Keep Your Dog Healthy

Happy pug
Olena Savytska/E+/Getty Images

Caring dog owners want to take good care of their dogs. You love your dog, and you want her to be healthy and happy. Help keep your dog on the path to wellness by following some basic dog health guidelines.

Expert Veterinary Care

High-quality veterinary care sets the foundation for your dog’s overall health. Start by finding a veterinarian you can trust and visit that vet regularly. Ideally, routine wellness examinations should be performed by your vet once every six to twelve months.

All dogs need to be vaccinated and given heartworm prevention. Most should be on flea and tick prevention as well. Talk to your vet about the appropriate vaccinations for your dog's lifestyle and the most appropriate type of heartworm prevention. Ask your vet about options to prevent and treat fleas and ticks.

Puppies will need to be seen every few weeks during the first few months of their lives, primarily for their puppy vaccinations and to ensure they are growing at a healthy rate. The vet and staff can also help you with puppy-raising tips during these visits.

Healthy adult dogs typically need to see the vet annually for physical examinations, vaccines, and testing for heartworms and intestinal parasites. If your adult dog has special needs, a chronic health condition, or another illness, be sure to comply with your vet’s recommendations about follow up visits and treatments.

Senior dogs should be seen by a vet at least every six months, but more frequently if they have health issues. Most vets recommend annual lab testing to assess organ function and blood cell counts. Since your dog ages at a faster rate than you, many subtle changes can develop over a six to twelve-month period. Routine visits allow your vet to closely monitor changes before your dog’s health gets out of control.

Learn how to effectively communicate with your vet and you can expect the same in return. If you can develop a good connection with your vet, it can lead to long-term benefits for you and your dog.

Optimum Nutrition

Proper nutrition is fundamental for keeping all dogs healthy. Diet directly affects your dog’s skin and coat, weight, energy level, and gastrointestinal function. If a problem occurs in one of these areas, it may be related to an improper diet.

Choose a high-quality dog food made by a reputable company, or ask your vet about complete and balanced homemade diets. Once you choose a diet, watch your dog’s response to it over the next four to eight weeks.

  • How does her coat look? It should be shiny and free of flakes, but not greasy.
  • Have you noticed a change in her energy level? A decrease in energy could indicate a problem.
  • Has she lost or gained weight? Obesity in dogs is a very common problem that can often be reversed with proper diet and exercise. Excess weight loss may occur if your dog does not find the food palatable.

If your dog's response to the diet is poor, it may be time to look into other foods. A sudden change in dog foods can cause diarrhea or even vomiting, so switch over gradually unless otherwise directed by your vet.

Routine Exercise

Many dog owners underestimate how much exercise their dogs really need in order to stay healthy and happy. A bored dog with excess energy can act out, often with destructive behavior. This may lead to a diagnosis of separation anxiety or another behavioral problem. In some cases, the undesired behavior is actually the result of an energy surplus and not a true behavioral condition.

If you feed your dog a healthy diet, it will give her plenty of energy. If your dog can’t release that energy with exercise and activity, she may end up releasing it on your furniture, carpet, doorways, or even your prized collection of rare books.

Before you blame your dog for damage done, ask yourself if she’s getting enough exercise. In general, dogs need at least one to two hours of exercise per day, but this varies by breed, size, and age. Over time, determine the ideal exercise regimen for your dog and establish a routine. You might even notice an improvement in your own health in the meantime.

Dental Care

It's easy to forget about your dog's teeth until you get a whiff of bad breath. Despite popular opinion, bad breath in dogs is not normal; it is a sign of problems in the mouth. Plaque and tartar build-up can lead to some serious health problems.

It's never too late to start focusing on preventive dental care. You can brush your dog's teeth, use oral rinses, feed dental treats, or all of the above--just do something. It's best not to wait until dental disease threatens your dog's health. Of course, be sure to talk to your vet about your dog's teeth. Professional cleanings may be necessary from time to time.

Regular Grooming

Grooming is not just for show dogs or “fancy” dogs. All dogs need some degree of basic physical upkeep. In general, your dog’s grooming needs will be based on her breed. However, your dog may have special needs due to health conditions such as allergies.

The average dog will benefit from a monthly nail trim and bath. For short-haired dogs, brush out the coat every week or two. Long-haired dogs should be brushed daily. Dogs with continuously growing hair may need a haircut every four to six weeks.

Once you determine your dog’s grooming needs, decide if you will be doing it yourself, or if you need to hire a professional. Either way, schedule grooming sessions for your dog on a regular basis.

Watch for Warning Signs

Because our dogs cannot speak to us in words, we must rely on the signs they give us. Your dog may exhibit a variety of signs that indicate a health problem. Just like you, your dog can develop a mild illness that resolves on its own, so not all signs are reasons for alarm.

Many dogs will instinctively try to conceal signs of serious illness. Learn what to watch for and how to act appropriately before the illness becomes out of control. If your dog is displaying signs of illness, contact your vet right away.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.