Grooming Tips for a Great Looking Dog!

List of Health Checks Prior to Grooming Your Dog

health checks prior to grooming your dog

Health checks constitutes a crucial part of your work for it allows you to establish that the dog is in a fit shape prior to grooming. The flip side of this is that it also means that you need to recognize that your dog has something “abnormal” going on. In doing so, you can contribute to her health and well-being by referring her to a vet for early investigation, diagnosis and treatment.

The health check needs to be thorough so do not try to cut corners or miss bits out! Take your time and go through each stage meticulously, particularly if you do not have a supervisor or someone who can advise you and double-check your work.

A health assessment is also, to some extent, a risk assessment. It serves several purposes:

  • To keep the grooming environment safe
  • To keep you and anyone working with you safe from the spread of zoonotic diseases
  • To keep other dogs in the grooming room safe from the spread of disease
  • To monitor and update records of existing disease
  • To identify any obvious signs of new illness or disease
  • To evaluate any increased risks of grooming a dog with an existing health concern
  • To evaluate any increased risks of grooming a dog with age-related problems
  • To give you an idea of the dog, pre-grooming stress level so that this can be monitored throughout the grooming process.

When presented with a dog for grooming, you should ask yourself the following four questions:

  1. Is the dog healthy enough to be groomed?
  2. Will grooming have any adverse affects on existing health problems?
  3. Are there any risks to other dogs, yourself or anyone else?
  4. Should the dog you are looking at be referred to a vet?

Having asked yourself these questions and assessed the dog, you should have enough information to decide whether the dog is fit to be groomed. In most cases this is a very straightforward decision, although it is always surprising how many things are discovered during the grooming process that owners have been blissfully unaware of.

It is worth pointing out, that the risks posed by different diseases can be reduced by a number of simple measures. It is recommended that you:

  • Make sure all dogs, including your own, are kept up to date with vaccinations. Details can be recorded on the customer record card
  • Make sure all dogs have been treated for parasites and keep a record of any details

Checklist for Health Check

Make full use of your senses when carrying out a health check: use your eyes to look, your ears to listen, your hands to feel and your nose to smell.

First Impressions

The dog should appear bright, alert and responsive to verbal and visual stimulation. He should, ideally, be approachable and willing to make contact with you and he should have free movement of all limbs.

The dog should be standing squarely on his legs and his neck should appear comfortable and relaxed, with free movement of the head.

Look out for:

  • Lethargy, indicating illness
  • Lack of response, indicating possible deafness or blindness
  • Difficulty standing on all four limbs
  • Standing with the neck extended
  • Signs of lameness
  • Signs of anxiety, aggression or unsociable behaviour

Start with the dog facing you to check his head, eyes and nose

The head should be held straight and should be able to turn comfortably from side to side and move both up and down. The muscles of the cheeks and on the top of the head should be firm and symmetrical. The dog should be willing to have his head examined.

Look out for:

  • Tilting of the head
  • Lack of symmetry on the top of the head or the cheeks
  • Restricted movement at the atlas/axis junction
  • Signs of pain or discomfort around the ear or mouth region

The eyes should be fully open, clear and bright, with a shiny, barely visible, white sclera. The conjunctival membranes, covering the inner linings of the eyelids, should be pink and the third eyelid barely visible.

The eye color can range from almost black to light brown; in some breeds blue is acceptable. The pupils should be the same size as each other.

Look out for:

  • Redness
  • Soreness
  • Cloudiness
  • Pain or discomfort
  • Discharge
  • Weeping
  • Foreign bodies
  • Differences in the size of the pupils
  • Squinting

The nose should be cold. It should have good open nostrils and be moist but not necessarily wet, with clear skin that may be black or brown in color.

Look out for:

  • warm skin
  • Dry or crusty skin
  • Discharges
  • Lumps or sores
  • Pink patches, redness or evidence of sunburn

Turn the dog sideways to check the ears and the mouth

The ears should be examined using all your senses. The inside of the ear should be dull pink and should not smell. Listen carefully for sounds that may indicate the presence of liquid within the ear canal. The pinna should be of an even thickness when felt, and visually the skin on both sides should appear to be an even color.

Look out for:

  • Redness
  • Sore skin
  • Inflammation
  • Pain or discomfort
  • Hair in the ear canal
  • Excess wax
  • Foreign bodies
  • Discharge or offensive smells
  • Discolored hair around the ear entrance
  • Swelling within the pinna
  • Head shaking
  • Signs of scratching

The mouth should be warm, have pink or pigmented tongue and mucosa. The mouth should be moist and may show a moderate amount of salivation. The breath should not be offensive in youngsters but, as the dog ages, it may deteriorate and develop an odor.

