The Importance Of A Daily Examination
By Laura Pakis
There’s nothing worse than an upset client, especially when you can avoid the situation by taking 10 minutes a day with their dog to perform a daily examination. The time you spend on the exam will save you money and headaches by lessening medical issues and keeping clients happy.
The daily exam accomplishes several things. First, it sets a baseline of any problems, scars, tumors, etc. the dog has, allowing you to catch any changes very quickly, including lumps, injuries, flea/tick infestations, hotspots, and even internal parasites. Second, the dog gets very used to being handled, which reduces stress during their stay while building mutual trust and respect with the handlers.
To Start the Examination:
1. A straightforward way to do the daily exam is with the dog out of the kennel and facing away from the handler either sitting, standing or laying down (whatever is most comfortable for the dog). Facing away from the handler is less stressful for the dog, but gives the handler maximum control and access to all parts of the body.
2. It is important not to allow the dog to squirm. Do not release the dog until they stop wriggling, then praise and release quickly before they can start wriggling again. Never release a dog while he is wriggling. Slowly build up the time you hold the dog in daily exam position.
3. With the dog in position, speak softly and affectionately and massage his tummy or wherever else he enjoys being petted or rubbed. When he wriggles or fusses do not rub or coo at the dog. Either be silent and ignore it, or give a “wrong” marker or verbal correction (“no”) in a neutral tone of voice.
4. Develop a pattern so that each handler does the exam the same each time. This way, a part won’t accidentally be skip over.
5. Start at the shoulders and feel along the scapula, from the withers to the point of the shoulder, and then on to the elbow. Follow the spine of the scapula and feel the muscles which attach there to the scapula. Check for tenderness, heat (which may indicate injury), external parasites, crusty areas in the skin, bald patches, and any deformity in the bone. The scapula is usually rotated about 45 degrees from the dog’s spine, pointed from the withers toward the front of the dog’s chest. At the point of the shoulder (a joint), the humerus attaches at about a 90–degree angle to the scapula. The humerus should be well muscled. Follow it to the elbow, still checking for signs of injury, crusts, or parasites.
6. While at the elbow, gently glide it forward and feel the movement in the shoulder joint (point of the shoulder). Don’t move the elbow out away from the body or twist it, but only move it in the direction the dog would move it himself when taking a step forward.
7. Next, check the elbow joint by gently straightening and flexing it. If the dog is very relaxed, when you straighten his elbow joint, his pastern (carpus or wrist) joint will automatically straighten simultaneously. Follow the radio–ulna (forearm) down to the wrist. On the forearm, there is less muscle and more tendons as compared to the shoulder and humerus. Only tendons run along the front of the forearm, but there are muscles and tendons along the back of the forearm.
8. Near the pastern pad, there may be a large dimple where the skin folds in between tendon and bone. Check the pastern pad for cuts, cracks, and tenderness. Flex the pastern joint. From the pastern joint, the leg starts to split off into five digits: four toes and a dewclaw. Some dogs have a functional dewclaw, which they use sort of like a thumb to grasp things while chewing. In others, the dewclaw hangs loosely and may be prone to injury. In some dogs, the dewclaw may be surgically removed. Check each pad in the paw the same as the pastern pad.
9. Check between the pads for cuts, thorns, burrs and ticks. Feel along each toe. (The bones in dog toes go in unexpected directions, kind of like a “Z”.) Check that none of the toenails are split, cracked, sharp, overgrown, or worn into the quick. You may want to apply pad toughener or Musher’s Secret to the pads, depending on whether it’s needed.
9. Feel down the length of the dog from the withers to the hips, checking the bones of the spine and the muscle and skin along the way. Feel along from the throat to the genitals, checking the bones of the rib cage, and the muscle and skin along the way. The abdomen is a good place to really check for fleas because the hair is usually thinner there so the fleas (or flea “dirt”) are easier to see there and because the skin is slightly warmer there, fleas are attracted to this area. Swelling and/or hardness in the abdomen, especially in deep chested dogs, may indicate “bloat”, a very serious, life-threatening condition which requires immediate veterinary care as death may occur in less than 24 hours.
10. If the dog is an intact male, you should gently feel the testicles for lumps and make sure both are descended. For both males and females, feel the breast tissue, checking for lumps. Feel down both sides, again checking the ribs, the musculature, and the skin.
11. If, at any point, you cannot run your fingers through the dog’s fur to the skin, it’s time for a good brushing or combing out. You should be able to reach your fingers to the skin even on dogs which are supposed to have dreadlocks.
12. As you check the dog, use all your senses. Is the smell normal or strong and foul? Untreated injuries start to stink as they become infected. Breath odor or ear odor can also indicate conditions which require treatment.
13. Check the hindquarters and tail as you did with the forequarters, except be extra gentle when flexing the joints of the hind leg. They usually don’t move as far as the front legs. Never force the leg (front or back) to flex or straighten. Always use the very gentlest pressure and do not force the dog if he resists moving a limb, as this may cause injury.
14. Moving on to the head. Check the corneas of the eyes. They should be crystal clear, smooth and shiny. Cloudiness may indicate cataracts or injury. Gently pull down the lower lid and look at the mucous membrane lining the surface of the lid which rests against the eye. It should be moist and pale pink. Grayness may indicate anemia, possibly because of internal parasites. Redness may indicate irritation of the eye or illness.
15. Check the ears. On the outer edge of the pinna (the external part of the ear, as opposed to the ear canal), there is a section with a small flap on it. Be sure to check it for ticks, especially seed ticks. Check for tears in the edges and puncture holes (possibly from playing with other dogs or cats). Look inside the ear to see if it needs cleaning or if there might be an infection.
16. Move to the mouth. Peel back the lips and examine the gums. These should be pale pink or have black pigment. Find a pink area and gently press on it with your finger. Release the pressure and observe the white finger print left on the gum. If it takes longer than one second for the gum to turn pink again, there may be a circulation problem. Check that none of the teeth are loose. Check the edge of each tooth where it enters the gum. Yellow or brown accumulations indicate tartar buildup which can lead to gingivitis. This is an appropriate time to brush the teeth with a properly sized, soft toothbrush and canine toothpaste. Swelling or redness of the gums may indicate gingivitis, which left untreated can threaten the life of the dog. Check the “bite” of the dog by gently closing the jaws together to see how the teeth meet. Make sure the teeth are not injuring the inside of the lips or cheeks. Check the lips for injury, infected follicles, zits and warts. Balding areas, especially around the mouth and eyes (but possibly other places) may indicate dermodex (a form of mange) which may require medication from a veterinarian.
Once finished with the examination, document what was found or indicate that nothing has changed. You may be thankful to know you quickly found a scrape before it became infected or how appreciative your clients are to learn that you discovered their dog needs a teeth cleaning by performing the daily examination.
Laura Pakis, owner and founder of Acme Canine, has been a professional dog trainer for numerous years and a boarding/daycare facility owner for 13 years. A member of the Dog Writer’s Association, Blog Paws, Women in the Pet Industry and the Internationals Association of Canine Professionals, Laura shares her canine knowledge through a variety of social media outlets. Laura feels responsible ownership is an important part of having a dog and guides her blog, Spike’s Dog Blog, toward providing dog owners with not only training knowledge, but also care and understanding of dogs.