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The life expectancy of dogs has increased dramatically over the last few decades, mainly due to improved food quality, better disease control through vaccinations and improved health care. To make sure that your dog can enjoy this extra life span to the full it is important to look after his or her health from a young age. This obviously includes factors such as feeding good quality food, regular vaccinations and good parasite control. However, there are other important aspects of routine care which should help to keep your dog in good health for many years to come.
General health care
Dental care is advisable to keep teeth clean and to prevent cavities and infection in the mouth. There are a number of ways to look after your dog’s teeth and it is worthwhile discussing these it with us to make sure that the method you choose fits in with your time schedule and your dog’s temperament (See Dental care for dogs and cats information sheet).
Regular weight checks are an important component of preventing your dog from becoming overweight. This is an important issue and currently a high proportion of dogs in the UK are too heavy. Being overweight can take up to several years of your dog’s life expectancy and greatly increases the risks of heart disease, arthritis and other health problems.
Routine health checks carried out at the surgery are very important for your dog’s well-being. They are performed annually at the time of vaccination, but in some cases it will be advisable to check your dog more frequently than just once a year. After all, your dog is not able to tell you about some aches and pains or other symptoms that would prompt us to see a doctor, thus making sure that disease is diagnosed early. If you are in any doubt, please contact the surgery for advice.
Regular exercise is necessary for a dog – it also keeps the owner healthy at the same time! The length and number of walks per day depends very much on the size and age of the dog, and also on the level of fitness of the owner. Whether you are training for a marathon with your young fit dog or you just wander around the block with your elderly little companion, a regular routine is much appreciated by most dogs. Even the most obedient dog should be kept on a lead near traffic or around farm animals/livestock (you never know when a dog may suddenly take fright or chase after a rabbit or a squirrel, for example), but if you cannot rely completely on your dog’s obedience then you should keep him/her on a lead as a general rule.
The main countryside rule is: never worry livestock, remember that someone else’s livelihood depends on it. Also make sure that your dog does not disturb wildlife, including birds that nest on the ground. Even letting your dog walk in the same field as farm animals may be considered as ‘worrying’, because even if you know that your dog will not harm little lambs, the ewes may not be so certain. Remember that farmers are entitled to kill your dog if he/she is worrying livestock!
Feeding a good quality food is vital for your dog’s well-being and longevity. In the majority of cases a good quality complete dog food is the most appropriate way to feed your dog. We generally recommend dry food, which has the added benefit of keeping your dog’s teeth clean. In some cases a ‘life-stage’, ‘lifestyle’ or even prescription food needs to be fed to keep a dog in good health and we will discuss this with you as necessary.
While it is possible to feed your dog on home cooked food, it is not easy to provide all the nutrients necessary for your dog’s well-being, and giving an imbalanced diet can result in health problems. Dogs need a lot more than just meat and bones, so whilst we are happy to discuss home cooked diets with you, we generally recommend feeding a proprietary dog food (See Nutrition advice for dogs information sheet).
Regular grooming should be part of the routine care for every dog. It ensures that your dog is always clean and good looking, and it can also be ‘quality time’ for both owner and dog. Additionally, many health problems can be picked up early when the dog is groomed regularly.
Combing or brushing is advisable not only for long-haired, but also in short-coated breeds, where a rubber groomer can be used to remove old hair and provide a gentle massage at the same time. Daily combing and brushing of longer haired dogs ensures that hairs do not get tangled and cause knots which are painful to brush out. Dogs should not experience pain during grooming, otherwise it will put them off and make them wary of the brush.
Eyes and ears should be checked daily and any discharge or obvious ear wax should be removed. Gentle cleaners can be used, but medicinal ear or eye ointments should only be used when prescribed by your vet. The nose and mouth should be checked and the teeth should be cleaned. Tooth cleaning can be achieved by giving a variety of food/treats and also by actual tooth brushing. This prevents the build-up of tartar and reduces the chances of dental decay, which may otherwise necessitate dental work being carried out under general anaesthesia. (See Dental care for dogs and cats information sheet).
All four paws should be checked for foreign bodies (such as grass seeds), long or damaged claws and other abnormalities.
Lastly the private parts need a check and occasionally a clean up, too.
A well trained dog is a happy dog and not a nuisance to others. Never allow your dog to be out of control, to injure someone – even unintentionally, by e.g. jumping up at a person – or to frighten anyone into thinking that they may be injured. It is actually an offence to let your dog behave in this way.
