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MAINTAINING DOG HEALTH
Text and Photos: Diana Andersen, Animalinfo Publications
Most people understand that getting a puppy or dog vaccinated against canine diseases is part of dog ownership. However, this responsibility is only part of the health maintenance of your dog. Dogs require regular parasite control, both internal and external, attention to their ears, teeth, nails, and of course, regular grooming. There are now options to choose vaccines with efficacy longer than one year, but a routine annual visit to your vet is still recommended. It provides baseline information on your dog that can help in the early detection of potential health issues and possibly avoids more costly visits in the future.
Get to Know Your Dog
Unlike children, our dogs aren’t able to tell us if they are in pain, feeling unwell, or are unable to see or hear as well as they usually do. They rely on us to notice changes in their behaviour that indicate that something is bothering them. Using your observation skills to assess your dog’s condition and behaviour is one of the best ways of detecting the onset of a medical problem.
When you first acquire your dog or puppy, a trip to the vet is highly recommended. Your vet can quickly assess the dog’s general health and give you some pointers on potential problems that you might encounter. Relative to their age, these may include skin and coat condition, eye health, dental care, weight control, and possible genetic diseases relating to the breed. They will also weigh your dog or puppy and set up a vaccination and parasite control regime for you to follow. The information they gain from this initial visit will form a baseline for your dog that, in turn, helps them identify problems that may be developing.
Observing How Your Dog Moves
Familiarising yourself with your dog’s normal gait when moving around and playing will help identify lameness and injury. Relative to the dog’s age, these might be growth-related problems like Panosteitis, the inflammation of the long leg bones in growing puppies, or arthritis and bone cancer in older dogs. It can also relate to injuries, particularly in active breeds or those with a fine bone structure like Italian Greyhounds.
Familiarising yourself with your dog’s normal gait when moving around and playing.
More on Dog Health >
Canine Digestive Problems
Digestive issues are of particular concern in puppies, inclined to eat objects that they should never consume, and heavy breeds at risk of Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV), also known as bloat. These conditions are potentially life-threatening, and early detection on your part can mean the difference between life and death for your dog. Ensuring your dog is on a good diet appropriate for the type of dog you have is also essential.
Being familiar with your dog’s typical output of droppings and urine will help you quickly identify any potential problems relating to both their urinary and digestive system. For instance, changes in droppings can indicate worm infestation, intestinal blockage, or infection. Another example might be increased thirst and urination, indicating a kidney problem or the onset of diabetes.
Skin and Coat Health in Your Dog
Itchiness and scratching can be a sign of allergies or parasites. External parasites can range from fleas and ticks to microscopic mites that can affect your dog’s ears as well. Keeping your dog clean, well-groomed and checking for parasites regularly to keep them comfortable is essential. You don’t want your house infested with fleas either, so treating your dog if necessary is an all-win situation.
Allergies can be related to food or the environment and, if left untreated, can cause a great deal of discomfort and stress for your dog. Skin swellings and any other lumps you may find might be insect bites, embedded grass seeds, or signs of something more serious like cancer. Cancer is on the increase in dogs, and often a lump under the coat is the first indication that something may not be normal.
To keep your dog healthy, you should monitor for internal parasites like intestinal worms and heartworm. Keeping your dog free of worms is in your own best interests, as some worm infestations can transmit to humans. Signs of worm infestations can be weight loss, diarrhoea, and poor coat condition. In the case of heartworm, coughing can indicate the onset of heart damage.
Ear Health in Dogs
Ears are a common area of dog health that often need attention. In many regions, grass seeds have a knack for finding their way into a dog’s ears. Dogs that swim a lot and dogs or have long and curly hair inside their ears like poodles are also more likely to suffer from ear infections. In many long-coated dogs the hair inside their ears may need to be removed on a regular basis.
Head tilting, flapping, redness, and odour are all indications that your dog’s ears require attention by a vet. Poking around your self is not recommended as you don’t want to risk damage to the eardrum, but gentle cleaning of your dog’s ears is a regular maintenance task that you can learn to do safely. Speak to your vet or a professional groomer to get advice on maintaining your dog’s ear in healthy condition.
Dog ears need to be kept clean to prevent ear infections.
