Dogs’ nutritional requirements change according to their lifestage, with puppies, adults and senior dogs all having different nutritional requirements. Home-prepared diets are complex and need to be balanced correctly. Feeding a commercial ‘complete’ diet provides all the nutrients in the correct amounts and proportions. So-called ‘lifestage’ diets are available which cater for the specific needs of puppies, adult and older dogs.
It is important that your dog gets a good balanced diet, and is fed the right amount, which coupled with exercise, will mean that he or she won’t put on too much weight. Dogs do well on a consistent diet once they are settled and we would not recommend sudden changes. The website from the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA) will give you some information about the different types of food – the site is produced by experts from the pet food industry but it is not specific to any one brand.
Vaccination is the only proven method of protecting dogs against a range of potentially life-threatening diseases including distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus and leptospirosis. Some additional vaccines may be recommended for dogs at risk of other specific infections. Your vet will be able to advise you on vaccination and will also carry out a health check to ensure he is in tip top condition.
Worms are internal parasites that can be a serious health risk to puppies if left untreated and may potentially infect and cause disease in humans. Roundworms and tapeworms are the most common ones to infest dogs, although it isn’t always easy to tell if your dog has worms as there may not be any noticeable symptoms.
People, particularly children, often catch worms as eggs can be picked up in contaminated soil. The British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) recommends that dogs are wormed at least every three months. Your vet, country store, pet shop or pharmacist will be able to advise you on appropriate worming products.
Information on worming and toxocara is available on the Pet Health Council website.
Most dogs suffer from flea infestation at some point in their lives and while there may be no symptoms at all, the most common symptom to look out for is scratching or chewing most commonly at the tail-base and lower back. Close inspection may reveal either small black insects or more likely the small, black flea faeces, which are passed through the insect after sucking blood from dogs. Flea faeces can be identified by brushing your pet’s coat with a fine-toothed comb and placing the debris you collect on a piece of white paper. Flea faeces will dissolve in water to produce brown/red swirls on the paper.
The adult fleas you may see on your pet are only the tip of the iceberg - 95% of the problem exists as eggs, larvae and pupae in the home. Also if your dog lives with a cat it's a good idea to treat it at the same time! Your vet, country store, pet shop or pharmacist will be able to advise you on an effective approach to flea control and treatment which should involve treating both your pet and your home for fleas.
It’s advisable to regularly examine your dog’s mouth for signs of oral disease which include bad breath; reddened, bleeding or swollen gums and build up of tartar. It’s worth checking your dog’s teeth from puppyhood so that he gets used to you examining them. Home dental care kits are available from vets, country stores and pet shops to help keep your dog’s teeth free from plaque. Many dogs enjoy chewing and the use of safe chews are also useful to help reduce the build-up of tartar.
Neutering is carried out for a variety of reasons including health-related issues, reproduction control and “heat”, behavioural / psychological reasons such as territory marking and dominance and aggression problems. It involves removing the ovaries and womb from females (spaying) and the testicles from males (castration). Both are surgical procedures carried out under general anaesthetic. Non-surgical alternatives for temporary or long-term postponement of heat (reproductive seasons) in bitches are also available. For further information, please contact your vet.
Daily exercise is essential to keep dogs healthy and mentally and physically stimulated - the level of exercise will depend on their breed, age and health. Exercise not only improves your dog’s wellbeing, but also helps build muscle tone and prevent depression, obesity, joint problems, heart conditions and behavioural issues. Your vet will be able to advise you on how long you should walk your dog for each day.
Regular Health Checks
Your vet will carry out a ‘nose to tail’ MOT when your dog is given its annual booster vaccinations. You can play a role too by following the guidelines below to keep an eye on your dog’s health and help him to stay in tip top condition and live a long and healthy life:
Look out for changes in your dog’s food consumption, drinking and toilet habits. Does he have less energy or is he slower in getting up or jumping? Monitor your dog’s faeces for colour, consistency and signs of worms
Rub your hands over your dog’s body including his head, legs and paws to check for any lumps or bumps or anything stuck in his pads. Also keep your eyes open for evidence of fleas, ticks and other parasites. Check your dog’s coat quality and whether any dandruff or hair loss is evident. Is your dog scratching, chewing or biting excessively?
Check your pet’s nose, eyes and ears for any abnormalities or discharge. Your dog’s nose should be moist, the corners of his eyes should be free of discharge and his ears should be clean
Regularly examine your dog’s mouth for signs of disease such as bad breath, reddened, bleeding or swollen gums and build up of tartar
Monitor your dog’s body condition by running your hands over his ribs and backbone. If he is losing weight or is overweight, it’s advisable to take him to the vet
Microchipping is a permanent and inexpensive way of identifying dogs. A microchip about the size of a grain of rice is inserted under a dog’s skin around his neck. Each chip has its own unique number held on a central database. If your dog gets lost, it can then be scanned to find your details. Engraving ‘I am microchipped’ on your dog’s tag will highlight the fact he can be identified.
It can be very upsetting both emotionally and financially when pets fall ill, but pet insurance can soften the blow. Pet insurers offer policies against most eventualities and some even insure against accidental damage.