There are a range of documented health benefits from owning a dog. From fewer visits to the doctor, to lower cholesterol and blood pressure and lower rates of stress, “Man’s Best Friend” is also man’s best medicine.
But our furry friends need to be kept in good shape, as well. Some tips for how to keep a dog healthy, courtesy of the RSPCA, include the following:
- Obesity is a common problem among Australian pets. By ensuring that your pet is fed a healthy diet and receives adequate exercise you will avoid obesity and associated health problems such as diabetes, heart disease and exacerbated osteoarthritis.
- Interestingly, dogs love meat but they are not actually carnivores. Dogs can survive on both vegetable-based and meat-based diets.
- To provide your pet with a balanced diet, you should feed your dog a high quality premium commercial food and offer some natural foods for variety. Natural foods include human-grade raw meat such as lamb, raw meaty bones, and some vegetables. (Avoid cooked meats and processed food such as sausages, as these can contain sulphites that are bad for dogs.)
- Young dogs and active dogs generally require feeding twice per day. Older or less active dogs will benefit from having more meals (in smaller portions).
- If your dog is healthy, you should be able to feel their ribs easily, but not be able to see them.
|When Nature Calls (Doggy Doo)
- Your dog will need to be taken out of doors so they can go to the toilet. You should take them out as often as they need to go – dogs don’t usually ask to go out unless they need to. Dogs will usually need to go to the toilet after eating in the morning and at night.
- Puppies will need a safe place to go to the toilet until they are house-trained – a big box lined with easy-to-remove newspaper should do the trick. Puppies will usually need to go to the toilet after any playtime, exercise, or food or water.
- Adult dogs who are ageing can need to go out more often, and it can cause them pain to not go out when they need to.
- Don’t forget your pooper scooper or plastic bag! Footpaths are for pedestrians, not your dog’s toilet.
- Your dog needs a dry place to sleep at night – out of the rain and cold winds at night, and out of the hot sun during the day. A good old-fashioned dog kennel outside the house will do for most dogs, as this means they can go to the toilet whenever they need to during the night. Use washable rugs or towels as bedding in the kennel, and wash them regularly.
- Most dogs will get bored and mischievous if they are never allowed indoors, where their human “pack” lives, because they may feel excluded and neglected.
- Sleeping directly on a cold floor or the ground will not be good for puppies or older dogs with stiff joints or breathing difficulties, so a dog bed is a good idea.
- That doesn’t mean they get to sleep on your bed. It won’t be good for you or them, and it may encourage other bad behaviours.
- Make sure your yard is escape proof, to protect your dog from other dogs, car accidents, and diseases, and to protect the local wildlife from your dog.
- Dogs need a bath every now and then, using shampoo designed for dogs.
- Most dogs need brushing regularly to prevent their fur from forming matts. This is especially important for long-haired breeds.
- Check your dog’s fur and skin regularly for fleas and ticks.
|Exercise & Training
- Avoid obesity by making sure your dog gets walked and played with often enough each day. This prevents obesity-related health problems such as diabetes, heart disease and exacerbated osteoarthritis.
- Getting enough exercise – but not so much that it causes joint damage – is a fine balance with some breeds. You can ask your vet about how much exercise your dog needs.
- Variety in exercise is always a good thing (for humans as well as dogs!), so why not try swimming, fetch, or catch the frisbee?
- Behaviour training at a young age (3 – 17 weeks) is a must, as it trains your puppy to behave around other dogs and other humans. Training also provides mental stimulation that helps keep your dog happy.
- Be careful not to over-exercise puppies. They can get tired faster than adult dogs. Be prepared to let them take a break mid-walk or carry them the rest of the way home.
- If you are away during the day, it is very important to give your dog plenty to keep them occupied – try having a bunch of toys (Kong cubes are great) and rotating them regularly so the dog doesn’t get bored with them.
- Do not exercise your dog immediately before or after exercise, as this can cause bloat, which is a potentially fatal condition for many breeds.
- It is illegal in many cities in Australia to walk your dog off the leash in any public area, except in clearly-signed designated off-leash areas. This is because even the most gentle of dogs can bite when excited, surprised, or provoked – so don’t let your dog hurt someone else; put a leash on for every walk.
- There are a range of infectious diseases that can cause considerable illness in dogs, particularly in puppies. You can protect your pet from illness by ensuring that his vaccinations are up to date. Talk to your vet for further advice regarding immunisations.
- Puppies are particularly susceptible to a host of internal parasites including roundworm, tapeworm, hookworm, whipworm, and heartworm. Ask your vet for worming tablets or other preventative treatments for your dog.
- Fleas are a common external parasite in dogs. They cause itchiness and irritation which can be quite severe in dogs with flea allergies. Speak to your vet about flea prevention for your dog.
- Desexing is an important part of responsible pet ownership. By desexing your pet, you will be preventing unwanted pregnancies and potentially improving your pet’s behaviour. Undesexed pets are more likely to stray and fight and are more likely to develop various health problems later in life. Undesexed bitches are far more likely to develop mammary tumours in old age whereas uncastrated males are predisposed to developing prostatic disease.
- The law about registration, microchipping, and desexing varies between states and territories, so find out your local council’s requirements.
- Your dog should have a trip to the vet at least once per year for a check-up. Between check-ups, perform your usual checks for fleas and ticks, brush their teeth, and give them worming tablets.
- Many dogs have health concerns specific to their breed. Get to the vet if you spot any of the signs.
Another important consideration is pet insurance. The cost of illness or injury of your beloved pet can easily reach into the thousands of dollars, so pet insurance can be a way to provide peace of mind that you could afford the costs involved in your trips to the vet. See our Types of Pet Insurance article for further information.
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For more healthy dog tips for first-time dog owners, read the free ebook The Smart Puppy and Dog Buyer’s Guide from the RSPCA. The video below has some great tips for introducing a new puppy to your home and dog health care tips, from Howdini: