Becoming a dog owner is a special gift that provides a lifetime of wagging tails, unconditional love, and slobbery smooches. Because your pup cannot speak up for themselves, a pet parent must provide care, support, proper nutrition, and the preventive measures required for your dog to lead a long, happy, and healthy life. Caring for your four-legged best friend's health should be a team effort between you and your trusted family veterinarian to ensure your dog thrives into their gray-muzzle years.
Knowing the best way to approach pet care can be overwhelming with the endless amount of information available online, in stores, and even on television. By following these top seven veterinarian-approved tips, you can rest assured that your dog will be set up for a lifetime of success and wagging tales.
#1: DO Teach Your Dog Good Doggy Manners
Like human children, puppies are not born knowing how to behave and interact with all nuances in the world. Proper socialization and manners prepare your dog to enjoy interactions and become comfortable in any situation, including dreaded veterinary visits.
Early in life, your dog relies on their mother for learning cues. When they move to their human families, pet parents are responsible for taking over the teaching role. Dogs are most receptive to learning between 3 and 14 weeks; however, learning is lifelong. Without proper, positive socialization, your dog may grow fearful and anxious around new experiences, leading to aggression or generalized anxiety. Once your dog has received all their vaccinations, consider enrolling them in a dog training class or getting them certified as an AKC Good Canine Citizen. Talk to your veterinarian about treatment options for dogs with severe anxiety or aggressive behavior. In some cases, poor behavior could indicate an underlying health issue.
#2: DON'T Skip Your Dog’s Annual Wellness Exam
It may be tempting to skip your pup's veterinary check-up, especially if mentioning the phrase "vet visit" strikes fear in your dog's sweet eyes. However, annual or more frequent physical exams are the safest and most cost-effective way to ensure the pet is healthy and disease free. In addition to parasite prevention and vaccinations against typical infectious diseases, regular veterinary visits are an opportunity to discuss your pet's lifestyle, behavior, and daily routine. This is especially critical as your dog ages because they will be more prone to certain diseases, like osteoarthritis or cancer. Subtle behavioral changes at home could indicate an underlying health issue, and an early diagnosis and treatment of most medical problems will help ensure a more successful outcome. Regular veterinary care can help avoid an expensive and stressful visit to the emergency hospital.
#3: DO Establish an At-Home Dental Care Routine
Contrary to popular belief, foul "dog breath" is not normal for your pup and is often the first sign that your dog suffers from dental disease. Dental disease is common in dogs, and researchers have found that by age 2, over 80% of dogs will have some form of periodontal disease. Small breed dogs are particularly susceptible to severe dental disease but can affect any age or dog breed.
In addition to causing your dog pain, dental disease can affect your dog's overall health and lead to severe problems with their kidneys, liver, and heart. Although it's ideal to start during puppyhood, it's never too late to start an oral health routine for your dog. Like people, the gold standard for dental care is twice-daily tooth brushing of your dog's teeth. However, brushing a minimum of three times each week has shown to be beneficial in slowing dental disease progression. Ensure to use pet-safe toothpaste approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC), and never give your dog human toothpaste because most include toxic ingredients.
Some dogs may not understand or accept daily tooth brushing, so for those situations, other methods can be incorporated, including dental treats, long-lasting chews, wipes, or oral rinses to ensure your pet's teeth stay sparkling clean.
#4: DON'T Share Human Food with Your Pup
With some exceptions for fruits and veggies that make good, dog-safe snacks (in moderation), human foods should be for humans, and pet food should be for pets. It can be difficult to resist your pup's longing eyes during mealtime, but sharing your meals, treats, and sweets can lead to an unexpected trip to emergency care. And, unless you have pet insurance, those unexpected vet bills can really add up.
Many human foods, especially rich, fatty meats, are difficult for pets to digest and can lead to gastrointestinal (GI) distress and inflammation, including pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is a potentially deadly medical condition that can cause vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and dehydration.
Ensure you feed your dog a complete and balanced AAFCO-approved dog food formulated for your dog's life stage and breed. Determining the best option for your pup can be challenging with the endless available food types. Talk to your veterinarian to ensure you are on the right track with your dog's nutrition.
#5: DO Give Your Dog Regular Exercise and Mental Stimulation
Pet obesity has become an epidemic, with over 50% of U.S. dogs considered overweight or obese. Although pudgy pooches may look cute, they are more likely to develop various health issues, including high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, lung and heart disease, and some cancers. Dogs who maintain a healthy weight can live up to two years longer. In addition to proper nutrition, regular exercise, which can include games of fetch, a walk, run, hike, or a visit to the dog park, will help keep your dog at a healthy weight while improving their circulation and overall well-being.
Your dog can also be a great accountability partner for your exercise program, and spending active time together is a great way to strengthen your bond. Before starting any exercise program with your dog, schedule an exam with your veterinarian to ensure your pet has no problems, including joint pain, that could make some exercises challenging. Active dogs and senior pups may benefit from a joint supplement to help support mobility and decrease inflammation.
Daily mental exercise is essential to your dog's overall health and quality of life. Bored pets are more likely to become mischievous, behave poorly, or suffer from anxiety and stress. Additionally, when pets approach their senior years, there is an increased chance of mental decline. Providing your pet with various toys, such as a treat-filled puzzle toy, will ensure their mind is always active. Also, consider enrolling them in a training class to teach them new skills.
#6: DON'T Trust Dr. Google Over Your DVM
The internet and social media provide a wealth of resources and information on every topic you can think of, and most people have likely diagnosed themselves with various ailments. However, for all the legitimate information available online, there is a plethora of pet-health misinformation too.
While veterinarians strongly encourage pet owners to become educated on pet health and care, you must use a well-researched and peer-reviewed site when investigating animal health topics. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), and Veterinary Partner are trusted sources for pet owner education. However, the internet should never replace getting proper medical advice from an actual Doctor of Veterinary Medicine.
#7: DO Spay or Neuter Your Dog
More than 300,000 dogs are euthanized yearly due to overpopulation and crowding in shelters. Spaying or neutering your dog helps with population control and has several health benefits, including decreased cancer risks, reduced desire to roam, and improved behavior. Depending on breed genetics, health, and behavioral needs, most dogs are spayed or neutered between 6 and 12 months of age. However, some larger breeds may be recommended to wait until they are fully grown. Your veterinarian can help determine the best timeline for this surgical procedure.
Working with your family veterinarian to establish a health care routine specific to your dog will ensure they remain healthy and by your side for as long as possible. For more tips on your pet's health, check out the Native Pet blog.