Your dog will rely on you to keep him in good
health. A proper diet, regular exercise and
grooming, and routine check-ups at the
veterinarian will help keep your dog in top
form. It's also important for you to get to know
your dog's habits - eating, drinking, sleeping,
and so forth - since sometimes a variation in
those habits can be an indication that he isn't
The information on this page should be used as a
guide for keeping your dog healthy and
identifying problems. Ask your veterinarian for
advice on healthcare and prevention and be sure
to seek medical advice if you think your dog is
ill or hurt. The AKC Pet Healthcare Plan can
help with the cost of providing quality
healthcare throughout your dog's life.
Topics on this page:
Signs of Good Health
Spaying and Neutering
When to Call the Vet
Signs of Good Health
Skin - Healthy skin is flexible and smooth,
without scabs, growths, white flakes, or red
areas. It ranges in color from pale pink to
brown or black depending on the breed. Spotted
skin is normal, whether the dog has a spotted or
solid coat. Check your dog for fleas, ticks,
lice, or other external parasites. To do this,
blow gently on your dog's stomach or brush hair
backward in a few places to see if any small
specks scurry away or if ticks are clinging to
the skin. Black "dirt" on your dog's skin or
bedding may be a sign of flea droppings.
Coat - A healthy coat, whether short or long, is
glossy and pliable, without dandruff, bald
spots, or excessive oiliness.
Eyes - Healthy eyes are bright and shiny. Mucus
and watery tears are normal but should be
minimal and clear. The pink lining of the
eyelids should not be inflamed, swollen, or have
a yellow discharge. Sometimes you can see your
dog's third eyelid, a light membrane, at the
inside corner of an eye. It may slowly come up
to cover his eye as he goes to sleep. The whites
of your dog's eyes should not be yellowish.
Eyelashes should not rub the eyeball.
Ears - The skin inside your dog's ears should be
light pink and clean. There should be some
yellow or brownish wax, 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. Dogs with long, hairy ears, such as
Cocker Spaniels, need extra attention to keep
the ears dry and clean inside and out.
Nose - A dog's nose is usually cool and moist.
It can be black, pink, or self-colored (the same
color as the coat), depending on the breed.
Nasal discharge should be clear, never
yellowish, thick, bubbly, or foul smelling. A
cool, wet nose does not necessarily mean the dog
is healthy, and a dry, warm nose doesn't
necessarily mean he's sick. Taking his
temperature is a better indication of illness.
Mouth, Teeth and Gums - Healthy gums are firm
and pink, black, or spotted, just like the dog's
skin. Young dogs have smooth white teeth that
tend to darken with age. Puppies have 23 baby
teeth and adults have around 42 permanent teeth,
depending on the breed. As adult teeth come in,
they push baby teeth out of the mouth.
To check your dog's mouth, talk to him gently,
then put your hand over the muzzle and lift up
the sides of his mouth. Check that adult teeth
are coming in as they should, and not being
crowded by baby teeth. Make sure the gums are
healthy and the breath is not foul-smelling.
Look for soft white matter or hard white,
yellow, or brown matter. This is plaque or
tartar and should be brushed away.
Mouth infections can lead to serious problems in
the gums and other parts of the body, including
the heart, so it's important to give your dog's
teeth and mouth special attention.
Temperature - A dog's normal temperature is 101
to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit (38.3 to 39.2
degrees Celcius). To take your dog's
temperature, you'll need a rectal thermometer.
Put some petroleum jelly on the bulb of the
thermometer. Ask someone to hold your dog's head
while you lift his tail and insert the
thermometer about an inch or so into the rectum.
Do not let go of the thermometer. Hold it in
until the temperature is read (about 3 minutes
for a mercury thermometer), and then remove
Heartbeat and Pulse - Because dogs come in a
wide range of sizes, their heartbeats vary. A
normal heart beats from 50 to 130 times a minute
in a resting dog. Puppies and small dogs have
faster speeds, and large dogs in top condition
have slower heartbeats.
To check your dog's heartbeat, place your
fingers over the left side of the chest, where
you can feel the strongest beat.
To check the pulse, which is the same speed as
the heartbeat, press gently on the inside of the
top of the hind leg. There is an artery there
and the skin is thin, so it's easy to feel the
Elimination - Urine is a good indicator of a
dog's health, and should be clear yellow. Most
adult dogs have one or two bowel movements a
day. Stools should be brown and firm. Runny,
watery, or bloody stools, straining, or too much
or too little urination warrant a call to the
Weight - A healthy dog's weight is the result of
the balance between diet and exercise. If he is
getting enough nutritious food and exercise but
still seems over- or underweight, he may have a
health problem. Don't let your dog get fat by
giving him too many between-meal snacks; obese
dogs often develop serious health problems. 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.
Regular vaccinations from your veterinarian can
keep your dog from getting serious and sometimes
fatal illnesses such as distemper, parvovirus,
hepatitis, leptospirosis, coronavirus, and
rabies. A vaccination is also available for
kennel cough, a respiratory problem that affects
young dogs or dogs exposed to many other dogs.
A puppy's first vaccines ideally should be given
at five or six weeks of age and continue over a
period of several weeks, up to sixteen weeks.
Afterward, yearly booster shots provide the
protection your dog will need. Be sure to stick
to the schedule your veterinarian gives you to
Spaying or Neutering Your Dog
Unless you know you are going to show your dog,
it is best to have your female spayed or your
male neutered. Spaying or neutering is a
fail-safe method of birth control.
A spay operation removes the female dog's
ovaries and uterus. A spayed female will not
come into season two or three times a year, as
unspayed females do. She will not attract male
dogs from miles around, she will not discharge
on rugs, sofas, or bedding, and she will not be
prone to diseases such as pyometra (uterine
infection) and mammary cancer.
A neutered male cannot breed successfully. His
desire to roam in search of females will be
reduced, and he may be less aggressive in
defending his territory. Also, he will be less
susceptible to prostate cancer.
Apart from these benefits, spaying or neutering
will not change your dog's personality.
When to Call the Vet
You should alert your veterinarian if your dog
exhibits any unusual behavior, including the
- Vomiting, diarrhea, or excessive
urination for more than twelve
Fainting.Loss of balance,
staggering, falling.Constipation or
straining to urinate.
Runny eyes or nose.
Persistent scratching at eyes or
Thick discharge from eyes, ears,
nose, or sores.
Coughing or sneezing.
Difficulty breathing, prolonged
Whining for no apparent reason.
Loss of appetite for 24 hours or
Dramatic increase in appetite for 24
hours or more.
Excessive sleeping or unusual lack
Limping, holding, or protecting part
of the body.
Excessive drinking of water.