Keeping your canine friend happy and healthy is one of the key responsibilities of a good dog owner. More so than any other pet, dogs require daily care and interaction and their well-being depends not only on physical maintenance but also on things like adequate and appropriate exercise, and regular training and socialisation.
Choosing a good veterinarian is a pre-requisite to good health care for your dog. Make sure that not only is the vet experienced in dealing with canine health problems but is also familiar with your particular breed of dog as many breeds will have specific health issues.
Choosing a dog from a responsible breeder is the first step to having a healthy pet. Do not buy a pet-store puppy on impulse – make sure you do your homework on temperament, exercise requirements, size, trainability, genetic diseases – and take your time to find a reputable breeder who will provide puppies from healthy, good-natured parents. Alternatively, you could adopt a dog that has been vetted by an animal shelter and passed for health and temperament.
The First Vet Visit
Ideally, this should happen before the puppy or new dog is taken home, although a visit within 48hrs of arrival is acceptable. The vet will give the dog a thorough examination and advise you on the best treatments for worms, fleas and other parasites, as well as any vaccinations needed. He will also check the eyes, ears and teeth for any problems and examine the internal organs, such as the heart and lungs.
All puppies should start life with a suitable vaccination schedule, usually starting at 8 weeks and continuing until about 16 weeks, with further annual boosters thereafter. This will protect him from serious canine diseases such as distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis and parvovirus. Some vets will also vaccinate against Bordetella or “kennel cough’, which is particularly important if your dog is to spend large amounts of time in kennels or in crowded conditions with lots of strange dogs (eg, show dogs).
Worming your dog regularly is important, particularly in young animals where a severe case of worms can cause anaemia and serious illness. There is also the human health aspect to consider, especially if children are involved. As with all things, prevention is better than cure and so it is advisable to follow a good worming plan throughout your pet’s life, rather than wait until they become infested. In general, puppies are wormed every 2 weeks until they are 12 weeks of age and then monthly until 6 months of age; thereafter, every 3 months for the rest of their lives. Again, your vet can advise as to the best worming products and methods.
Fleas can cause terrible discomfort to your dog – aside from the itching, they can cause anaemia and also a severe allergic skin reaction. They also carry the risk of tape-worm infection, which is dangerous to humans. Different products vary greatly in their effectiveness – most vets now recommend a “spot-on” treatment (squeezed from a vial onto the pet’s skin, between the shoulder blades) as the best and safest way to control fleas, for 4 – 8 weeks after each application. There are also other products such as flea powders and shampoos or collars but these tend to have limited effectiveness.
Grooming your dog regularly is an essential activity, even if you have a short-coated breed – not just to make your dog look good but also for coat and skin health. It also helps you bond with your dog and gives you a chance to examine him all over and check for any signs of external parasites or injury (eg, abscess). This is also a good time to check the nails and trim them if necessary.
To be healthy, a dog must have regular exercise – both for cardiovascular function and muscle maintenance but also for its mental state. However, the level and type of exercise depends on the breed, natural activity level, age and any health issues. Many dogs, especially the more active and intelligent breeds, also require substantial training and mental stimulation, otherwise behavioural problems will result.
A varied, well-balanced diet is the key to good health. There are many contradicting opinions as to what to feed your dog – your best bet is to talk to those with knowledge and experience (vets, breeders, other owners), do your own research and try various diets until you find one which is suitable to your dog. Watch for over-feeding, as obesity is a common problem in the modern pet, and consider giving a raw bone occasionally for dental hygiene.