We all want to ensure that the dogs we love live long and healthy lives. That means caring both for your dog’s physical and emotional health. So we thought we’d share a few simple things you can do to keep your pooch fit and happy.
Physical Health of your Dog
Start vet care early and maintain regular checkups. Regular veterinary care is an essential part of keeping your dog healthy throughout its lifespan. So, whether you adopted your pooch as a pup or as a senior, see your vet early. Young dogs may need their vaccines updated, and mature dogs should have their baseline health assessed and have any special needs identified. After that, maintain a regular routine of annual or semi-annual checkups to ensure that your dogs stay as healthy as they can be.
Make nutrition a priority. As with people, nutrition is vital to your dog’s health, and all dog foods are not created equal. So try to choose a brand of kibble that’s high in protein and low in carbs and fillers. Your vet can recommend a brand if you have trouble choosing. Also, limit treats and table scraps. Obesity in dogs, especially when sever, can lead to other health problems such as diabetes, and can exacerbate existing conditions such as arthritis or hip dysplasia.
Keep your dog fit. Exercise is important to dogs of any age. Regular walks, hikes, or romps at the local dog park not only help your dog build muscle and stay trim, they also help release excess energy that can make dogs anxious or even destructive at home. Exercise time is also a great time to bond with your pet, while giving yourself a workout in the process.
Dental health is for dogs too. Like humans, dogs can develop tooth and gum problems that can progress into more severe conditions. If left untreated, oral infections and tooth decay can make it painful for your pet to eat, can cause infections to spread, and can lead to kidney problems. Your vet can provide regular dental cleaning and care to help keep your dog’s teeth and gums healthy throughout the lifespan.
Protect your pet against parasites. Fleas, ticks, and mites are common parasites that affect dogs, even those that spend only limited time outdoors. Guarding against these parasites using a flea collar or transdermal flea and tick treatment (such as Advantage, Advantix, etc.) not only keeps your pet more comfortable, but protects against tick-borne illnesses like Lyme disease.
Emotional Health of your Dog
Make time for play. Exercise isn’t just healthy for a dog’s body, it’s great for their emotional health too—so, make time for playtime when your schedule allows. If you're the outdoor type, include your dog on your hikes and camping trips. Most dogs love getting outdoors for a run or cool dip in a lake, river, or stream. Keep some dog toys, or even just a tennis ball, handy for impromptu play sessions. Remember, play is a great way to bond with a new pet too!
Focus on socialization and emotional health. Dogs are by nature pack animals, and even after centuries of domestication, most love to socialize with other dogs. So if you have access to a community dog park or just want to set up doggy-play-dates with other dog owners, your pup can get some much needed social time. Socialization not only helps dogs stay happy and well exercised, it also helps them develop good manners when encountering other animals.
Caring for an abused pet. Sometimes the pet you adopt has some emotional baggage. Many dogs have survived in abusive environments before arriving at a shelter or adoption center. If you’re caring for a dog with a history of abuse, be patient. Some abused dogs are understandably reluctant to trust people. Let your pet dictate the pace of any interaction, provide safe places for your dog to get escape over-stimulating or anxiety-producing situations, and develop a system of clear commands to help you communicate. If your dog is sensitive to loud noises or shouting, you can even use hand signals or “whisper commands” to build communication and reinforce desired behaviors. If you need additional help, ask your vet to recommend a dog behaviorist who can offer additional advice and lessons.
We hope these tips help you provide a healthy, loving environment that will support your dog’s physical and emotional health from puppyhood through its senior years.
Editor’s Note: It is important to understand basic dog behavior when introducing them to a new dog, cat or even human. Here are five common dog behaviors explained to help you better understand your pet.
Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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