How to Know if your Dog is Healthy

Posted on
February 4, 2019

Since dogs can’t tell us themselves when they’re not feeling great, it’s important for owners to look for signs that something might be up. A healthy dog is a happier one—more engaged and loving. While you should still be taking your dog to the vet for regular checkups, there are signs you can look for that can tell you your dog is doing well. Some indicators that your dog is in good health include:

  1. A shiny, clean coat
  2. Clean odor
  3. Regular bladder and bowel movements

If your dog meets these three categories, it’s a sign that he or she is in good shape.

1. A Clean, Shiny Coat Indicates Good Canine Health

A healthy dog should have a shiny coat that either sheds regularly or grows at a consistent rate—depending on what breed you have. While a bath is essential for a clean house after your dog runs in the mud, your dog’s fur or hair appearance is largely related to healthy habits.

Excessive shedding and a dull, coarse hair coat can be a consequence of an insufficient diet. What you feed your dog needs to be highly digestible to give your dog what he needs. Make sure you are feeding your dog the right amount of:

  • Calories
  • Protein
  • Carbohydrates
  • Fats
  • Vitamins and Minerals

But the quantities of these nutrients are not one size fits all. These will change depending on your dog’s breed, size, and life stage, so it’s a good idea to check with your vet.

Whether your dog has hair or fur depends on his breed. If he has growing hair, more grooming—shampooing, cutting—is recommended every six to eight weeks. Other breeds shed on their own and require less bathing. If your dog has allergies, the vet may recommend regular baths.

Another cause of irregular shedding is stress or illness. Metabolic issues, chronic diarrhea, and internal parasites can affect your dog’s coat, particularly it’s shine. Problems with your dogs mobility, like arthritis or obesity, can cause dandruff or matting if your dog is unable to groom himself.

If your dog is constantly scratching, that is a tell-tale sign of external allergens, such as fleas or external parasites.

Even if you don’t see your dog scratching too much, consequences of extra itching are bald spots and redness.

Two of the most common reasons for a vet visit are atopic dermatitis, a reaction to environmental substances, and pyoderma, a bacterial infection. Both can be controlled with steroids and antihistamines.

If your dog appears oily or dirty, don’t necessarily assume that he is just in need of a bath. One of the first signs of a serious health condition is a dull, coarse coat—so make sure to check with your vet.

Once the underlying condition affecting your dog is taken care of, a sleek shiny coat will be restored.

Black Dog with tongue sticking out
Good scents are a good sign of a healthy pup.

2. A Dog that Smells Good Feels Good

We can’t spray perfume on our dogs, but good, natural, and healthy smells are great indicators of a healthy dog. Bad breath could indicate a serious oral condition. Similarly, smelly ears could signal an infection.

Fresh Breath

Nothing kills the mood of a kiss like bad breath, and the same goes for puppy kisses. A little smell is normal, since dogs don’t brush their teeth twice a day like humans do. But the absence of a wicked smell coming from your dog’s mouth is a good sign that he is healthy.

If that’s not the case and you do smell something foul, make sure to take your dog to the vet. Strong smells coming from your dog’s mouth can be caused by plaque and tartar buildup in the gums, both signs of dental diseases like gingivitis and periodontitis.

Both can cause damage to vital organs, and periodontitis specifically causes tooth loss.

Sometimes, bad breath can be an indicator of oral melanoma. Some other indications of this condition include:

  • Drooling
  • Swelling in the face
  • Weight loss, caused by decreased appetite
  • Bleeding from the mouth

Oral melanoma is more common in older dogs.

If the vet finds that your dog doesn’t have a serious oral condition and that it’s just a case of bad breath, you may need to change what you’re feeding your dog. Certain foods can cause digestive problems and subsequently a bad smell.

There are solutions to minor bad dog breath, like food that helps clean your dog’s teeth while he’s eating and therapeutic food that aims to help oral diseases like gingivitis and periodontitis. In some situations, your vet might even advise brushing your dog’s teeth. If this is the case, make sure to use toothpaste and a toothbrush designed for dogs.

Clean Ears

Dogs get ear infections too! A foul odor or discharge coming from your dog’s ears can indicate an infection. Excessive pawing at the area and head tilting are also tell-tale signs.

If your dog does get an ear infection, your vet will usually recommend drops, ointment, or an antibiotic to solve the problem. In addition, the vet will perform a more intense cleaning before you guys leave the office.

To prevent infection, make sure you are cleaning your dog’s ears regularly.

Small black dog pooping in the grass
Keep an eye on your dog's poop to see that it's consistent.

3. Regular Bowel Movements

This one is easy to look for, since you’re the one picking up your pup’s poop multiple times a day. Your dog’s poop is a great indicator of digestive health. Vet Jessica Vogelsang recommends looking for the four C’s:

  • Color
  • Consistency
  • Content
  • Coating

It’s okay for minor changes from your dog’s normal dump from time to time. But if you notice something off more than two times, schedule an appointment with your vet.


You’re probably familiar with the chocolate brown color of dog poop. If your dog’s poop matches that shade, it’s a good sign that your dog is doing well digestively.

If the poop looks black, like tar, that means internal bleeding has occurred higher in the digestive tract. Bright red streaks can mean bleeding in the lower digestive tract, and that the blood hasn’t been digested yet. Grey or yellow poop can be a sign that something is wrong with the pancreas, liver, or gallbladder.

If your dog’s poop is green, that could just be because he is eating a lot of grass, as what you feed your dog can affect the color of his poop.

It’s important to look at the color of your dog’s urine as well. Dark or bright yellow pee could mean your dog is dehydrated, and red or pink pee could be from a urinary tract infection.


The ideal stool is firm, similar to the consistency of Play-Doh. If you can’t pick up your dog’s poop without it melting into the grass, then it could be a sign of dehydration. A minor change once in a while isn’t a big deal, but if it happens a few times, head over to the vet.


Inspecting the makeup of your dog’s poop is usually done at the vet, since it’s kind of gross. But you can still pay attention to the content of the poop at home just to make sure everything is going good.

If you see worms in your dog’s fresh poop, then he likely has a parasite. Tapeworms look like bits of rice, and roundworms are long and thin. A dog gets tapeworms after ingesting something with tapeworm eggs in or on it. A common example of this is an adult flea.

These, along with whipworms and hookworms, can be treated with an anti-worm medication prescribed by your vet.

If you notice foreign objects in dog poop, it could mean that your dog has been digging through the garbage.

This can be difficult to tell, but try to make sure your dog has an even ratio between what he’s eating and how much he poops.


A small amount of mucus with your dog’s poop is normal. But if it the mucus becomes excessive, and is accompanied by diarrhea, it could be a sign of a gastrointestinal infection. Small streaks of fresh blood can mean that your dog is having difficulty pooping.

Another important thing to remember is that your dog should be pooping at least once a day. And while a foul smell is normal, a change in that smell could indicate a problem. Also, keep an ear out for your dog’s tummy. Random digestion noises are normal, but frequent bouts of bad gas and loud digestion could mean that something is up.

Every dog is different, so it’s important to take your pup to the vet to cater to his specific needs. Small changes in these things here and there are not something to worry about, but a consistent change in your dog’s coat, odor, or poop can be a sign that something is up.

Small brown dog smiling and wearing diaper
Your dog can't tell you what he's thinking—so try to read the signs as best you can.

If all of these remain somewhat regular, it’s a good sign that your dog is doing well. Most importantly, pay attention to what your dog is trying to tell you about his own health.

What do you do to make sure your pup is in good shape? Let us know in the comments!

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Posted on
February 4, 2019