Health and Disease Prevention for Cats and Dogs
Taking good care of a pet includes thinking about how to keep them healthy. Preventing illness is as important for cats and dogs as it is for people. They need caretakers who know how to keep them healthy and to recognize signs that they are sick.
Below are a number of indicators of good health that can be used as guidelines for monitoring the health of dogs. These indicators include:
- Healthy skin is flexible and smooth. It does not have any scabs, growths, white flakes or red areas.
- The colour of the skin ranges from pale pink to brown or black, depending on the breed. Spotted skin is normal, whether the dog has a spotted or solid coat.
- A healthy coat is glossy and flexible or supple. It does not show signs of dandruff or excessive oiliness. There are no bald spots in the coat.
- The eyes are bright and shiny, with minimal signs of mucous and watery tears. 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 their eye as they go to sleep.
- The whites of the eyes are not yellowish. Eyelashes do not rub the eyeball.
- The skin inside the ears is light pink and clean, with some yellow or brownish wax. 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 their ears or shake their head frequently.
- A dog’s nose is usually cool and moist. It can be black, pink or self-coloured (the same color as the coat), depending on the breed. Nasal discharge is 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 the dog is sick.
- Healthy gums are firm and pink, black or spotted, just like the dog’s skin. Teeth and mouth can be checked by gently putting your hand over the muzzle and lifting up the sides of the mouth.
- Urine is clear yellow. Most adult dogs have at least two bowel movements a day and stools should be brown and firm.
As well as these indicators of good health, it is important that caretakers know their animal’s individual vital signs.
This is known as monitoring the TPR:
- Temperature – the normal body temperature is 38.3°C to 39.2°C and can be measured rectally or using a touchless thermometer aimed at the ear.
- Pulse – a dog’s pulse rate can vary quite a bit between breeds, but an average rate in a resting dog is between 50 to 130 beats per minute. Smaller dogs usually have heart rates in the higher range, while larger dogs have a slower heart rate. The heartbeat can be checked by placing your hand over the left side of the chest. Feel the heart beat with your fingers, not your thumb. Pulse can also be taken by pressing gently on the inside of the top of the hind leg. Here is an example of how to do this:
- Respiration – a normal respiratory rate in dogs also varies, but should be between 10 to 34 breaths per minute in a resting dog. Warmer weather and anxiety can cause panting.
Information adapted from: Dog Health Checklist (Animal Trust)
The following list provides a good basic daily checklist of general guidelines for monitoring the health of cats:
- Disposition of adult cats should generally be friendly and at ease with people; kittens should be active, bright and eager to join in play.
- Eyes should be clear and bright, with no tearing; runny eyes might indicate a respiratory infection.
- Nostrils should be clean and free of discharge; sneezing or nasal discharge might indicate a respiratory infection.
- Ears should be clean and free of dark coloured wax. They shouldn’t be itchy.
- Mouth and gums should be pink, with no ulcers or sores.
- Coat should be glossy, with no bare spots, dry skin or dandruff and no sign of external parasites.
- Skin should be supple and flexible, not dehydrated.
- Belly should not be too thin and should not stick out; either sign might indicate internal parasites or some other disease. Cats have a primordial pouch; sagging skin on the belly but it should be soft and flexible.
- Feces should be brown and well formed.
- Urine should be clear yellow.
As well as these indicators of good health, it is imperative that owners know their animal’s individual vital signs. This is known as monitoring the TPR:
- Temperature – the normal body temperature is 37.7°C to 39.4°C and can be measured rectally or using a touchless thermometer aimed at the inside of the ear.
- Pulse – a cat’s pulse rate can vary, but an average range in a resting cat is between 130 to 240 beats per minute. The heartbeat can be checked by pressing gently against the rib cage over the heart. With the cat standing, feel the heart rate just behind the elbow. Pulse can also be taken by pressing gently on the femoral artery on the inside of the thigh at the groin.
- Respiration – a normal respiratory rate in cats also varies, but should be between 20 to 30 breaths per minute in a resting cat.
Information adapted from: Cat Health Checklist (Animal Trust)