Good and responsible dog care means understanding your dog’s physiological needs and at the same time integrating your canine companion needs into your everyday life. It means knowing the most common health issues, how to recognize them and when it is time to ask for professional help.
The first thing to do before getting a new dog is asking yourself whether you are prepared to take care of another living being during its entire lifetime. Keep in mind that dogs are big time and money investments. However, owning a canine companion or rather allowing it to own you is a mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship, with many positive effects.
To help you become a responsible dog parent we have compiled a list of the 10 most important tips for raising a dog.
1.Respecting the vaccination protocol
Vaccination is a highly effective way of preventing many killer diseases. The effectiveness of vaccines varies – some give lifelong immunity, while others only partial protection against a particular disease.
Generally speaking dogs are vaccinated against:
- Canine hepatitis
A young puppy should receive its first vaccine at 6-8 weeks of age. This vaccine offers only a temporary immunity. Since the goal is to achieve a long-lasting immunity, it is advisable to give the puppy at least one but preferably two more booster vaccines. So, generally speaking, that would be three separate vaccines given 4 weeks apart.
An adult dog should receive annual booster vaccines. Instead of annually, depending on the manufacturer, newer vaccines can be administered every 2 or 3 years.
Useful tip: Under certain circumstances, vaccines can have some side-effects (such as mild fever, decreased appetite, lethargy and discomfort at the injection site). Luckily those side effects are transient and self-limiting (fade away on their own over the course of few days). However, they are not a reason to skip vaccination.
2. Proper nutrition increases the lifespan
The key to good health is well-balanced diet. Therefore understanding your dog’s nutritional needs is of imperative importance. The perfect diet is supposed to be a proper balance of the six major nutrient groups – proteins, carbohydrates, fats & oils, vitamins, minerals and water.
When choosing the ideal food for your dog you need to consider its nutritional requirements which depend on several factors such as age, breed, body composition, gender (plus neutered/spayed), temperament, activity level and taste preferences. If not sure what type of diet your dog needs, do not hesitate to talk to your trusted vet or a canine nutritionist.
Dogs with certain medical issues need specifically formulated or individually tailored diets. However these diets must be discussed and approved by a veterinarian or dog nutritionist. Addressing health concerns with corresponding diets, not only extends your dog’s survival time it also increases the quality of life.
Useful tip: Although modern dogs gradually adapted their digestive apparatus to the foods they could feed themselves with, dogs still prefer and thrive on a carnivorous diet. Understanding that your dog is a carnivore from an anatomical and physiological point of view is a good starting point for making the right feeding decision.
3. Intestinal worms – the danger within
Many organisms live inside our dogs and they either cause no problems or even produce benefits for the host. The dog’s digestive tract contains bacteria that help break down food. They are the perfect example of a mutually beneficial relationship.
On the other side, internal parasites or worms also live inside the dog, but offer no benefits, and are often even detrimental, since they draw nutrients from the host. Worms can cause severe issues if they constantly use up the dog’s essential nutrients, block the intestinal tract or damage its walls.
It is highly advisable to have your dog tested for intestinal parasites and parasitic infections at least once a year and do not forget to bring a fresh poop sample to the visit. Based on the findings, the vet will likely recommend deworming medicines (available in the form of tablets, granules and liquids).
Useful tip: You and your family can become infected with worms the same way dogs get them – through contact with infected poop. The intestinal parasites of the dog are potential health hazards for humans, too.
4. Fleas – diminutive creatures with dangerous powers
Fleas are the most frequently encountered external parasite in dogs. These ubiquitous little creatures are without doubt the single most common cause of medical skin conditions in dogs, and canine skin problems account for more visits to the vet than any other single condition.
A dog troubled by fleas will annoyingly scratch its body. Flea infestations can be diagnosed by finding fleas on the dog or seeing white and black (salt and pepper) grains, about the size of sand grains, in the dog’s coat. The white particles are flea eggs and the black particles are flea feces.
For achieving on-going flea control, anti-flea products (protectors) need to be applied monthly. It is best advised to begin the treatment well before the flea season and continue the treatment through the year. Depending on the area where you live it may be needed to use protection all year round.
Useful tip: Fleas, eggs and feces can be hard to notice on heavily-coated and dark-colored dogs. To determine the infestations, alternatively, you can brush your dog while standing on a white surface. Then the grains that fall from the coat should be crushed. Since fleas eat blood, both the fleas and their feces will leave red marks when crushed.
