Nancy Kerns: Hi! I am Nancy Kerns, Editor of The Whole Dog Journal. Today, I am going to discuss how to assess a sick dog.
All of us have fretted over a seemingly sick dog, wondering whether we should bring him into the emergency vet clinic, or wait until morning. Before you make that call to the vet, first, examine your dog.
Take the dog's temperature. Buy and keep a rectal thermometer on hand. Have some Vaseline or K-Y Jelly to put on the thermometer. This makes its insertion more comfortable for the dog. Have someone help you keep your dog still if he is wiggling or resisting. Make sure you have the thermometer aimed straight into the center of his rectum. It doesn't have to go that far in, perhaps, a half-an-inch for a medium or a large dog, and a quarter inch for a small dog. Ear thermometers are less invasive for the dog, but they are also less accurate unless you are an experienced user and the dog is very cooperative.
Write down the temperature along with the time. Keep in mind that what's normal for dogs varies quite a bit from about 100.
5 Fahrenheit to about 102.
5. It's good to know your dog's normal temperature. So take it sometime when he is completely well and resting.
Then, check the color and wetness of the dog's gums. Familiarize yourself with the color of your dog's gums when he is well, so you know what's normal for him.
If when he is not feeling well, his gums appear abnormally pale or white, he maybe in or nearing shock. Brick red gums can indicate a fever or heat stroke. Yellowish gums mean the dog has jaundice.
When the dog is healthy, his gums should be glossy and wet. If they are sticky or dry, he may be getting dehydrated. When you are in his mouth, also check the dog's capillary refill time; how long it takes for the blood to rush back into a spot when you press on his gums.
It's a quick and fairly accurate indicator of his blood pressure. To check, firmly press a spot on his gums for 2 to 3 seconds. When you release the pressure, the spot should be pale. The spot should quickly disappear from view as the tissue refills with blood within about a second. If the spot remains pale for several seconds, your dog's blood pressure maybe dangerously low.
Finally, make sure you are able to describe any deviations in your dog's diet, elimination pattern, and demeanor. Make sure you know the brand and type of food you've been feeding. If you feed commercial food, make sure the bags, cans, or pouches are available in case there is a recall and you need the lot numbers. You should also know how much the dog is usually fed; the time of his last meal, and the quality of his appetite.
In addition, you should be able to discuss his most recent bowel movement, when it happened, the quality of the stool, and whether that was different than usual? Urination, what time, how much and color.
Your ability to report all this information will help your vet decide whether your dog should be brought to the hospital immediately or whether it's safe to schedule a visit for the next day.
So, be sure to keep track of these details, so if your dog seems sick, he gets the care he needs.