The gums should be rosy pink, or pigmented, and should not bleed when touched. The capillary refill time (CRT) can be evaluated by pressing on the gums with your finger. This empties the capillaries of blood, causing the gum to go pale; on releasing the pressure, the blood flows back into the capillaries, returning them to their normal color. The time taken for the color to return should be no slower than one to two seconds.

Teeth should have a correct bite for the breed.There should be only one set of teeth and they should be clean and in good condition (white in a young dog, staining towards yellow in the older dog). Pay special attention to the developing bite of young puppies. Many dental problems can be rectified if the condition is recognized and treated at an early age.

Look out for:

  • grey or pale tongue or mucosa, indicating shock or anaemia
  • yellowing of the mucosa, indicating jaundice
  • poor capillary refill
  • lumps on the gums or membranes
  • redness along the gum line
  • retained teeth
  • incorrect bite
  • plaque or calculus on the teeth
  • broken or loose teeth
  • offensive breath
  • excessive salivation or dribbling

With the dog facing you, start with your hands on the shoulders and run your hands simultaneously down the front legs. Turn the dog away from you. Starting at the back of the neck, check the length of the dog’s body. Use both hands simultaneously, with one working opposite the other. The body, including the legs, should be carefully examined.

Listen for noiseless, regular breathing and few or no gastric sounds. The body should be symmetrical and free of lumps and bumps. The skeleton should move freely and be covered with sufficient weight: the ribs and vertebral processes should be palpable (felt by gentle touch) but not clearly visible. If they cannot be easily palpated, this indicates the presence of a covering of subcutaneous fat and the dog may well be overweight.

Muscle tone in the young dog should be firm, but in the older dog may be softer; it should, however, always be symmetrical. The dog should be comfortable with being handled. Placing the fingers of your left hand over the heart region will allow you to detect the heart beat.

Look out for:

  • noisy breathing
  • difficulty breathing
  • lack of symmetry
  • lumps
  • cysts
  • warts
  • tumours
  • hernias
  • stiff joints
  • restricted mobility
  • poor muscle tone or loss of muscle mass
  • obese and overweight dogs
  • underweight dogs
  • pain or discomfort
  • noisy gastric sounds
  • bloated stomach/ abdominal distension
  • reluctance to be handled
  • over sensitivity when touched

The coat should be even, buoyant and dense. It should be shiny, odorless and free from parasites. Cyclic molting is normal but it should be evenly distributed over the entire coat. The coat of some smooth-coated dogs may not be as dense as in other breeds and there may be areas where the coat is very fine.

This is particularly noticeable on breeds such as the Whippet (legs and undercarriage) and is not a cause for concern. The ears of all breeds should have a covering of hair, although in some cases this may also be very fine.

Look out for:

  • dullness
  • greasiness
  • unpleasant
  • odors
  • evidence of parasites
  • hair loss
  • symmetrical thinning patches or uneven molting
  • excessive matting or wadding
  • evidence of scratching at, or chewing out the coat

The skin can be pink or pigmented, and should be warm to the touch and even in thickness. It should be supple, and clear from signs of growths, lumps or tumors, trauma, infection, bad odors and itchiness. Dogs should, generally speaking, always be comfortable having their skin touched.

In the coatless breeds it is normal for the skin to appear slightly dry but it should still be supple and not have a strong odor. It can range in color from very pale pink to blue black and it may also be pigmented.

Look out for:

  • thickened patches of rough skin
  • abnormal pigmentation and changes in pigmentation
  • lick granulomas
  • redness
  • inflamation
  • spots
  • lumps, swelling or tumors in the skin
  • abscesses with or without evidence of foreign bodies
  • scaling and crusting
  • itchiness, as demonstrated by an exaggerated scratch reflex when the skin is touched and/or rubbed
  • excessive grease/oil
  • excessive dander
  • unpleasant odor
  • sunburn
  • scalds and burns
  • hotspots

The anus and anal sacs should be inspected as part of the health examination. The anus should be neatly closed and the skin rosy pink in color. The anal sacs should not be evident and there should not be any signs of swelling, pain, discomfort, redness, discharge or trauma.

