Simple Health Checks

Simple Health Checks

Annual veterinary exams are a MUST, but learning what the “typical” signs of health and behaviors are for your pet could assist with preventative care, and help you save money on veterinary costs long term by catching issues early on.

Take time once a week to check your pet for any abnormalities with intention. Make this a positive experience for them by rewarding them with whatever they love best! This could be a lot of love and scratches, intermittent brushing, speaking to them with reassuring words and tones, extra play time, or of course, treats! Incorporating positive reinforcement while completing a health check makes the activity rewarding and fun for your pet instead of stressful, plus, it’s an opportunity to diversify bonding.


  • Should be bright with no oozing or discharge.
  • Should not have yellowing or redness.
  • Pupils should dilate normally when light intensities vary.


  • Should not have distinct odors or excessive wax and dirt build up.
  • Look inside and outside for scratches, mites, ticks, or any sign of infection.


  • Should not have discharge that is excessive, colored, or thick.
  • Know what is normal for your pet! Healthy noses can be on the wetter or drier side, but they should never be so dry that they are cracked.


  • Should be pink in color and not have any swelling or bleeding.
  • The mouth should not have a foul odor – if it does, this could be a sign of a bigger problem (e.: organ failure, disease, bacterial infection, etc.).
  • Teeth should not be cracked or loose; this is an invitation for infection!
  • Brushing their teeth is great for gum health and plaque control. Keep brushing sessions brief and rewarding, and NEVER use human toothpaste! *If you are unable to brush your pet’s teeth, opt for cycling dental chews and treats into your treat schedule!


  • Should not be labored, too fast, or too slow.
  • Sounds of crackling with each breath could be a sign of illness, such as fluid in the lungs, or an infection.


  • Performing a “Pinch Test” is a great way to quickly check on your pet’s hydration. If after the pinch test, the skin “tents” or doesn’t bounce back immediately, your pet needs to rehydrate! This is especially important during hot weather, or after intense play activity.
  • Other skin issues to check for are overly oily or dry patches, rashes, abrasions or other more serious wounds, bites, swelling, ticks or fleas, discolorations, lumps, matted hair, etc. These all require action on your part for treatment!
  • Make sure your pet’s coat is fully dry after baths, getting caught in the rain, swimming so that mold or fungus doesn’t begin to grow. Also, be mindful of limiting time wearing outfits any time or sweaters in the winter so their skin can breathe.


  • Always use lukewarm water.
  • Prep your bathing area with everything you will need during and after the bath before bringing your pet into the picture so that you are fully prepared.
  • Keep your dog on a leash if that helps, using a nonslip mat for the bathtub is ideal.
  • When drying your pet off – towel dry first, and if you need to blow dry, make sure you brush out their hair before blow drying and make sure to use a low setting. Do NOT linger in one area for a prolonged amount of time with the blow dryer. This can burn your pet’s skin!


  • Clip cats’ nails every two weeks, and dogs’ nails every week or so. Avoid letting nails get overgrown because they can start to grow back into their paws, and this is painful and uncomfortable for them! Allowing pet’s nails to become overgrown could cause structural issues if left that way for long periods.
  • Be sure to only trim the white part of the nails, not the pink part known as the “quick.” If you are unsure or uncomfortable about trimming your pet’s nails, just have your vet do it!
  • Make nail clipping a positive experience for your pet (use treats, breaks, rewards, ). This will help keep their stress levels to a minimum and yours too!

Food and Water Bowls:

  • You should soak and clean your pet’s food and water bowl with hot water and pet safe products after each meal, or at the very least, daily! Bowls can become coated in salmonella or other bacteria and slobber.
  • Avoid plastic food and water bowls, as plastic is porous and can quickly become a haven for bacteria growth. It is recommended that you use stainless steel or ceramic bowls instead.
  • Make sure to sanitize your food scoops and food containers on a regular basis as well. An easy system to use is to deep clean your scoops and containers before you open up and dump your new bag of food in. Not cleaning these items will cause new food poured into them to become spoiled much quicker due to bacteria to build up and films left over from the old food. Yuck!

Litter Boxes:

  • These should be checked and scooped daily!
  • Scooping daily allows you to get visual confirmation of hydration, normal (or abnormal) bowel movements, which are great indicators of a health crisis (e., little to no urine could be a sign of a urinary tract infection).
  • It’s recommended that you keep 1½ to 2” of litter depth at all times (too little and your cat will likely start finding new places to potty, too much and your house could start to wreak!)
  • Disinfect your litter boxes once per week to keep your pet’s respiratory system, paws, and urinary tract healthy, and your home smelling fresh!

Credit: Robin Laclede