Dogs rely on us to help them stay healthy.
And it can be tough because their needs are so different than ours – and yet, so similar too.
Like humans, dogs live longer with a healthy diet, plenty of exercise, and when their mental and emotional needs are met.
Caring for your dog and making the best possible choices for their health starts when you first bring them home, and continues on until your very last day together. This is one of the most difficult, most beautiful, and most wonderful journeys of life.
You’ll learn a lot. You’ll have regrets. You’ll overcome health challenges, manage others, and sometimes you’ll just go with your gut.
I don’t have all the answers, but with my writing, my ultimate goal is to help you learn to wade through all of the information, research, advice, myths, and mysteries and hopefully help your dog live a long, healthy, happy life with you.
What To Feed Your Dog
There’s no one-diet-fits-all food that works for all dogs. In fact, some dogs seem to be their healthiest on the cheapest kibble, while others only feel their best on a fresh, raw diet with exotic, hard-to-source proteins like alligator and kangaroo.
Though our dogs evolved from wolves, who typically eat a diet that consists of wild prey, that does not mean that the best possible diet for dogs should be exactly the same as what a wolf would eat. What’s natural is not always good, and animals in the wild do not live long, and are not free from disease, tooth fractures, gastric upset, and other health issues.
All we can do is work with the best quality of food within our budget, offer fresh and healthy snacks, treats, and toppers. Learn more about what to feed your dog.
Regular Vet Care
Dogs should see their veterinarian at least once annually for a wellness checkup.
In puppyhood, dogs need core vaccines to protect them against life-threatening viruses like parvovirus and distemper. You are also required by law to vaccinate your dog for rabies every three years.
You can choose additional vaccines like kennel cough, leptospirosis, giardia, and Lyme. These can protect your dog if you go to parks, wooded areas, doggy daycare, boarding kennels, groomers, or other places your dog is likely to pick up disease.
Heartworm disease is a serious condition that’s difficult to treat and can be life-threatening. It’s easy to prevent by giving your dog a monthly heartworm preventative, which is only available with a prescription from your vet. That’s because your dog needs to test negative for heartworm before starting on a preventative.
Your dog might also get a fecal test to check for parasites, urine test to check for infection and diabetes, and a full blood count to detect abnormal liver enzymes, white blood cells, or other markers of disease that might not be symptomatic.
Your vet is your best friend’s best friend, even if you and your pup don’t look forward to visits. Ask your vet if your dog is at a healthy weight, if they have dietary advice, or if you have any concerns about your dog’s health. Your vet is there to help you!
Between vet visits, your dog needs daily at-home care to help them stay healthy.
Brush their coat weekly, as often as daily during shedding season, if they have a long coat prone to mats.
Trim your dog’s nails, ideally with a nail grinder, 1-2 times monthly.
Brush your dog’s teeth every night, ideally. If brushing is difficult, you can also use a water additive, dental treats, and gels or wipes, but nothing is as effective as brushing. Only use a made-for-dogs toothpaste like Petsmile.
Common Dog Health Issues
Get to know your dog’s breed and find out what inherited disorders they may be susceptible to.
For small dogs, especially toy breeds, issues like collapsed trachea, anal gland issues, luxating patella, and reverse sneezing are common, ranging from occasionally uncomfortable to quite serious.
Signs To Look Out For Include:
- Itching and scratching can indicate allergies, dry skin, or fleas
- Redness, warmth, or discharge can indicate infection at just about any part of the body and should be treated as soon as possible, as infection can spread quickly
- Vomiting, poor appetite, gas, and diarrhea can indicate indigestion, unsuitable diet, stress, gastric blockage, or a virus like parvovirus. See your vet about stomach upset that lasts more than 24 hours, or sooner if it seems severe, if you notice any bleeding, or if your dog is very young or old
- Trouble breathing warrants a trip to your nearest emergency vet hospital
- Collapsing, seizure, unconsciousness, fatigue also indicate an emergency
- Pale or discolored gums, lips, eye lining are also emergency warning signs
As a general rule of thumb, if you were experiencing the same symptoms, give your dog the same (or better) access to care that you would for yourself. Dogs cannot tell us when they’re in pain, and they often continue to eat, wag their tail, and play even when they’re not feeling their best.
If you’re not sure if your dog is having an emergency or can wait, you can call your vet’s office or emergency vet, or seek an online vet appointment for advice.
Your Dog’s Best Life
Every pet parent has different access to resources, finances, and travel. All our dogs want and need from us is for us to do our best, and to never stop trying to do better for them.
- Try to keep your dog at a healthy weight
- Take walks for exercise and mental stimulation as often as possible
- Train and teach your dog new skills when you can
- Feed your dog everyday with the best diet you can afford
- Make sure you have access to emergency funds or, at the bare minimum, an emergency line of credit
- Do your best to understand your dog’s needs, wants, and motivations – always be open to learning, both from dog training and care resources and from the dog in front of you.
You don’t need me to tell you this, but I’m going to say it anyway – you’re already your dog’s best pet parent. Any goal you might have, whether it’s to help them get or stay healthy, to stop unwanted behaviors or just to enjoy them for as long as possible – that’s what I’m here to help you with!