The Best Thing You Can Do Between Vet Visits

Even though regular veterinary visits are a necessary part of keeping our pets healthy, it’s not always the most fun way to spend an hour. So most of us breathe a little sigh of relief when they’re over.

However, what you do between visits is just as important as those yearly exams. Taking a little time each week to check out your dog or cat will help you learn what’s normal and what’s not, and are a great way to catch small issues before they become big problems. Plus, it can be a fun bonding experience for both of you!

When performing an at-home exam, make sure you have good lighting, and take a systematic approach so you don’t miss anything.


Take a moment to stare deeply into your pet’s eyes. Both pupils should be the same size and the eyes should be clear, bright, and shiny. You shouldn’t see redness, discharge, squinting, or a noticeable change in tear production. And if you happen to notice a white-colored membrane (aka “third eyelid) covering the lower part of the eye, it probably means your pet is sick or in pain.


The nose knows a lot about your pet’s health. Make sure it’s smooth, without any scaling or roughness. Sneezing or nasal discharge can be signs of an upper respiratory infection, quite common in cats. Also, look for color changes or loss of pigmentation on your pet’s nose.


Speaking of noses, it’s time to put yours to work. Lean in and take a whiff of your pet’s ears. If they’re smelly, that could be a sign of infection. Also look for debris, redness, hair loss, or crusting, which may also indicate a problem. If you notice your cat or dog pawing at or shaking their head, it probably means their ears are bothering them.


Now it’s time for your pet to say “ahh!” Take a look in their mouth for tumors, swelling, bleeding gums, tartar, and foreign objects like string (cats) and sticks (dogs). There should be no broken teeth and no odor. The gums should be nice and pink, not white (possible circulatory issue) or red (gum disease).


Run your hands over your pet, including all four legs, to feel for areas of swelling, heat, scrapes, pain, hair loss, crusting, or redness. Be sure to lift up that tail, too! And don’t forget to check between the toes and look at the pads for any foreign objects that might have gotten lodged there.


A healthy coat is sleek and glossy, not dull, dry, or greasy. Part the fur and look for flakes, ticks, fleas, and flea dirt—small flecks of black debris that look like black pepper. This is actually flea poop, and if you get it wet, it will turn red.


Last but not least, check for weight gain or loss. This can be crucial in determining early signs of disease or illness. Even just a few extra pounds can be significant in animals, leading to arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, and breathing difficulties. Chances are if you can pinch an inch, your pet is too plump and should see the vet to get started on a weight-loss program.