Learning how to maintain, improve and treat your dog’s health deserves a whole website of its own.
Dogs thrive when they are healthy, but they can also suffer from disease and illness just like people – arthritis, ear-infections, cancer, hearing loss, diabetes, heart disease are amongst the illnesses dogs and humans have in common.
A healthy dog should have a bright shiny coat, clear muscle definition, white teeth, pink gums, good energy levels and be within the correct weight range.
And like people, dogs need a nutritionally balanced diet, lots of exercise, companionship, at least yearly checkups at the vet, and can benefit from dog health insurance.
If you need to find a dog health practitioner near you, please use the site search.
A Healthy Diet
A dog’s natural diet features raw food – mainly meat, but can include some raw fruit and vegetables. The BARF diet is frequently held up as the ideal diet for dogs.
All dogs should ideally have at least 1 walk per day, if they are not in a working environment. Walking on footpaths has the bonus of keeping toenails down.
Vaccination is the most important thing you can do to prevent viral illnesses such as distemper, hepatitis and Parvovirus. Puppies should receive initial vaccinations before four months of age, and annual boosters thereafter.
Dogs that stay in boarding kennels while you are on holiday, or frequently attend dog shows, should receive kennel cough vaccinations, involving two vaccinations four weeks apart, before going to the kennel. An annual booster is available after that.
Like humans, some dogs may experience a reaction to vaccination, ranging from slight tenderness, being a little quiet for a few days, or a more severe reaction such as itching, rashes or other problems. Contact your vet if this happens.
A solid raw leg bone that your dog can chew on for a long time, is great for dental health. There are also flavoured synthetic bones, for hungry dogs like my labrador. You can also brush their teeth with a dog toothpaste.
Dogs are generally desexed at around 6 months of age. For male dogs, it can help avoid dominance issues and wanderlust, and can help eliminate prostate and testicular cancer. For female dogs, it can help avoid mammary cancer.
Summer Dog Care
Dogs will need extra water in summer, so keep the bowl filled with clean water. Ensure they have a shady area if they’re home alone.
Light-coloured or short-haired dogs may get sunburnt in summer, so keep some dog sunscreen handy. Walking in the early morning or late evening is best during summer to avoid exhaustion. Never leave them in a hot car – heat stroken can cause brain damage.
Give them frozen treats to suck on. A frozen cup of beef stock, or ice cubes in their water bowl is a great treat.
Winter Dog Care
Cold weather tends to make humans want to stay inside, cosy and warm, but your dog still needs his daily walk, for good health, and so he doesn’t get bored. Both your dog and you can get a warm jacket or raincoat, so you can keep walking in all weather. Long-haired dogs with double coats should be fine, but your short-haired dog would love a jacked in winter. Consider the occasional doggy day care centre to give him a socialisation boost. Try games such as hide-and-seek, (my son loves doing this – he hides behind a door, then calls for Spike, and waits for him to sniff him out), and tricks and training, such as play dead, shake hands, roll over, etc.
Dogs shouldn’t need extra food during winter to keep them warm, unless they are working dogs spending all their time outside. As a treat, give them warm water, flavoured with a little beef stock, to ensure they keep their fluids up.
Keep an outside kennel warm by lining it with straw, as blankets tend to get wet. Keep it raised off the ground, if possible. Provide inside sleeping areas with extra blankets and bedding.
Dogs suffering from arthritis may feel it more in winter. Consider supplements that specifically address arthritis. Keep runny eyes clean, and keep up with daily brushing, to avoid coats tangled from wearing coats.
Dog Health Problems
Avoid trying to diagnose your dog’s health problem on the internet. It can be useful for initial reading, and followup research, but go to your vet for a correct diagnosis, and they will usually present you with information sheets you can use as a starting point for further research.
If fleas are causing your dog to itch, it’s because adult fleas are biting. You need to treat the whole flea lifecycle, including flea adults, eggs, larvae and pupae. Look for ingredients such as Pyriproxofen, an insect growth inhibitor that stops growth to the next stage, and Permethrin to kill adult fleas.
Ideally your dog should have a waist, going in after the ribs, and out again near the hips. Obesity can exacerbate arthritis, diabetes, back problems and pancreatitis, with severe joint pain. Obesity usually starts at around 1 year of age, when your dog stops being a puppy, and they need less food per kilogram of weight. Giving your dog a bone may be the equivalent of one cup of dog food, and has a significant fat content.
Bad breath may be caused by dental disease, diet or stomach problems.
Can be caused by eating too many bones. Can be helped by paraffin oil once a week. A teaspoon of psyllium husks added to food can soften motions.
Many older dogs suffer from arthritis, and experience pain when trying to walk. Arthritis can be worse when dogs are overweight, so try to keep weight normal. Many vets suggest adding glucosamine to the diet, to help damaged cartilege. Acupuncture and stretching have been shown to benefit. Anti-inflammatory medicine can reduce pain.
Mental Health Problems
Dog Behavioural therapists cater from breaking an annoying habit, to deep doggie depression.
Many dog behaviour problems are the direct result of how they have interacted with humans in the past. Whether your dog is naturally passive, insecure or aggressive, they will benefit from a balanced training program, with professional assistance.
Anxiety problems are the most common illnesses in dogs, and anti-depressant medications may be prescribed by a therapist.
A consultation with a behavioural therapist may involve a lengthy session, producing a behaviour plan and followups.
There are many therapeutic toys on the market, but one of the best therapies for your dog is a regular walk.
As with humans (in our family), cortisone-based cremes are sometimes recommended, although it may increase their appetite and affect the personality over a longer term. Oatmeal-based shampoos, and fresh water baths can help, plus Omega-3 food supplements.
Treating Dog Health Problems
To help your vet in the correct diagnosis, be prepared with information such as:
- How long your dog has been unwell
- Changes in eating or drinking
- Any vomiting or diarrhoea, bowel or urination changes
- Weight gain or loss
- Any medications
- Accidents or access to poisons
- Seasonal variations