5. Allergies – a constantly growing problem
The incidence of allergies in dogs is on the rise. The occurring signs and symptoms differ, depending on the place where the allergic reaction occurs:
- The dog’s skin – localized or generalized itchiness and skin inflammation or irritation
- The lining of the airways – coughing, sneezing, wheezing and discharge from the nose and eyes
- The lining of the gastrointestinal tract – vomiting and diarrhea.
Because of their complexity, allergies require multimodal approach:
- Identifying the allergen
- Eliminating or minimizing the exposure to that specific allergen
- Anti-inflammatory drugs – antihistamines and corticosteroids
- Shampoos – to sooth the irritated skin and rinse out the allergens from the coat
- Hyposensitization – to reprogram the dog’s immune system.
Useful tip: Allergies can have a detrimental effect on your dog’s quality of life. If you suspect your dog is dealing with an allergy, do not hesitate to call your vet as soon as possible.
6. Physical and mental stimulation
Keeping your dog mentally and physically stimulated is your responsibility. The amount of stimulation depends on your dog’s breed, age, temperament and health condition. Generally young adult dogs need at least 30 minutes of physical exercise and a good dose of mental stimulation.
As a concept, mental stimulation is not entirely new. Although it was introduced many years ago, it was not properly embraced, probably because one can easily confuse mental with physical stimulation.
Physical activity tires your dog’s body but leaves the mind even more energized. Mental activity tires both the body and the mind. Inadequately mentally stimulated dogs show signs of dissatisfaction and unhappiness, which lead to destructive, restless, hyperactive and attention seeking behavior. Those behaviors are an outlet for the dog’s excess of energy.
Keep in mind that a bored dog’s only limitation is its imagination. If you do not give him something to do, he will come up with self-employment ideas on his own.
Useful tip: According to experts the most important stimuli for dogs include: exposure to interesting places and things; new, exciting experiences; frequent opportunities to learn things and solve problems and investigating and interacting with objects and the environment around them.
7. Training your puppy into a well-mannered adult dog
Dogs, as pack animals, are naturally inclined to respect and respond to the leader of the pack. Make sure, you are that leader. To earn your dog’s respect, you need to show consistent behavior and firmness.
Useful tips: If you want to easily train your dog, follow these rules:
- Never punish your dog for something it has done earlier, because it is counterproductive. If your dog made a mess while you were at work, punishing it when you come back home is pointless. It will know that you are angry, but it will not know why.
- Keep the training lessons short. Dogs have short attention spans and get distracted easily.
- Keep the training lessons entertaining. If your dog is not interested in the lesson, it will find something better to do.
- Voice tone and stance. Keep in mind that even young puppies are acutely aware of your body language and sounds and can quickly learn to interpret your voice tone and stance.
- Train only when the puppy is alert. The best training time is right before feeding time.
- Use positive reinforcement techniques – lots of rewards, treats and praises.
8. The benefits of spaying/neutering
The benefits of having your dog spayed/neutered are well known – increased lifespan, decreased risk of certain medical conditions (such as pyometra, false pregnancy and benign tumors of the mammary glands in females and testicular and prostate cancers in males), reduction of the constantly increasing population of stray dogs and prevention of undesirable sexual behavior (urine marking, humping, aggression, escaping).
Useful tip: It is recommended that the spaying/neutering procedure gets done while the dog is still young (preferably less than 1 year).
9. Grooming is not a luxury
Dogs of all breeds need regular grooming. The only difference between different breeds is the time that needs to spent on grooming – from few moments to few hours a week.
Usually when someone says grooming the things that come in mind are brushing, bathing and hair and nails clipping. However, a proper grooming session goes beyond these common activities and includes taking care of all potential sources of bad smell such as teeth, ears and anal sacs.
If grooming is too much for you, luckily there are experts who will do this challenging task for you. If your dog tends to get overly excited, stressed or aggressive during grooming, chances are you will need professional help.
Useful tip: Too much bathing can do more harm than good because it disrupts the natural balance of the skin microorganisms. Replace the old-fashioned bathing with wet dog wipes, dry shampoos and powders.
10. Your dog’s safety is a priority at all times
More often than not, good veterinary care is within easy reach. However, accidents happen and in some emergencies your dog may depend solely on you for help. By planning ahead and practicing how to restrain your dog, examine it and perform basic first aid you will be prepared for most eventualities.
In any emergency your responsibility is to quickly assess the situation, restrain and give first aid. The goal is to prevent further damage, reduce the dog’s pain and sustain its life until you can contact your trusted vet and seek professional help.
Useful tip: Choosing an insurance policy for your dog is an excellent idea yet many owners tend to overlook it. Good pet insurance policies cover a wide range of treatments and conditions, which may be beneficial on the long run. It is also recommended to include your dog in your planning for an emergency or disaster.
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