Keeping a dog healthy requires a good canine wellness plan that begins early in puppyhood with vaccines, spaying/neutering, and high-quality food. Here are a few things to consider when taking care of a dog.
Puppy days — The first year
“People sometimes do not take into account the initial expenses required in the first year of dog ownership,” noted Richard McAvoy, D.V.M., of Lowell Road Veterinary Center, 279 Lowell Road in Hudson. These costs will include a vaccine program and spaying or neutering the animal, which McAroy considers an absolute must for canine wellness.
“I can’t stress enough the importance of getting your pet spayed or neutered,” McAroy said. The prevention of unplanned pregnancy, spraying, aggression and other unwanted behaviors is just the tip of the iceberg. The cost of this routine surgery is much less than the expenses that may arise later from treating diseases such as prostate cancer, pyometra (infected uterus) and cancers of the ovaries and uterus, he explained.
When considering vaccines for dogs, McAroy said, “Many veterinarians now choose a more progressive route.” This includes tailoring the types of vaccines to the specific needs of each dog. “I would provide the core vaccines to all dogs. But dogs who hunt outdoors will have additional needs than those who remain primarily indoors,” he said. All dogs should receive a series of three distemper vaccinations within the first 16 weeks of life and get boosters yearly. A rabies shot, which is required by law, will be given within the initial 12 to 14 weeks and then administered every three years thereafter.
Dogs that go outdoors frequently will benefit from other vaccines, including one for Lyme disease that is given in a series of two shots yearly. If a dog may be exposed through contact with other dogs (at a doggie day care, for example), it may require immunization for infections such as kennel cough (Bordetella), the Corona virus and leptospirosis.
Preventing Lyme disease
In addition to the Lyme disease immunization, there are many products available for dogs that will help with tick prevention. Richard McAroy recommends using a topical flea and tick medication once per month during flea and tick season.
If a dog does contract Lyme disease, the first symptom to watch for will be limping, which McAroy says can shift from one leg to the other. A high fever and whining or crying will quickly follow. If left untreated, it is possible that the dog will sustain kidney damage. Lyme disease, if caught early enough, can be treated effectively with antibiotics.
Dogs that are allowed outdoors will have a greater exposure to potentially harmful parasites. Roundworms may be one of the first parasites present in young puppies. According to McAroy, the roundworm larvae can find their way to a human eye through contact with the affected dog, and cause blindness in young children. Other parasites to watch for are giardia canis (the “beaver fever”-causing parasite that can also affect humans) and heartworm (transmitted via mosquitoes).
McAroy recommends that a fecal sample be taken yearly (or every three to six months, if a dog owner is immunocompromised) to monitor for parasites. Dogs can be de-wormed with a liquid medication taken by mouth, and heartworm can be prevented with chewable tablets taken monthly.
Choosing the right food
A high-quality diet is not only vital for general canine wellness; it can also make a huge difference in dental health and weight control.
“I tell pet owners to minimize canned food. Dry kibble is always better, as it will help keep teeth clean. I also recommend that puppies get switched to an adult diet at six months old, or right after they are spayed or neutered. Adult dog food is lower in fat and will help to keep unwanted weight off,” McAroy said. Additionally, he recommends avoiding rawhides, pig ears, table scraps and treats such as milk bones that are dipped in fat. “Although they probably do not have much nutritional value for a dog, raw baby carrots make a great, low-fat treat,” McAroy said.
As far as the type of dog food to buy, McAroy likes Royal Canin and Pro Plan, and he warns owners to stay away from fad diets.
The best way to control the behavior of a dog, McAroy said, is to keep to a regular schedule that includes crate time, and regular feedings twice daily.
“Don’t let dogs sleep in bed with you, and don’t leave pee pads around the house because it will only confuse them,” McAroy said. It is important to discuss any emerging disturbing behaviors with your veterinarian to rule out medical problems, and then to decide on the best course of action for the dog (behavior modification techniques or medication).