Teeth and Nails
A good diet and dental chews can help you maintain your dog’s dental health. Doing this may not always be sufficient, so getting your dog accustomed to having its teeth checked is beneficial. You can also teach your puppy or dog to accept dental cleaning with a brush or glove and canine toothpaste with training. Failing that, your vet will check teeth on your yearly visit, but in some cases, your dog will require anaesthesia to do dental work in intolerant dogs, which adds to your costs. There is always a health risk with general anaesthesia as well.
Training your dog to tolerate teeth inspection helps to maintain dental health.
Canine toothbrush set.
Keeping your dog’s nails trimmed is another routine dog health task. Exercise on hard surfaces will often wear a dog’s nails down, but dogs that don’t do a lot of walking can often get overgrown nails, causing discomfort. Hare-footed breeds with long toes that don’t angle strongly towards the ground are more inclined to get long nails. Dog’s with compact feet, referred to as cat feet, often require less trimming as the claws come in contact with the ground as they move around, helping to wear them down.
Again, it is beneficial to get your dog accustomed to having its nails trimmed, either by filing or clipping from an early age. Many dogs can become accustomed to having their nails trimmed with a Dremel tool. Cutting a dog’s nails too short can result in cutting into the quick, which will cause pain and bleeding, so if you are inexperienced, it is beneficial to ask your vet or an experienced groomer to help you learn how to do it properly. A negative experience on your dog’s part will quickly lead to resistance.
With training, using a Dremel tool can be effective in keeping your dog’s nails short.
Compact feet, referred to as ‘cat’ feet, may require less trimming.
Learning to trim nails correctly without causing harm is essential.
Dealing with an anal gland problem is one of the less appealing maintenance tasks that require attention from time to time. Some dogs develop issues with anal glands more frequently than others, and some never need their glands emptied. However, dogs can end up with abscesses if the anal glands become blocked, and some dogs require manual emptying of the glands regularly.
Symptoms include dragging their bottom on the ground, referred to as ‘scooting’, continuous licking of their anal area, swelling and a foul odour. You can learn how to do this with assistance from your vet, but many people prefer their vet to deal with it.
Obesity, a Common Canine Health Issue
Obesity is one of the most common health conditions seen by vets. Allowing dogs to get overweight through overfeeding, too many treats and lack of exercise is a common problem. The heavier a dog becomes, the less active it becomes, which compounds the issue. If you love your dog, find other ways to demonstrate it! In the long run your dog will be better off.
Excessive weight can result in diabetes, poor heart health and other health conditions. It also places substantial stress on the joints of dogs, increasing the likelihood of problems like hip dysplasia. Avoiding overfeeding and providing the opportunity to exercise, including play, should be the focus of keeping your dog healthy.
Obesity is one of the most common health issues
Old Age and Your Dog
As dogs get older, health problems can increase and compound and also add to your expenses. It’s your responsibility to care for your dog throughout its life, so bear in mind that dogs have much shorter life spans than us, and these issues may come up sooner than you think! Keeping your dog healthy throughout its life by maintaining a healthy weight, good diet, providing exercise, and caring for your dog in the areas already discussed will help keep old age at bay. Still, you can’t avoid the effects forever. Age-related concerns include heart disease, diabetes, hearing, sight and dental issues, arthritis and other joint-related problems.
Keeping your dog healthy throughout its life will help keep old age at bay.
Dog ownership is not a short term commitment. Be sure that you can afford the time and the money to maintain your dog in a healthy condition throughout its life. Assess your situation realistically before deciding to bring a dog into your life, including your goals, family plans, potential travel plans, and any other life factors that may impact your ability to care for your dog.
Everyone feels better after a piece of chocolate, but is chocolate good for dogs? Chocolate toxicity can be a serious problem in dogs & cats and can be fatal. If you suspect chocolate poisoning, seek vet help immediately.
Dog dental care is essential in preventing the deterioration of your dog’s teeth and is essential for the long-term health of your dog.
Ear cleaning for dogs is an important health task for dog owners to learn to do safely. Cleaning your dog’s ears helps prevent ear infections. A dog with an ear infection will also shake his ears frequently and might scratch more than usual.
Further reading on dog health from this author…
Getting to Know Dogs by Diana Andersen
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