glossy and pliable, without dandruff, bald spots, or excessive greasiness.
Skin problems are probably the most common reason why dogs need to be taken to the vet – so if you spot any potential problem, make an appointment – early intervention can nip problems in the bud before your dog suffers and often, you can take measures to stop them recurring. There are also “over the counter” treatments available at your local pet shop. See our article about skin problems in dogs.
3. Ears: The skin inside your dog's healthy ears should be light pink and clean!
There may be some yellow or brownish wax which is normal, but a large amount of wax or crust is abnormal. There should be no redness or swelling inside the ear, and your dog shouldn't scratch his ears or shake his head frequently. If the ears begin to smell unpleasant, then that too is a sign something may be amiss.
Dogs with long, hairy ears, such as Cocker Spaniels, need extra attention to keep the ears dry and clean inside and out.
4. Mouth, Teeth, and Gums: Healthy gums are firm and pink, black or spotted, just like the dog's skin. The teeth should be shiny and white. Your dog’s breath should not smell.
At least 70% adult dogs and cats could suffer from periodontal disease. This disease affects the gums and the tooth structures underneath and often leads to the loss of teeth, if left unchecked could even affect bone and other supporting tissues of the teeth.
Just like us, regular toothbrushing can help prevent problems from developing and regular dental checks with your vet (at least annually) will help make sure problems don’t develop that can’t be reversed. Find out more about dog dental care.
5. Weight: A healthy dog should not be overweight!
A healthy dog's weight is the result of the balance between diet and exercise, and unfortunately there’s a big obesity problem in the canine world just as there is in the human world. If your dog is getting enough nutritious food and exercise but still seems over or underweight, there may be other underlying health problems, so please tell your vet.
Feed a good nutritious diet and don't give too many between-meal snacks – no matter how much those eyes plead. If you do give treats, say for training purposes, then remember to take this into account when measuring up meals. Do not use your food to feed your dog as this is often unbalanced for him and usually has too much salt. Treats should be doggy treats and again not our food.
The best way to tell if your dog is overweight is to feel his rib-cage area. You should be able to feel the ribs below the surface of the skin without much padding, and the Pet Food Manufacturers Association PFMA produce a dog ‘Size-O-Meter’ which is recommended by vets to help with seeing if your dog is overweight.
Obese dogs can develop serious health problems, so it’s best to talk to your vet about keeping your dog’s weight in check – it is always best to keep them in trim rather than trying to lose the pounds. Your vet can recommend what to feed and the type of exercise to do – and you might benefit too!