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Brazilian Terrier running through a pond outdoors.
Marta Simonyi

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Your dog relies on you to keep them in good health. A proper diet with healthy dog food, regular exercise and dog grooming, and routine visits with the vet will help keep your pet in top form. But understanding how to keep your dog healthy involves regular maintenance and care.

It is important for you to get to know your dog’s habits (eating, drinking, sleeping, and more), since sometimes a change in those habits can be an indication that your dog isn’t feeling well. Ask your veterinarian for advice on healthcare and prevention. It’s always a good idea to seek medical advice if you think your dog is ill or hurt. Pet insurance for dogs may also be helpful in dealing with expenses for canine medical care.

Signs of Good Canine Health

Dog Skin Health

Healthy skin is flexible and smooth, without scabs, growths, white flakes, or red areas. Dog skin can range in color from pale pink to brown or black, depending on the breed. Spotted skin is normal, whether the dog has a spotted or solid coat.

Check your dog for ticks, fleas, lice, or other external dog parasites. To do this, blow gently on your dog’s stomach or brush hair backward in a few places to see if any small specks scurry away or if ticks are clinging to the skin. Black “dirt” on your dog’s skin or bedding may be a sign of flea droppings. Keep an eye out for flea bites on your dog, as well.

Dog Coat Health

A healthy dog coat, whether short or long, is glossy and soft. Talk to your vet if you see dog dandruff, bald spots, or excessive oiliness.

Dog Eye Health

Healthy dog eyes are bright and shiny. Mucus and watery tears are normal, but a healthy dog likely won’t have a lot of fluid, and any liquid discharge will likely be clear. You’ll want to keep an eye out for the pink lining of the eyelids and make sure it’s not inflamed, swollen, or have a yellow discharge (which may be a sign of dogs with eye infections).

Alaskan Klee Kai head portrait outdoors with different color eyes.
I_AM_JASON/Getty Images Plus

Sometimes you can see your dog’s third eyelid, a light membrane, at the inside corner of an eye. The eyelid may slowly come up to cover the eye as the dog goes to sleep. It’s a good idea to contact your vet if the whites of your dog’s eyes turn yellowish or if eyelashes begin rubbing the eyeball.

Dog Ear Health

Healthy skin inside your dog’s ears will be light pink and clean. While there might be some yellow or brownish wax, a large amount of wax or crust is abnormal.

If your pet has a dog ear infection, there may be redness or swelling inside the ear, or they may scratch their ears or shake their head frequently. Dogs with long ears that hang down may need extra attention to keep the ears dry and clean inside and out.

Dog Nose Health

A dog’s nose is usually cool and moist. It can be black, pink, or self-colored (the same color as the coat), depending on the breed. Talk to your vet if you spot discharge from your dog’s nose that isn’t clear or 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 they’re sick. Taking your dog’s temperature with a pet thermometer is a better way to tell if your dog might be sick.

Dog Dental Health

Healthy gums are firm and pink, black, or spotted, just like the dog’s skin. Young dogs have smooth, white teeth that tend to darken with age. Puppies have 23 baby teeth and adults have around 42 permanent teeth, depending on the breed. As adult teeth come in, they push baby teeth out of the mouth.

To check your dog’s mouth, talk to them gently, then put your hand over the muzzle and lift up the sides of their mouth. Check that adult teeth are coming in correctly, and that they’re not being crowded by baby teeth. Make sure the gums are healthy and the breath is not foul-smelling. Look for soft, white matter or hard white, yellow, or brown matter. You can brush away this substance, which is plaque or tartar, with a dog toothbrush and dog toothpaste.

Rottweiler getting its teeth brushed outdoors
©Dogs -

Oral infections in dogs can lead to serious problems in the gums and other parts of the body, including the heart. So it’s important to make sure your dog’s teeth and mouth are clean and healthy, too.

