Knowing how to spot the signs of a healthy dog (or signs of health problems) is important for dog owners. When you have a clear idea of what good canine health looks like, it’s easier to detect when something isn’t quite right. Unfortunately, if you’re new to pet care, it can be difficult to distinguish the physical and behavioral signs that your dog is thriving.
The first thing to keep in mind is that all dogs are different. Some dogs have tons of energy, and spend their days constantly running around, playing, and exploring. Others prefer to live a slightly more sedentary life, curled up on the rug by your feet, or relaxing on the sofa.
These different behaviors can be genetic, not always health-related.
Learning what normal looks like for your dog will help you to keep a pulse on whether they’re fit and well. It’s also worth regularly taking your dog for regular check-ups with a vet, as some ailments such as certain cancers can be difficult to detect without professional assistance.
While the healthy behaviors of your dog may vary from other canine companions, there are still some general positive signs you can watch for.
Below are some of the key signs of a healthy dog:
1. Clean Ears and Clear Eyes are Signs of a Healthy Dog
Ear issues are more common in certain dog breeds, but ear problems can be a sign of poor health in dogs. Basset hounds and other breeds with particularly long ears are prone to infection, so it’s worth checking your dog’s ears as often as possible for any issues. For most pups, one of the top signs of a healthy dog is clear, odor-free ears, with no discharge, or waxy build-up.
If you notice a musty smell coming from your pup’s ears, or redness around the inside, this could be a sign an infection is on the way.
While you’re checking your pup’s ears for signs of good health, pay attention to their eyes too. A healthy dog should have bright, clear, and sparkly eyes. Blood-shot or pink eyes can commonly be signs of stress. Watch for any excessive tearing, cloudiness, or discharge, as these symptoms could indicate a problem within the eye.
Keep in mind, excessive tearing is more common for some breeds than others. Wrinkly breeds and smaller dogs tend to produce more moisture in their eyes, which can sometimes cause brownish-red stains around their eyes. This isn’t necessarily a sign of a problem if it’s normal for your dog.
2. Clean Teeth and Fresh Breath
No dog is ever going to have great smelling breath, unless you’re committed to regularly brushing their teeth. However, there’s a big difference between standard doggy breath and a more alarming mouth odor. Normal breath is one of the most important signs of a healthy dog.
When your pup is licking your face or panting on your lap, ask yourself what their breath smells like. Most of the time, you should notice a neutral odor, with a few hints of whatever your canine pal has had to eat that day.
If you notice any particularly strong smells, check your pup’s teeth. Sore and inflamed gums, stains on the teeth, and excessive drooling can be signs of periodontitis or gum disease. A particularly bad odor could also indicate the start of tooth decay, or oral melanomas.
Remember, over 80% of dogs over the age of 3 have already developed an active dental disease, so it’s worth paying close attention to your dog’s breath as they get older.
3. A Shiny, Clean Coat is a Sign of Health
Different breeds of dogs have different coats. Some are wiry and rough, while others are soft and fluffy. The texture of your pup’s coat, and how often you should wash it, will be dependent on their genetic background. However, a good quality coat is one of the top signs of a healthy dog.
For the most part, your dog’s coat should usually be clean, shiny, and full. Watch out for any bald spots or areas where the fur seems particularly sparse.
A healthy dog will shed a small amount of fur regularly, but excessive shedding could be a sign of an underlying health problem, as well as stress or anxiety. Keep an eye out for any aggressive chewing, licking, or biting which might be leading to gaps in your pup’s fur.
When you’re petting your dog, ask yourself whether their fur and skin feels consistent. Dry patches could be a sign the natural oils in your pup’s skin aren’t being distributed correctly. Watch for any roughness around the collar, as this could be a sign the collar is too tight.
4. Lean, Consistent Weight
Dogs come in a range of shapes and sizes, so there’s no one-size-fits-all guide to how much your pooch should weigh. However, it is worth keeping an eye out for any sudden increases in weight, or extra swelling around the stomach area when you’re looking for signs of a healthy dog.
Obesity is one of the most common diseases in dogs, with around 40-45% of canines between the ages of 5 and 11 being classified as overweight.
