10 Essential Tips To Help Keep Your Dog Healthy
It’s no secret that all pet parents want only the absolute best for their dogs. If it were possible, most would choose to have perfectly healthy and happy pets that never age. But alas, we don’t live in an immortal world. Like us, our pets are not immune to sickness and disease, even sadness is no stranger to the canine world. But that is not to say you cannot help your dog live a healthy and long life – on the contrary! With just a little bit of effort and care, you can help your furry companion stay healthy, strong and happy for a very, very long time. Here are 10 essential tips that can help you do just that.
Feed a High-Quality Diet
Like all living organisms, dogs require food to live and thrive. But not just any food – high-quality pet food. Dogs that are fed good-quality diet are not only healthier, and as a result, live longer, they also have shinier coats, healthier skin and brighter eyes than dogs fed subpar diet. Indeed, the importance of adequate dog nutrition cannot be overstated. But what makes a dog diet healthy and adequate? Generally speaking, feeding commercial dog food is best simply because it’s formulated to meet all of dog’s nutritional needs. With a quality commercial food, your pet will not only get adequate amounts of protein, fat and carbohydrates, but all the necessary vitamins and minerals too that will help strengthen their immune system and increase their mental acuity.
However, it should be said that although it’s good to follow general guidelines in dog nutrition, it’ not wise to follow them blindly. Like humans, all dogs are different, and some may need slightly modified diets. For example, highly active dogs may require more protein than sedentary dogs, while dogs with kidney disease may require much, much less protein than your averagely healthy dog. Similarly, some dogs may thrive on a grain diet, while other may need to switch to grain-free formulas. Of course, it’s best to consult your vet when tailoring your pet’s diet as they know your dog’s health problems best and can tell you what to focus on and what to avoid.
Exercise and Watch Their Weight
Overweight dogs have a much higher risk of developing various diseases, increasing diabetes, hypertension, liver disease, heart and breathing problems, osteoarthritis, even malignant tumors. In fact, long-term effects of obesity are so great that studies show they can shorten a dog’s life by as much as two years. That’s right, you may be literally killing your pet with kindness! So what can you do to help your dog lose excess weight? Firstly, stop over-feeding them and offering high-calorie treats several times a day. Secondly, provide regular exercise sessions, as well as frequent play times. No matter where you live or what breed of dog you own, it’s important to walk your pet often – ideally, this should be twice a day. Regular walks and jogs help strengthen your dog’s heart and brain health, not to mention sharpen their mind. Experts recommend that dogs spend between 30 minutes to 2 hours on any physical activity every day, so if everyday walking is not your (or your dog’s) thing, that’s alright – swimming, jogging, playing with a ball or anything that gets your pet’s heart rate going is good too.
If your dog is already overweight, it’s a good idea to switch to low-calorie pet food, plus increase their daily physical activity. It may not be what your dog enjoys, but it’s most certainly for their own good.
Regular Vet Checkups
Like people, dogs need regular visits to the doctor to ensure good health. Even if your pet seems to be perfectly healthy, an annual health check should be a must. Why you ask? Often, dogs won’t show any symptom of a disease while it’s in the early stages. With an annual checkup, your vet can nip any illness or health problem in the bud, before it grows beyond its early stages and become more serious. Take heartworm for example (more on this particular disease later): by testing your dog annually for heartworm disease, you can quite literally save their life! If caught early, this disease is treatable, but if not discovered on time, it’s deadly.
Besides, regular vet checkups can tell you if your dog may need a change in their regular routine, even if they are overall healthy – sometimes, a dog may eat their usual kibble and will look fine to the owner, but to the vet, their coat, skin, eyes or weight may seem to be off. For instance, if your vet notices that your dog’s skin is slightly irritated or red and their coat less shiny and thick than usual, they may advise you to switch to a different pet food, i.e. one that contains more essential fatty acids or protein.
Keep Your Dog Clean and Groomed
To help your dog stay healthy (and good-looking!) for as long as possible, it’s important to stay on top of their grooming habits. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recommends bathing your furry friend at least once every three months. Keep in mind though that some breeds require more frequent baths, as well as certain lifestyles and health problems. For example, most outdoor pets will need more frequent baths than their indoor counterparts, just like dogs with skin problems may need more baths than those without. Ideally, you’ll bathe your dog once a month, using pet shampoos with mild formulas. Regular brushing sessions are also a must-do. Use a wide-tooth comb or a gentle brush to brush your dog’s coat and keep it in good condition. Regular brushing removes dirt, prevents tangles and spreads the animal’s natural oils throughout the coat, keeping it healthy and shiny. Regular grooming sessions are also a great time to check for fleas and ticks (more on this later).
Then there are nail cutting and teeth brushing – you’ll want to trim your pet’s nails regularly and, perhaps even more importantly, brush their teeth frequently. Generally speaking, a dog’s nails should be trimmed when they just about touch the floor when they walk. As for dental brushing, it’s crucial to do it regularly and properly. Many dogs are prone to gum disease and bad breath so do make sure you brush your pet’s teeth every day or every other day and provide them with appropriate treats and toys designed to improve dental health.
Vaccinate Your Pet
Vaccinations play a vital role in keeping your dog healthy. They have and continue to prevent various diseases, and as a result, deaths of millions of dogs around the world. But what are pet vaccinations, exactly? They’re extremely similar to human vaccinations, actually – designed to trigger protective immune responses and stimulate the immune system’s production of antibodies, they strengthen the immune system by giving it the ability to fight off (with those antibodies) future infections from disease-causing agents. Basically, pet vaccinations provide immunity against one or several diseases. There are 5 main reasons every pet owner should always vaccinate their dog:
- Vaccinations prevent many illnesses that affect pets
- By extension, they also help avoid expensive treatments for preventative diseases
- They prevent diseases that can be passed not only between animals but also from animals to humans
- Certain wildlife diseases, including rabies, infect unvaccinated dogs
- Many local or state laws require certain vaccinations of household pets.