Checking Your Dog’s Temperature

A dog’s normal temperature is 101 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit (38.3 to 39.2 degrees Celsius). To take your dog’s temperature, you’ll need a rectal dog thermometer. Put some petroleum jelly on the bulb of the thermometer. Ask someone to hold your dog’s head while you lift their tail and insert the thermometer about an inch or so into the rectum. Do not let go of the thermometer. Hold it in until you get a temperature reading, then remove gently.

Healthy Canine Heartbeat and Pulse

Because dogs come in a wide range of sizes, their heartbeats vary. A normal heart beats from 50 to 130 times a minute in a resting dog. The hearts of puppies and small dogs beat faster, and large dogs in top condition have slower heartbeats.

To check your dog’s heartbeat, place your fingers over the left side of the chest, where you can feel the strongest beat. To check the pulse, which is the same speed as the heartbeat, press gently on the inside of the top of the hind leg. There is an artery there, and the skin is thin, so it’s easy to feel the pulse.

Healthy Dog Pee and Poop

If a dog is peeing clear, yellow urine, that can be a sign of good health. You may want to call the vet if they’re peeing more than usual or if they’re peeing less than usual.

Most adult dogs have one or two bowel movements a day. Healthy dog poop is usually brown and firm. If your pet is straining to poop, has runny or watery dog poop (like doggie diarrhea), or poops out bloody dog stool, you may want to call the veterinarian.

Healthy Dog Weight

Maintaining a healthy dog weight is the result of a balance between diet and exercise. If a dog is getting enough nutritious food and exercise but still seems overweight or underweight, they may have an underlying health problem. It’s a good idea to avoid giving your dog too many snacks or treats, since obese dogs may develop serious health problems.

Senior obese longhaired Dachshund at home.
kacoates/Getty Images Plus

The best way to tell if your dog is overweight is to feel their rib-cage area. You should be able to feel the ribs below the surface of the skin without much padding. However, different breeds have different body shapes, so a healthy Saluki will feel different from a healthy Basset Hound, for example. If you’re unsure if your dog is overweight, you can consult a breed weight chart or talk to your breeder and vet.

Dog Vaccinations

Regular dog vaccinations from your veterinarian can keep your dog from getting serious and sometimes fatal illnesses, such as canine distemper, parvovirus, hepatitis, leptospirosis in dogs, and rabies in dogs. A vaccination is also available for kennel cough, a respiratory problem that affects young dogs or dogs exposed to many other dogs.

Your vet will likely give your puppy their first vaccines when they’re 5 or 6 weeks old. These puppy shots will  continue over a period of several weeks, up to 16 weeks of age. Afterward, regular booster shots provide the protection your dog will need. Be sure to stick to the schedule your veterinarian gives you to ensure immunity.

When to Call the Vet

You should alert your veterinarian if your dog shows any unusual behavior, including the following symptoms:

  • Dog vomiting, diarrhea, or excessive urination for more than twelve hours
  • Fainting
  • Loss of balance, staggering, or falling
  • Dog constipation or straining to urinate
  • Runny eyes or nose
  • Regularly scratching at eyes or ears
  • Thick discharge from eyes, ears, nose, or sores
  • Dog coughing or canine sneezing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Panting for longer than usual
  • Shivering
  • Whining for no clear reason
  • Your dog losing their appetite for 24 hours or more
  • Weight loss
  • Dramatic increase in appetite for 24 hours or more
  • Increased restlessness
  • Excessive sleeping or unusual lack of activity
  • Limping, holding, or protecting part of their body
  • Excessive thirst and drinking of water
  • White gums

This article is intended solely as general guidance, and does not constitute health or other professional advice. Individual situations and applicable laws vary by jurisdiction, and you are encouraged to obtain appropriate advice from qualified professionals in the applicable jurisdictions. We make no representations or warranties concerning any course of action taken by any person following or otherwise using the information offered or provided in this article, including any such information associated with and provided in connection with third-party products, and we will not be liable for any direct, indirect, consequential, special, exemplary or other damages that may result, including but not limited to economic loss, injury, illness or death.

Related article: Kidney Disease in Dogs: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment
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