Dog health checks: The earlier a potential problem is spotted, the more successful treatment is likely to be; it may ultimately prove less costly too.
If your dog's coat requires daily grooming, this is an ideal time to give him a quick check; but even if he doesn't need a brush-over, try to get into the habit of running your hands over him and be alert to anything unusual.
Feet: Toenails should not be split or torn; neither should they be so long that the toes are pushed upwards, putting strain on tendons and ligaments. Check the dewclaws if they are present. Part each of the toes to check for any grass seeds, which may have become wedged between them. Check the pads for signs of soreness and cracking.
Bottom: Don rubber gloves if you must, but don't neglect to check this area as well! It should be clean and free of soiling. Look out for any tiny white segments (like small rice grains) clinging around the rear end; they are a sign of worm infestation. If you have an un-spayed bitch, keep an eye out for any foul-smelling discharge from the vagina.
Coat and skin: Coat textures can vary considerably between breeds; know what is normal for your particular dog. Whatever the type, it should look and feel healthy, and be free of matting or soiling, nor should it show areas of hair loss. Part the hairs and look at the skin underneath; it should move easily over the underlying tissue, feel warm to the touch, not cold or clammy, and shouldn't be flaky. If you've noticed your dog licking, chewing or biting excessively at any areas, check for any signs of hot, itchy, and reddened patches.
Body: Standing behind your dog, run both your hands along the sides of his body; you should just be able to feel his ribs under a thin layer of fat. Weigh him once a month to monitor weight loss or gain; this will also be helpful when it comes to working out wormer doses.
Ears: Look inside the ear flaps and down into the ear canal, both should appear clean and pale pink in colour, not sore and inflamed-looking. Watch out for nasty-smelling waxy or pus-like discharges; if your dog scratches or paws a lot at his ears or frequently shakes his head in irritation and/or holds it tilted to one side he may have an ear problem.
Eyes: Eyes should be bright and clear, without any cloudiness of the cornea; the whites should be completely white. A tiny amount of 'sleep' in the corners of the eyes is normal but watery or pus-like discharge is not. Tear staining of the fur at the corner of the eye suggests blocked tear ducts. Both eyelids should be fully open, not half-closed or blinking rapidly.
Mouth: Lift the jowl at the side of the mouth and look at the gums; they should be salmon-pink, but may change colour if your dog is unwell. Paleness may be due to anaemia, a blue tinge could indicate a circulatory problem, while yellow is a sign of jaundice. There should be no soreness or bleeding. If the gums are pigmented, check the membranes of the eyes instead for a healthy colour. Press the gum with the ball of a finger; it should go pale briefly, returning to its normal colour again within two to three seconds. Open the mouth and take a good look at all the teeth. They should be whiteish-yellow and free of calculus build-up. The breath may smell doggy, but shouldn't be offensive. Although some breeds drool a lot, your dog shouldn't be salivating or panting excessively.
Nose: Contrary to popular belief, a cold, wet nose isn't necessarily a sign of good health! Watch out for crusty deposits, clear or pus-coloured discharges, or bleeding.
Lumps and bumps: These may appear anywhere on the head, limbs or body. Existing ones should be closely monitored for any change in size or feel (from soft to firm or vice versa). Measure them to provide a more accurate guide rather than just trying to gauge it by eye. And also... As well as inspecting your dog each day, observe him at other times - working, playing, exercising, relieving himself, eating and drinking.
Being aware of changes is part of being a good owner. Changes in temperament, such as showing reluctance to play or go out for a walk, becoming more introverted, irritable or even snappy can be symptomatic of physical problems. If you want your vet to investigate, jot down all the things you have noticed, plus how long they have persisted, to ensure you don't forget any important details.