So which vaccinations should your dog get? Core vaccines are considered crucial for all pets, while “non-core” vaccines are administered to pets with unique needs.
Tick and Flea Prevention
Ticks and fleas are literal parasites that feed on your pet’s blood. Fleas, in particular, can cause a variety of health issues for your pet, including skin irritation and infection, rashes and inflamed skin (flea bite dermatitis), excessive scratching and, as a result, scabs and skin wounds, tapeworms and anemia. Ticks are even worse. Tick bites can lead to Babesiosis or tick bite fever, Ehrlichiosis, which is an infection that affects blood cells and can be fatal, Mycoplasma and Lyme disease. Needless to say, it’s crucial to provide proper and regular flea and tick prevention for your dog if you want them to be healthy and live longer. Prevention is also much cheaper than trying to control these parasites once there is an infestation.
Thankfully, there are various flea and tick prevention products available today (with Frontline and Advantage being the most popular), so it shouldn’t be too hard to pick the right product for your pet. What’s important is to choose a medication that contains insect growth regulators, as these stop eggs and larvae from developing into adult fleas. Use a flea and tick control treatment year-round and pay special attention during warmer months, when dogs like to run around in tall grass.
Heartworm is a parasitic roundworm that causes dirofilariasis, which is a serious and potentially fatal disease that results in severe lung disease, heart failure, and other organ damage. It’s transmitted from animal to animal by infected mosquitoes –in fact, it only takes one heartworm-carrying mosquito to infect your pet. That’s why whenever your dog is exposed to mosquitoes, they should be tested for heartworm disease. Thankfully, this awful infection can be prevented by administering monthly heartworm prevention medication. There are pills and topicals, so choose whichever works better for you and your furry friend. Whatever you choose though, it’s important to consistently give your dog medication at the same time each month. If monthly treatments are not your thing, there are also six-month injectable treatments. Finally, even if you give your dog the medication consistently every month, it’s important to test them once a year for heartworm disease. Sometimes, despite monthly prevention, dogs get infected with heartworms, so it’s important to get them tested regardless.
When it comes to heartworm disease, it’s always better to prevent than treat. That said, if your pet becomes infected with heartworms, there are available treatments, however, they come with substantial risks.
Spay/Neuter Your Dog
Whether you own a female or a male dog, there are numerous benefits to spaying/neutering them. By spaying your female pooch, you’ll help prevent uterine infections and breast tumors, which are fatal in about 50% of dogs. And if you spay her before her first heat? She’ll get even better protection against these and other diseases. As for male dogs, neutering can help prevent testicular cancer, as well as certain prostate problems. There are various behavioral benefits too, both for female and male dogs. Spayed female dogs don’t go into heat and as a result, don’t exhibit many of the unwanted behaviors and characteristics of non-spayed dogs, including offensive odor when in heat. You also won’t have to deal with male dogs who are wildly attracted to your dog in heat. Neutered males enjoy even better behavioral benefits – they are much less likely to roam away from home (as they don’t care about finding a mate) and mark their territory. Not to mention, your furry friend will be less likely to mount other dogs, objects and human legs!
All in all, spaying or neutering dogs leads to many health and behavioral benefits, so if you’re on the fence – there’s no reason not to do it. It’s a myth that spayed/neutered pets become fat quickly – with regular exercise, there’s literally nothing to worry about.
Provide a Safe, Nurturing Environment
To be healthy and happy, all dogs need plenty of affection from their human family. Never underestimate the health benefits of daily cuddling sessions with your furry friend! Similarly to humans, dogs thrive on physical contact – ear rubs, belly rubs, napping together, talking to your dog, listening to your dog, feeding them treats… all of these things are important to your pet as they make them feel loved and appreciated. It’s also vital to provide a truly safe environment for your pet– a shelter from extreme weather, a comfortable and quiet place to rest, a hiding place for when they feel afraid. If you live with multiple pets, make sure you have enough resources to stop them from becoming competitive. This includes not only food and water, but beds, toys and hiding places too.
Don’t forget to play with your dog and train them whenever you can. Playing with your pet is a great source of physical activity (for both of you!) and can help you bond with your pooch in a more direct way. Obedience training, on the other hand, can not only help your dog behave better in general and friendlier with strangers, but actually give them a sense of purpose.
Consider the Supplements
Finally, let’s quickly talk about pet supplements. While most pets will thrive on a high-quality commercial pet food, not all will find it enough. Some dogs require certain supplements in order to look and feel their best. Enzymes and probiotics, for example, can help your pet get everything they need for a healthy gut and mind. Probiotics become especially important if your pet frequently struggles with diarrhea, constipation or other digestive problems. Fish oil, on the other hand, can help alleviate skin allergies and improve your pet’s coat quality. This is because it’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids which come with a host of health benefits, including lowering inflammation and improving skin and coat health. Glucosamine is another popular supplement that, although it can often be found in commercial pet foods, is usually not present in high quantities needed for joint health in older dogs. Many veterinarians believe that this supplement can not only relieve joint pain and improve mobility, but actually treat arthritis.
Although these and other pet supplements obviously have many health benefits, it’s important to consult your vet before trying any of them on your own. In any case, pet supplements may not be absolutely necessary for your dog, but it’ undeniable that some can indeed greatly improve dog health.