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Owners who observe and handle their healthy dogs have a head start on recognizing early signs of illness in their pets. Those who know what a healthy dog acts, feels, and smells like can spot differences in behavior and body and determine whether a trip to the veterinarian is necessary.


Healthy dogs have a temperature of 101-102 F, a respiratory rate of 15-20 breaths per minute, and a heart rate of 80-120 beats per minute. They have pink mucous membranes (gums, inside of lips, tongue, inside of eyelids) and rapid capillary refill action in these areas. All these fancy words mean is if you push on the gums, where you push turns pale, but returns to bright pink as soon as you quit pushing. They have clean-smelling ears, skin and a full hair coat. Their skin is pliant, an indication of proper hydration, and their eyes are clear and bright.


A quick test for hydration is to gently pull the skin up on the back of the neck. When you let go if the skin seems to stick together the dog is dehydrated.

If your puppy or dog shows any of the following signs, be prepared to call your veterinarian.
  • Eyes: swelling, discharge, redness, etc.
  • Nose: running, crusting, discharge, etc.
  • Ears: discharge, debris, odor, twitching, scratching, shaking, etc.
  • Coughing, gagging, sneezing, retching, or vomiting.
  • Irregular breathing, shortness of breath, prolonged or heavy panting, etc.
  • Intestinal activity
  • Change in color and consistency of bowel movement
  • Frequency of defecation
  • Bloody stool
  • Evidence of parasites, etc.
    • Change in amount of food intake
    • Change in body weight
    • Change in water intake
    • Urine changes
      • Color
      • Frequency
      • Amount
      • Straining
      • Dribbling, etc.
    • Odor Changes
      • Mouth?
      • Skin?
      • Ears?
      • Other?
    • Coat & skin
      • Wounds
      • Tumors
      • Hair loss
      • Dander
      • Color change
      • Biting
      • Scratching
      • Bite marks
      • Evidence of parasites
      • Licking, etc.
    • Behavior changes
      • Depression
      • Anxiety
      • Fatigue
      • Lethargy
      • Sleepiness
      • Trembling
      • Stumbling
      • Falling, etc.
    Noticing signs is half the battle; keeping a record helps the veterinarian make a diagnosis. Be sure to note when the symptom first appeared, and whether it has been intermittent, continuous, increasing in frequency, getting better, or getting worse before calling the veterinarian.

     Disclaimer: The reader may download one copy for personal use, but any further dissemination of the article needs to be with express permission of the author.


    This page has been visited times since January 26, 1998

    This page was last March 30, 2002

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