Look out for:

  • skin tumors on or around the anus
  • swelling of the anal sacs
  • abscesses
  • signs of self-mutilation (rubbing)
  • unpleasant odor
  • skin trauma
  • discharge from either the anus or the anal sacs
  • signs of feces, diarrhea or tapeworm segments on the surrounding skin and hair

The genitals: entire males should have both testicles descended and they should be even in size. Depending on the ambient temperature, they may be pulled close to the body or be hanging away from the body. The skin over the testicles should feel thick and robust and may or may not be pigmented.

Discharge from the penis can be normal but there should not be an offensive smell and the glans should be a healthy pink color. The skin surrounding the penis – the prepuce – should be even in thickness and free from lesions or sores.

Look out for:

In males:

  • entire males with retained or undescended testes
  • swelling or enlarged testes
  • lumps
  • shrivelling of either testicle
  • ulceration of the skin on the testes
  • excessive or offensive smelling discharge from the penis
  • thickened skin or sores on the prepuce
  • paraphimosis

Young male dogs may not have both testicles fully descended until five or six months of age and it would not be unusual for testicles to descend one at a time. By six months of age, however, they should both be in place.

In all bitches:

  • offensive odors
  • any abnormal shape or swelling of the vulva
  • redness of the vaginal membranes
  • frequent or constant urination
  • discoloration of the hair surrounding the vulva, suggesting excessive licking.

In unspayed bitches, with or without oestrus:

  • discharge when not in oestrus
  • swelling and soreness in the abdomen, with or without a vaginal discharge
  • signs of enlarged vaginal tissues extending out from within the vagina

All bitches, including neutered bitches, should have a neat vulva tucked fairly close to the body. There should not be any sign of discharge or offensive odors. The internal membranes will be a healthy rosy pink color. Unneutered bitches in oestrus will have an enlarged vulva with reddened membranes.

There may or may not be evidence of colored discharge and, although there will be an odor, it should not be offensive.

The tail should be free of any lumps or swellings. Straight tails should not have any unexplained bends that could signify a break. The joints of the tail should bend easily from side to side and up and down with a little persuasion.

Corkscrew tails should be examined for skin infection between the curls and at the dock. The joints of the corkscrew tail will have very little, if any, sideways or up-and-down movement.

Curled tails should be examined at the dock for signs of skin infection. The joints along the entire length should be able to bend easily from side-to-side and up and down.

The collection of sebaceous glands on the top of the tail, about a third of the length from the base, can become enlarged. This condition is called “tail gland hyperplasia”. The glands appear raised and will give the impression of a swollen lump. This may be associated with hair loss over the affected area or a change in hair color and/or texture. Some dogs will chew at this area of the tail, causing skin damage.

Look out for:

  • unexplained lumps
  • unexplained bends/kinks
  • restricted movement
  • pain
  • tail gland hyperplasia
  • sore skin
  • bald patches
  • evidence of scratching or rubbing
  • evidence of parasites
  • fouls smells, particularly in heavily furnished tails

The skin on the pads should be thick, robust and supple. Between the pads the skin should be pink or pigmented. The nails should be shiny, smooth and strong, and evenly worn. They may be white, brown, black or any combination of these three colors.

The shape of the foot will, to an extent, have a bearing on the length of the nail. A short rounded foot, such as you would find on a Cocker Spaniel, will have short nails because the nail is pointing towards the ground and is worn down as the foot rolls in movement.

The “hare” foot of the whippet, by contrast, has long toes which lengthen the foot. These nails grow forward along the ground and will be naturally longer in length.

Look out for:


  • cuts and lesions between the pads of the feet and between the toes
  • bruising caused by hard debris and knots in long interdigital hair
  • interdigital cysts
  • signs of self mutilation
  • signs of harvest mites
  • soreness or discomfort, particularly in the winter time when salt (used to keep roads and walkways free of ice) can cause “salt burn” between the pads.


  • brittleness
  • roughness or flaking of the nail surface
  • dullness
  • discoloration, swelling and heat at the nail bed, indicating an infection
  • uneven wear in a young dog, indicating lameness, restricted muscle action or a skeletal injury/deformity
  • uneven wear in an old dog, indicating restricted muscle function or skeletal disease (arthritis)
  • excessively long nails
  • uneven growth in length or density
  • pain and/or reluctance to have a foot lifted and examined, indicating a possible torn nail
List of Health Checks Prior to Grooming Your Dog was last modified: by

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List of Health Checks Prior to Grooming Your Dog

health checks prior to grooming your dog

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