The easiest and best way is to train your dog as a puppy. It is never too late to train, but an older dog, especially one with behavioural problems, may need professional help at a dog training class or from a behaviourist. However, all dogs will benefit from training classes, whether they are pets or going on to develop skills in different canine activities. Dog training classes are great places to help to coach and socialise your dog, as well as to meet other dog owners and share your experiences. Basic first lessons include sitting or staying when told, coming back to the owner when called, and walking beside the owner on and off the lead. Once you and your dog have mastered the first steps, it is worthwhile thinking about joining dog activity groups. This ensures that you and your dog ‘share a hobby’ and it will encourage the development of a strong bond between you and your dog. Most dogs are only too happy to join in different activities and enjoy learning new skills. Very soon you will be proud of what the two of you have achieved. Dog activities include both the sporting e.g. agility or flyball, and more sedate options such as the Kennel Club Good Citizen Dog Scheme or training to become a ‘pet therapy dog’ visiting hospitals etc.. Ask around for local possibilities or search the internet - you will surely find something you both enjoy.
The majority of dogs will be neutered at a young age and we recommend neutering your dog (male or female) unless you intend to breed (see Neutering in dogs information sheet). However, if you decide not to have your dog neutered, it is important for you to be aware of several points.
If your bitch has not been spayed, she will come into season once or twice yearly. To avoid unwanted pregnancies it is important to keep her away from male dogs, not only during the time she is bleeding, but also particularly after the bleeding has stopped. Entire female dogs can be prone to developing false pregnancies several weeks after their season. They often seem depressed and build nests or start mothering their toys. Some bitches even develop milk in their mammary glands. Another more serious problem especially of older un-spayed bitches is pyometra (infection of the womb). This can present as an emergency with a variety of clinical signs and generally requires major surgery.
If your male dog is not neutered it is important to ensure that he cannot roam to find bitches in season. Apart from the problem of causing unwanted pregnancies, your dog may well be involved in (road traffic) accidents if he escapes to find bitches. Older entire males can suffer from several health problems including prostate problems, hernias or tumours of their anal region.
If you are at all concerned, please contact the surgery and mention that your dog has not been neutered.
Several life-threatening diseases can be avoided by having your dog vaccinated. Vaccine protocols vary between countries, but in the UK vaccination generally includes parvovirus disease, infectious hepatitis, distemper and leptospirosis. Kennel cough can be added on request depending upon circumstances. Vaccines for parvovirus disease, hepatitis and distemper only need to be given every three years, once the full first vaccine cycle is completed. The protection given by leptospirosis and kennel cough vaccines currently only lasts for one year. Dogs therefore still need a yearly vaccine containing leptospirosis (and if necessary kennel cough) whilst parvovirus, hepatitis and distemper vaccines are added every three years.
Before a dog is vaccinated, a full general health check is performed. This is necessary to ensure the patient is able to mount a proper immune response against the diseases, and it is also invaluable for picking up any emerging health problems early, for discussing any health related queries that you may have and generally for ensuring that your dog stays in good health. (See Vaccination in dogs information sheet).
Several types of worms can affect dogs and it is usually impossible for you to know whether your dog is infected with worms. Unless a dog is severely infested or has tape worms, it is not possible to notice worms in faeces – usually only microscopically small worm eggs are passed with the faeces. Unfortunately some types of worms can also infect humans, especially children or the elderly. Although uncommon, severe health problems including blindness or brain disease are possible in humans infected with certain dog worms. Regular worming will not only protect the health of your dog, but also the health of your family. (See Worming your dog information sheet).
External parasites (Ectoparasites)
Several types of external parasites can affect your dog. Most common and well-known are fleas, but ticks, ear mites and several other types of mites or mange are seen on a regular basis, too. Mites cause itchy skin or ears in almost every case, alerting us to the fact that something is wrong, and ticks are usually quite obvious to find. Fleas can also cause dramatic clinical signs of skin irritation and hair loss, especially if the dog is allergic to fleas, but we also see many cases where the owner has been unaware that the dog carries fleas. This is not a sign of
poor hygiene on the owner’s part - it is almost impossible to completely avoid flea infestation in a dog. However, having fleas is not only a cause for skin irritation in the dog - it will usually also turn into a hygiene issue, as fleas then start to breed in the environment, leading to an ever increasing flea burden of the house and its inmates. Treatment can be quite involved and prolonged when the flea burden is high, so it is much better to prevent flea infestation rather than wait and only treat fleas when they have already been found. Several good spot-on preparations are available that will not only prevent flea infestation, but also treat ticks and/or mites and may even be combined with a wormer. Please contact us for advice on which product is most suitable for your dog and how to use it. (See Ectoparasites (fleas and other skin parasites) in dogs information sheet).
An identichip is a microchip about the size of a grain of rice. It contains a unique bar code number which can be read using a small scanner. This microchip is injected into the scruff of the neck and heals into the tissue in that area. The microchip number together with the details of the owner and dog (name of dog and owner, address and telephone numbers) are then registered on a national database. Should your dog become lost and is found, the chip number can easily be read by using the scanner and your dog can be re-united with you. Scanners are used by the police, by the RSPCA, vets and most larger organisations dealing with lost and found dogs. As the dog’s microchip number is registered together with your address and telephone numbers, it is vital that you notify the database of any changes in your home details. (See Microchipping section).