When your dog is standing or walking around, pay attention to the distribution of weight around their body. Do they look lean and agile, or are there specific areas throughout their body which appear overly swollen or bloated?
Keep in mind, an underweight dog can be just as problematic as one who is overweight. If you notice you can feel more of your dog’s bones beneath their fur than normal, or they seem particularly slim, it might be worth talking to a vet.
Generally, you should be able to help your pup maintain a consistent weight by feeding them a balanced diet, based on the instructions given by your vet or breeder. If your dog’s waist is tapering in towards the hips (without showing too much of their ribcage), this indicates they’re probably the right weight.
5. A Good Appetite
Most dogs love to eat. It’s one of the reasons why dog obesity is so common. If you’re looking for signs of a healthy dog, it’s worth checking how often they leave food in their bowl, or go hours without eating when being offered food.
When you’re caring for your dog, you’ll likely notice if their appetite is changing, and loss of appetite can be a sign of a health problem.
Typically, most dogs will eat food consistently throughout the day, without any problems. However, there are exceptions to this rule. If your dog has certain conditions, such as diabetes, hyperthyroidism, or an overactive adrenal gland, they could exhibit changes in their appetite.
As your dog grows, pay attention to their eating habits. Do they tend to consume their food within seconds of it being placed in the bowl? If so, a sudden aversion to food may be a sign something is wrong. If your pup prefers to simply pick at their meals throughout the day and starts eating more aggressively, this could also be a sign something is wrong.
6. Regular Bowel and Bladder Movements
Cleaning up your dog’s bowel movements is one of the least appealing parts of being a pet owner. However, regular peeing and pooping are also one of the top signs of a healthy dog. Similar to human beings, dogs need to visit the bathroom multiple times per day.
When they’re peeing, you should notice the liquid is a relatively neutral yellow color. Any instances of unusual colors such as brown and red should instantly be investigated by a vet. Cloudy urine can also be a sign of a urine infection, which can lead to significant complications for dogs.
When your pup makes a bowel movement, it should be relatively firm and consistent. Watch for signs of blood, runny poop, or tar-like substances in the bowel movement.
If your dog isn’t visiting the bathroom as much as usual, this doesn’t necessarily mean you should thank your lucky stars. Make sure they’re getting the right amount of hydration to help their digestive system work properly.
7. Alert and Active Behavior
As mentioned above, not all dogs are necessarily going to be bundles of energy. Some dogs are more laid back than others, so it’s worth paying close attention to what’s normal for your pup. However, one of the top signs of a healthy dog is a strong interest in activity, and an alert attitude.
Even if your dog spends a lot of time laying down, they should raise their head and look at you when you walk through the door, or leap up when it’s time to go for a walk. During walks, they shouldn’t seem to struggle with their movement, or walk in a stiff gait.
If your dog appears lethargic or uninterested in play, this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re unhealthy. Dogs can get tired as well! However, a consistently lethargic attitude may be a sign there’s an underlying issue at play, so it’s worth speaking to a vet.
Understanding the Signs of a Healthy Dog
If your pup exhibits all of the signs of a healthy dog listed above, there’s a good chance they’re happy, fit, and thriving. However, since all dogs are different, it’s always a good idea to make sure you know what’s really normal for your pooch.
Pay attention to your dog’s typical behaviors and appearance, and use your knowledge to determine whether they’re acting out of character. For a better insight into your dog’s health, consider getting a DNA test for dogs. The CirclePaw DNA test is a dog DNA test that can tell you more about the typical characteristics your specific breed should have.
With the insights from your DNA test, you should be able to more easily distinguish whether your dog is a healthy dog.
- VCA: Dental Disease in Dogs
https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/dental-disease-in-dogs#:~:text=Dental disease is one of,hidden and often painful condition.
- VCA: Obesity in Dogs
https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/obesity-in-dogs#:~:text=In North America%2C obesity is,weighing in higher than normal.
- AKC: Dog Ear Infections: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and Prevention
https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/dog-ear-infections/#:~:text=Ear infections are common conditions,affect one or both ears.