Buyer’s Guide for Dog Care: Keeping Your Dog Healthy
If you’re thinking about getting a pet, a dog is an excellent choice. They’re not only cuddly and loyal, but they may also be good for your health. Owning a dog can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and even lower your stress levels. That doesn’t mean they’re low maintenance, however. Owning a dog comes with a whole list of responsibilities (though Man’s Best Friend is well worth the effort). Here’s what you need to know to keep your dog healthy, happy, and as lovable as ever.
Just like humans, dogs need proper nutrition to stay healthy. Also, just like humans, they get most of their nutrients from food. That’s why it’s so important to feed your dog a premium dog food that’s chock-full of the good stuff. What should you look for?
The Best Dog Foods
Look for a dog food that has a mixture of meat, fruits, and vegetables. Dogs need all these ingredients for a well-balanced diet. In general, premium dog foods have higher quality ingredients, though that’s not always the case. To be safe, look for the term “complete and balanced.” This term is regulated by the Association of American Feed Control Officials, so it’s not just empty marketing.
You’ll also want to evaluate your dog’s unique needs. While all quality dog food should meet the basic needs for an average dog, some dogs may require special nutrition. This includes dogs with health problems or weight issues, older dogs, and puppies. You can speak with your veterinarian about your dog food choices at your dog’s first checkup.
Adopt a Feeding Schedule
For most dogs, the best feeding schedule is two meals per day. The amount of food you should give depends on the dog’s weight. In the beginning, you can use the chart on the back of the dog food container to determine how much food your dog needs. If you notice your pet is losing or gaining an unhealthy amount of weight, you can adjust the amount.
All dogs need exercise, both for health and to prevent boredom. Oftentimes, when a puppy chews furniture or shreds toilet paper, they simply need more exercise to keep them entertained. The amount of exercise needed will vary for each dog according to their breed, energy level, health restrictions, and age. On average, though, most dogs need at least 30 minutes of exercise each day, and some dogs may need two hours or more. If you’re not a particularly energetic person yourself or have a busy lifestyle, you may want to avoid dog breeds that are known for their high energy levels. These include Border Collies, Golden Retrievers, Boston Terriers, and Jack Russell Terriers, among others.
Vitamins and Medications
Most dogs don’t need a daily multi-vitamin if they’re getting enough nutrition from their dog food. However, it’s always a good idea to check with your vet to be sure. However, there are other medications dogs do need for preventive care. These include:
Flea and Tick Medication
Fleas and ticks aren’t just a nuisance, but they can actually make your dog sick. That’s why dogs need good flea and tick medication to keep critters at bay. It’s best to use effective medication year-round, even if you live in a relatively cold environment. While you can buy flea collars at your local supermarket, research shows that they may be dangerous for your pet. It’s best to use a topical medication that’s formulated to kill fleas, flea larvae, flea eggs, and ticks. Most of these medications are applied once a month, and the dosage depends on the dog’s weight.
Your dog will also need to take a heartworm medication once a month to prevent this deadly disease. A medication like Heartgard Plus is also available as a chewable version that’s easy to administer to your pet. Each package of medication is customized with the right dosage for your dog’s weight class.
Along with the medication you use at home, your dog will need regular vaccines administered by a vet. When it comes to vaccines, some are more important than others, though your vet will likely recommend the full list to completely protect your dog.
Core vaccines are the most important, and they include:
- Adenovirus (Canine Hepatitis)
Other recommended vaccines may include:
- Lyme Disease
- Canine Influenza
- Adenovirus Intranasal
If you have any questions about a particular vaccine, your vet should be happy to give you information about its efficacy and side effects.
Grooming is essential to a dog’s good health. While dogs may balk at certain grooming practices at first, they tend to adjust quickly if you use a calming voice and offer treats at regular intervals. Good grooming habits include:
Believe it or not, dogs only need baths every two to four months. Use a shampoo that’s formulated for dogs, lather the dog’s fur, and rinse the soap away. Dogs appreciate having a non-slip surface on the floor of the tub because it makes them feel safer. Make sure you rinse all the soap away completely to avoid damaging your dog’s coat, and avoid getting soap or water in your dog’s eyes or ears.
Because your dog is only bathed every few months, they’ll need frequent brushing to keep their coats shiny and healthy. Most experts recommend brushing every other day, though there’s no problem with brushing every day if your dog is prone to mats or tangles. If you’re brushing to remove mats and tangles, you’ll want to use a specialized brush that’s made for this purpose. Otherwise, you can use a general-purpose dog brush.
Dogs need regular nail clipping to keep their feet healthy and prevent scratches on your floors. In general, you’ll need to perform this task every two weeks, though some dogs may need it more often. You’ll want to clip all of your dog’s nails, including the dew claws, being careful to avoid clipping the quick. If you’re nervous or unsure, clip small amounts at first. Use clippers that are designed for dogs and keep styptic powder nearby to curb bleeding (accidents happen sometimes, even when you’re careful).
To prevent tooth decay, you’ll want to brush your dog’s teeth every two to three weeks. Use a toothbrush and toothpaste designed for dogs, and proceed slowly to avoid startling your pet. Brush the outside of each and every tooth, but avoid brushing the top or inside of each tooth; the dog’s tongue keeps these clean on its own.
Just like children, dogs need proper socialization so they grow up confident and unafraid of people and other pets. You can socialize your dog by doing the following:
- Introducing them to new people
- Introducing them to new pets
- Taking them for walks
- Visiting the local dog park
- Scheduling playtimes with other dogs
At first, you should socialize cautiously. Your dog will likely need time to acclimate to strangers, so pay attention to his body language and behavior. If your dog seems agitated or afraid, remove him from the situation, calm him down, and then try again. If the dog is aggressive, he may need training to get his behaviors under control.
It’s also important to provide a place at home where your dog can be alone. This may be a crate or simply a bed. Dogs can be overwhelmed by too much socialization and having a space of their own helps them calm down and re-energize.
Spaying and Neutering
The American Humane Society and most vets agree that all dogs should be spayed or neutered to help control the pet population. However, there are other reasons to spay or neuter your dog.
- Spaying female dogs keeps them calmer and gets rid of their “heat” cycle – which can be messy for owners.
- Neutering male dogs reduces aggressive behaviors, such as “marking” their territory with urine, humping, and even running away from home in search of a mate.
- Both genders also benefit from reduced risk of certain types of cancer.
Many vets recommend spaying or neutering your dog when they’re between six and nine months old. However, new research shows that dogs can safely undergo these surgeries at a much younger age (8 weeks) with no complications.
When you get a dog, you’re also gaining a friend and family member. Though dogs require quite a bit of work, they’ll reward you in affection and companionship. By following the tips outlined above, you’re doing your best to keep your dog healthy so you’ll have a long, happy life together.