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Dogs: The Home Clinic

It isn’t necessary to go running to your veterinarian for help whenever a minor health problem crops up. Many of you are quite capable of handling yourself. You’re in the best position to judge the state of your dog’s health and to take action if something serious develops. All you need to know are a few basics.

Your first job is to know the different parts of your dog’s body so that you can identify what is wrong and either treat it or report it accurately to your veterinarian.


When you need medical materials, you may need them fast. They should be kept where they are readily accessible in a container that will make it possible to take them quickly to an injured animal. Fish tackle boxes, toolboxes, or small cosmetic cases make excellent carriers. These contents are suggested as basic supplies:

  • rectal thermometer
  • bandage materials:
      • 4 x 4 gauze pads
      • 3-inch cast padding
      • 3-inch kling gauze
      • 1-inch and 2-inch rolls of adhesive tape
  • 12-inch wood splints (such as a ruler)
  • 4- or 5-foot clothesline rope bacitracin ointment
  • hydrogen peroxide (3 percent solution)
  • ml or 12 ml syringe (obtained from your local veterinarian) bulb syringe or baster
  • mineral oil bandage scissors
  • Betadine solution
  • Vaseline
  • hair clippers

click for larger image(top) large intestine, urinary, bladder, kidney, trachea esophagus, right lung, heart, spleen, stomach; (bottom) skull, cervical vertebrae, thoracic, lumbar, scapula, ilium, humerus, ribs, sacral vertebrae, ulna, ischium, radius, sternum, femur, coccygeal vertebrae, carpals, metacarpals, phalanges, tarsals, metatarsals, phalanges


This is done most easily when the dog is standing, but the dog may also be sitting or lying down. Use a rectal thermometer and shake the mercury down below 95.0°F, or use a digital thermometer. Lubricate the bulb with Vaseline and, holding up the dog’s tail with one hand, insert the thermometer until about half its length is in the rectum. After one to two minutes, remove the thermometer and read the temperature where the mercury stops. Normal temperatures for a dog range between 100.00 and 102.8°F.


A dog’s respiratory rate is one of the vital bodily signs, as we’ll see, when you’re checking for damage following a violent accident. So it is important that you be able to judge when things are not as they should be. A normal, healthy dog takes between twelve and twenty breaths a minute.


Certainly you’re not equipped to detect subtle abnormalities such as a heart murmur, but you can read major signs of danger if you know how. Normally, a dog’s heart will beat between 100 and 140 times a minute. The easiest means of checking this is to feel the beat through the chest wall on the left side, just behind the point of the elbow. In larger breeds, such as Saint Bernards and Newfoundlands, with massive chest walls, this may not be possible — the femoral pulse must be your guide. You can find this on the inside of the dog’s hind leg, midway along the line where the thigh and pelvis are joined. You can feel the blood pulsing through the artery by placing your fingers over it and lightly pressing from the outside with your thumb. Normally, you will feel a strong, bounding pulse.


Any indication of a sudden, major change in your dog’s health is a signal to get on the phone and seek professional advice. If you’ve learned your basics and use judgment, you needn’t worry about being a bother to the veterinarian. (In an emergency, even though you have already decided to take the animal where it can get skilled help, this call will serve to alert the veterinarian.) As a rule, accept the fact that you will be making the trip, not the veterinarian — house calls are uncommon.


There are several relatively easy ways to administer the medicines your dog needs. One of these will suit your purposes:

DIRECT PILLING. If you’re right-handed, hold the dog’s upper muzzle with your left hand, nose upward at about a 45-degree angle. Pry its lower jaw open with the third finger of your right hand, holding the pill between thumb and forefinger. As quickly as possible, place the pill as far back in the mouth as you can — on top of the tongue, not under it — remove your fingers and hold the mouth closed with one hand while you stroke the throat with the other to stimulate swallowing.

INDIRECT PILLING. As an alternative, if a dog gulps down its food, try hiding the pill in a piece of cheese or meat. You can also crush pills or open capsules to put the medicine in food, although sometimes they cause a bitter taste.

LIQUID MEDICATIONS. Most medicines currently available as pills and capsules also come in liquid form. Though these are usually a little more expensive, they can solve problems with giving your dog solid medicines. Holding the dog’s mouth as you would to give it a pill (above), with a dropper squirt the medicine between the side molars or into the cheek pouch and the dog will swallow it reflexively. Give the medicine slowly so that the animal can catch its breath.


Sometimes, in the case of a sick animal that refuses food, it is necessary to force-feed it. While in a veterinary hospital this might be done through a tube to the stomach, the owner must use another technique. Your veterinarian can provide you with a syringe for this purpose. Basically, you use the same principles as with administering pills or liquid medication in holding the dog. Using the syringe, you inject the food into the animal’s throat. Beef or chicken baby food and soups may be used or a mixture of gruel with honey or Karo. To minimize the mess, make a bib out of a paper towel to put around the pet’s neck. Even more than with liquid medicines, you need to take care that the dog has a chance to breathe during this process.

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