By Patty Homer, CDT, CPDT-KA
We love our pets! We spend vast amounts of time, energy and money on them. We buy them everything they need, spend time with them playing, walking and bonding. One thing we don’t do is take an active roll in their health care. You as the pet owner have an advantage over your veterinary professional when it comes to knowing your pet’s normal behavior. Learning how to do Home Health Exams (HHE) can save money, create a stress-free veterinary experience and create a stronger bond between you and your pet. HHE’s are totally free and only take 15 minutes a week.
HHE’s let you catch potential problems early; before your pet shows outward signs of illness making it less expensive for your vet to treat and, may save your pet’s life. Animals mask their pain, this behavior is in their DNA. In the animal world the weak, ill or disabled become prey and a tasty meal for another animal. In order to keep from becoming prey, an animal masks its outward signs of weakness as long as possible.
HHE’s create a stronger bond between you and your pet. This bond will act as a calming effect for him when you are both in the vet’s office. HHE’s include knowing your pet’s vital statistics, how to do a physical exam, handling and analyzing your pet’s behavior.
Your pet’s vitals include temperature, Heart and Respiratory rate (HR) (RR) and Mucous Membrane (MM). Temperature, HR and RR should be taken when your pet is awake and walking around normally, not right after play or waking up, MM can be taken any time. There are thermometers on the market that take the temperature in your pet’s ear; less expensive models take the temperature rectally. The normal numbers listed below are typical numbers; your pets may be slightly higher or lower.
Species Temp HR RR MM
Dog 101.0 – 102.5 60 – 160 10 – 30 Pink
Cat 101.0 – 102.5 160 – 220 20 – 30 Pink
*Puppies and kittens and smaller breeds have higher HR and RR than larger breeds
HR: To determine the HR, find the pulse by placing your finger on the inside of the thigh near the groin and feel gently in that area for a pulse from an artery just under the skin. Count the beats in a 15 second period and multiply by 4. (diag 1)
RR: Dogs may pant depending on exercise, breed, stress and heat. Cats should never pant – when a cat pants it requires an emergency visit to the veterinarian. Count how many times your pet breaths in a 15 second period and multiply by 4.
MM: To determine your pet’s MM, lift their lip and look at their gums. The gums should be pink. Some pets have gums that are normally black, if so, check the inside of your pet’s ear or ask your vet to teach you how to determine your pet’s MM. (diag 2)
Get him used to being handled. Gently restrain him by holding him close to
your body, hold his head still, lift his tail, look inside both ears, and massage all four feet. If he resists any of the handling consider hiring a trainer to help you get him comfortable with handling. (diag 3)
Mouth: Open the mouth (use caution if you have never opened your pet’s mouth) and look inside at the tongue, gum and teeth. Things to be aware of are tartar on the teeth, altered MM, odor, bright red line at the gum line or inflammation on the gums. Check for any change in your pet’s nose condition like color, cracked or sores (dry/wet is not an indication of health or illness). Dental disease, left untreated can lead to premature death.
Eyes: Check for any discharge from the eyes or any changes in color or opacity (clear or cloudy). Never treat at home for any eye problems – veterinary attention is a must for all eye problems.
Ears: Look inside his ears. They should be clean and free of debris and should never have a bad odor. When you see or smell a change in the ear, visit your veterinarian.
Body: Visibly and physically check every square inch of your pet’s body as though you were trying to find something wrong. As you feel the body, squeeze gently instead of petting. Watch for pain reaction such as shying away, crying or cringing and feel for any new lumps or bumps (growths). All new growths should be evaluated by a veterinarian and in my opinion should have cytology done on them (the doctor will aspirate some cells from the growth and check under a microscope for abnormal cells). Some veterinarians say they can tell just by looking that a growth is non-cancerous, but unless they have x-ray vision or are psychic, nobody can accurately diagnose cancer without further testing.
Body condition: You should be able to feel but not see the ribs and there
should be a slight “waist line” behind the ribs. Obesity, excessive thinness or malnutrition can shorten the life of your pet immensely. Sudden weight gains or losses are signs of illness and should be checked by your veterinarian.
Coat condition: The condition of your pet’s coat is a great indicator of health or illness. Watch for changes in texture (soft, coarse, dry), hair loss, targeted wet areas or discolored areas (which can be signs of pain, allergies or skin irritations).
Look at your pet from a different point of view. Watch his play, the way he walks/runs and his overall movement. Keep an eye on his eating and drinking habits – is he eating less or more, eating slower or drinking more or less than normal? Is he more clingy, grumpy or independent? Are there any sudden changes in behavior including urine or stool accidents in the house or outside the litter box or personality changes? Any changes in behavior warrant a trip to the veterinarian.
HHE’s should not replace veterinary care and even if you find nothing abnormal on your HHE’s your pet should be seen by a veterinarian at least once or twice a year depending on age. One year of your pet not seeing the veterinarian equivalent to us humans not seeing a doctor for 6-7 years.
Taking a more active role in your pet’s medical care can help you extend the life of your pet, keep your wallet happy (ok, maybe just less grumpy) and create a calmer, less stressful pet at the vet’s office.