Tim Falk discovers the 10 steps to a healthier life for your dog, from diet and exercise to training and companionship.
Giving your pup the right vaccinations is essential to giving him the best start to life. “Puppies and adult dogs should be vaccinated against parvovirus, distemper virus and canine hepatitis, even if they never mix with other dogs, as they are all serious, highly contagious and often deadly diseases,” says Bayer Technical Services vet Dr Liisa Ahlstrom. “Most puppies and adult dogs are also vaccinated against canine cough (kennel cough) because although it’s only rarely fatal, it’s highly contagious and reduces the quality of life in affected dogs for weeks or months.”
Vaccination against leptospirosis and coronavirus may also be required depending on where you live and your dog’s lifestyle and health. Puppies are usually vaccinated two or three times, with the timing of the final dose being not earlier than 16 weeks of age. A booster vaccine is given approximately 12 months after their final puppy vaccination, and then every three years for parvovirus, distemper and canine hepatitis. Some vaccinations such as kennel cough need to be given annually.
Once you’ve introduced a puppy to your family, your new pet should never simply be locked in the backyard and forgotten about. Growing dogs need to be given positive exposure to all manner of sights, sounds, smells and experiences as much as possible.
“Socialising your puppy in a safe and positive environment is critical to ensure it grows into a well-adjusted dog,” says Dr Rod Sharpin, general manager of PETstock VET. “The most influential time in a puppy’s life is between the ages of three and 17 weeks. Puppy school is the perfect environment to learn socialisation skills and how to accept other people and animals — these skills can stay with your pup for a lifetime.”
Getting your dog desexed is an important responsibility for every dog owner and has a wide range of benefits. “The benefits to the individual pet include a lower risk of prostatic disease, perineal hernias, perianal tumours and no risk of testicular tumours in male dogs; and a lower risk of mammary tumours, metritis or pyometra (infected uterus), uterine or vaginal tumours and no risk of ovarian cysts or tumours in females,” Dr Liisa says.
Then there are behavioural benefits such as reduced urine marking and roaming, plus the fact that the cost of desexing will often quickly be offset by savings with council pet registration fees. Ask your vet for advice on the best age to desex your puppy.
There are so many pet foods available that deciding on the right food for your dog can be overwhelming. “The most important thing is to ensure your dog is fed a complete and balanced diet, which can be difficult to achieve with home-cooked foods but isn’t necessarily provided by all commercial foods,” Dr Liisa says. Check the pet food label for the words “complete and balanced”. Premium-quality commercial foods are complete and balanced and formulated according to the nutritional requirements of each life stage and for a range of common medical conditions.
“It’s best to avoid feeding dogs table scraps as they’ll have a higher risk of developing obesity along with other disorders such as pancreatitis and allergies,” Dr Liisa says. “Your vet will be able to give you advice on the best diet for your dog considering its age, lifestyle, preferences and health.”
Ensuring your dog has regular exercise is essential to maintaining its optimal physical health and mental wellbeing. “In addition to the obvious benefits, regular exercise for your dog can help reduce digestive problems and constipation, as well as build confidence in fearful dogs,” Dr Rod says. “Keeping your dog active and energised can also help reduce some common behavioural problems like anxiety, barking, digging and chewing.”
Keeping your dog at a healthy weight is another important responsibility for any dog owner — and not just so your pooch looks best in his favourite outfit. If your dog is 15 per cent over its ideal weight, it is considered obese. “Obesity can lead to severe health conditions such as heart disease, joint problems and arthritis, respiratory problems, diabetes, skin issues and even premature ageing,” Dr Rod says. “Ensuring your dog has a nutritious diet and regular exercise is essential to maintaining its healthy weight.”
There are many parasites that affect dogs, both internal (eg. heartworms, intestinal worms, protozoa) and external (eg. fleas, ticks, mites, lice, mosquitoes, sandflies, biting flies). Heartworm infection leads to a debilitating and often fatal disease, but prevention is simple and relies on killing the microscopic heartworm larvae that an infected mosquito transfers to a dog when it bites.
“Intestinal worms (eg. roundworms, hookworms, whipworms and tapeworms) live as adults in the intestines of dogs,” Dr Liisa says. “Infections with intestinal worms can be mild and go unnoticed, or can cause diarrhoea, coughing, anaemia, a pot-belly, weight loss and a dull coat. Severe infections can be rapidly fatal, especially in puppies.”
External parasites such as fleas, ticks, lice and mites live, feed and reproduce on the surface of their hosts, causing a range of problems, from skin irritation, hair loss and itchiness to tick paralysis and death. Speak to your vet about how to give your dog the best possible protection against parasites year-round.
Training is vital for any dog, regardless of whether you own a Great Dane or a Chihuahua. A well-trained dog will respond to its owner and know exactly how to behave in any situation. It will come when called — either at home or at a crowded dog park — greet visitors in a calm and friendly manner, and keep unwanted behaviours such as problem barking to a minimum.
A rewards-based training method based on positive reinforcement is the best way to set your dog up to become a good canine citizen, so start training your pup from a young age and you’ll be rewarded for years to come.
According to Dr Rod, it’s believed dogs are genetically programmed to have specific jobs and that behavioural issues and psychosomatic disorders can be directly linked to inactivity. Exercising alone doesn’t provide mental stimulation, so if you don’t give your dog a “job” to do it may develop behavioural issues such as barking, digging or chewing.
“Mentally stimulating activities you can enjoy together include throwing a tennis ball or Frisbee. If you have to leave the dog for a while, keep your canine entertained by playing hide-n-seek with treats or kibble and with interactive toys like KONGs,” says Dr Rod.
Last but perhaps most importantly, attention and love from humans are extremely important to dogs. Not only do they help with developmental and social skills, they also offer many benefits for general good health and mental wellbeing.
“To your dog, love is companionship, respect, teamwork and trust,” Dr Rod says. “Providing attention means including your canine in the mundane daily activities of the household as well as giving it social boundaries and regular playful interaction. Your dog will also love being affectionately fussed over when you groom it, and when it receives evening cuddles on the couch.”
Follow these 10 steps to give your canine companion the best chance at living a long, happy and healthy life.Make sure your furry friend is always looked after at our DOGSLife Directory