Having your dog’s health insured with the right insurance policy gives you the peace of mind that he or she can receive the best treatment including specialist care without you having to worry about the expense.
Many different pet health insurances exist and it is very important to choose one that suits you and your pet. Specialist care should definitely be covered as the costs of modern complex investigation and treatment can mount up quickly. It is also important to ensure that chronic illnesses as well as those of a shorter duration are covered, especially as the policy moves into the following year of cover. Should your dog ever need lifelong treatment, you may otherwise have to pay yourself after the few months cover because the insurance has run out or you have reached the limit of cover for any one claim. Premiums will depend on the insurance plan you choose, and also on age and sometimes breed of the dog and your postcode.
The 'small print' may appear boring, but it can make a huge difference when it comes to making a claim or being able to afford to have more expensive treatment performed at all. (See Pet health insurance information sheet).
Travelling to Europe and several other countries has been made easier by the introduction of the Pet Passport. With a valid passport your dog can travel to and from those countries back to the UK without having to go into quarantine. The basic requirements are a microchip, rabies vaccination, a rabies antibody blood test and the issue of a Pet Passport. The rabies vaccination has to be repeated within a strict period of time to keep the passport up to date. Also, before re-entering the UK, the dog has to be seen by a local vet within a strict time period for parasite treatment.
If you are thinking about travelling with your dog, please plan well in advance as the process takes some time and initially the dog is only allowed to travel back to the UK six months after a successful rabies antibody blood test. For the most up to date information we recommend that in the first instance you contact the UK Government Pet Travel Scheme Helpline on 0870 241 1710 or email: [email protected] or visit their website at www.gov.uk/take-pet-abroad and follow the link to the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) in order to gain the information you require.
Euthanasia (‘put to sleep’)
Sadly, there may come a time when your dog’s quality of life has deteriorated so much that euthanasia is the kindest option available. We appreciate that it is very difficult to make the decision and that this is a very distressing time for you and your whole family. If you wish, we will try to arrange a house visit for our registered clients when the time has come to put your dog to sleep. We have several options for cremation and will discuss this with you in detail at the time (See Euthanasia information sheet).
Responsible dog ownership
Owning a dog brings great happiness to both owner and dog but also brings responsibility for the lifetime of the pet. Dog owners have an obligation to their dog and their community to ensure that their pet is a happy, socialised and well-trained animal.
Dogs in public places must wear a collar with the name and address (including postcode) of the owner engraved or written on a tag. A telephone number is optional, but advisable. In the unfortunate event that your dog goes missing, you should contact the dog warden, the local branch of the RSPCA, the police, vets and rescue centres in the neighbourhood to ensure that you are re-united with your dog as quickly as possible. Identichipping is a great help in these situations (see above). The local authority may kennel your dog for a short time, but if he/she is not claimed within that period the authority has a right to rehome or destroy him/her.
It is also important to remember that dog owners and other people have to live side-by-side. While it is usually easy to get chatting to people when walking a dog, be sympathetic to the feelings of others (who may not be so dog-orientated!) and keep your dog under control at all times. There are several good reasons why people may not like your dog to come near them, including health problems such as severe allergies, being afraid of dogs or perhaps that they are on their way to an important appointment and do not want to have muddy paw prints and dog hairs all over their smart clothes at that moment! It is therefore important to make sure that your dog does not bother other people or to keep him/her on a lead if you are not 100% sure about this. In certain areas all dogs must be kept on a lead at all times.
Dog mess/faeces is/are not just very unpleasant but can also cause infections to other dogs, other animals and humans. Always clean up after your dog and get rid of the mess responsibly. Also make sure that your dog is wormed regularly to protect it, other dogs and, most importantly, people against worm infestation (see above).
If it is impossible or impractical to take your dog on holidays with you, it is important to find a reliable boarding kennel or a home carer and make sure that the person caring for your dog has all the necessary records including emergency telephone numbers. Whether you go on holiday or just pop to the shop, never leave a dog in the car in warm weather, even with the window open. Temperatures can increase very quickly in cars and dogs overheat very quickly. Heat stroke or worse outcomes are commonly seen by us in the summer.
Since April 2006 the Animal Welfare Act has been in place. As a result it is now not only against the law to be cruel to an animal, but the owner must also ensure that all the welfare needs of an animal are met. These needs include those for a suitable environment (a place to live) and a suitable diet, to be able to show normal behaviour and also to be protected from pain, injury, suffering and disease. For dogs, this implies that they need to have plenty of contact with humans and/or other dogs and that they are not to be left alone for too long.
Should you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us.