While many of us think about improving aspects of our health and wellbeing as we kick-start the year, this is also a great time to check the health of your furry friends at home.
Here is a 5-step checklist that will help monitor your cat or dog’s health:
1. Weight: Let’s face it, during the holiday season many of us ‘treat’ our pets with scraps of left-over meat and other food… it happens.
Here’s how to see if Rascal or Mittens has had a bit too much turkey under the table:
1. You should be able to feel the hip bones and shoulder blades when you apply moderate pressure to the areas.
2. When applying gentle and light pressure to the ribs, there should be no fat covering them.
3. The bit of loose skin hanging below the lower jaw is called the dewlap. When your cat or dog is overweight, the dewlap thickens and hangs heavier than usual.
4. Overweight cats usually have a hanging belly, instead of it being tucked in and covered with free, moveable skin. Dogs tend to expand around the waist area, making them look round and chubby. In addition to having a fuller waistline, being sluggish and out of breath are other signs that your dog or cat needs to go on a diet and get regular exercise more often.
2. Skin and Coat: Pay attention to the skin underneath the coat by brushing it back. Look for any bruises, flaking, rashes or reddening of the skin. By pinching the skin around the neck area, you can determine if your pet is suffering from mild dehydration – if the skin stays tented it’s normally an indication that your cat or dog needs more fluid.
Itchy skin caused by fleas, mites or an allergy, may cause your pet to scratch or bite themselves. Finding the cause of what irritates their skin will save them from feeling traumatised. Conditions like ringworm and demodex (an infestation of tiny, cigar-shaped, eight-legged mites) are more serious because they make the fur fall out.
Look for ‘flea dirt’ by combing the coat vigorously. Flea droppings show up as black specks on the skin and can be told apart from sand by placing the debris and dirt you’ve brushed out on a wet paper towel. If flea droppings are present, they will dissolve on the paper, leaving behind a red pigment – your pet’s blood, which has been swallowed by the flea.
3. Eyes: Your pet’s eyes should be clear and wide open with no discharge or swelling around the lids. The pupils should both be the same size.
Hold a small ball in front of your pet, moving it from side-to-side. Your pet should follow the movement. If not, it may indicate that they are not seeing properly, due to ageing or damage caused by scaring (after a fight or rummaging in the hedges) or an eye infection.
4. Oral health: As a general rule, your cat or dog’s teeth should be clean, white and smooth, and their gums should be salmon-pink and moist, with no signs of swelling. The black blemishes on some dogs’ gums are perfectly normal.
Pale or dry gums may be a sign of shock. Bright red and swollen gums could indicate carbon-monoxide poisoning – however this is rare. And yellowish gums can signal liver dysfunction.
Yellow or brown tartar build-up on the teeth can cause gum disease and even gingivitis (red, swollen and bleeding gums), which usually is caused by a bacterial infection.
5. Ears:Gently remove earwax from the inside of the ears with a warm washcloth. There should be no discharge or swelling on the inside of the ear. Touching the base of the ear should not be painful. If you suspect that your pet might have an ear infection, visit your vet as soon as possible since long-term ear infections can cause narrowing of the ear canals and it can also damage the eardrums.
It’s worth doing these health checks on a regular basis, even if your pet appears to be healthy. If you suspect that Rascal or Mittens may be suffering from an underlying condition – especially when you see signs of infection – book an appointment with your vet sooner rather than later. After all, we call them our ‘best friends’ so we have all the reason to treat them as such.
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Disclaimer: Bear in mind the material contained in this article is provided for information purposes only. We are not addressing anyone’s personal situation. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.
Your pet MOT, published October 2013, What Doctors Don’t Tell You