Keeping your dog healthy
We all want our pets to enjoy a full
and healthy life as they share our family space,
and yet we know from the statistics that so many
cats and dogs are less than 100% in terms of good
health and vitality.
So is there anything you can do to
help? We've put together a five point plan which
you might find helpful.
1 - Feed Correctly
Feeding correctly is crucial for a
healthy pet. It is a fact that the majority of pet
owners overfeed, and that's one reason why we have
so many overweight and plainly obese dogs and
cats. We like to eats lots, and we assume
(incorrectly) that our pets need lots of food.
A quick test to see if your dog is
Easily visible ribs, lower back
and pelvic bones. No visible covering of
fat, obvious waist and abdominal tuck.
Absence of any muscle mass.
Ribs felt but with an excess
covering of fat. Waist still observed from
above but not as prominent. Abdominal tuck
may be absent.
Easily felt ribs, minimum
covering of fat, waist easily noted when
viewed from above and visible abdominal
Ribs not easily felt under a
large covering of fat. Waist and abdominal
tuck not discernible. Fat deposits on
lower back and base of tail. May observe
signs of obvious abdominal distension.
Ribs felt but without excess fat
covering, waist noted behind ribs when
viewed from above. Abdomen tucked up when
viewed from the side.
Overfeeding leads to
unhealthy pets - it's as simple as that.
Feeding a poor quality
diet also leads to unhealthy pets
Most commercial pet foods call
themselves 'Complete' and even a cheap complete
food will enssure that your pet gets the basic
minimum nutrition required. However, some pets
exhibit intolerance to ingredients, particularly
things like wheat or soya used in cheaper brands -
symptoms such as itching, scratching, digestive
upsets, behavioural problems etc. If in doubt then
ask your veterinary surgeon for advice, but at the
very least look at what you are feeding and think
about maybe upgrading to a food that names its
ingredients as single cereals and a single source
Puppies and Kittens need food
appropriate to their age, as do pregnant and
lactating bitches. Some pet food companies produce
food for juniors and seniors - the jury is out on
whether these are necessary or simply marketing
devices, ditto breed specific diets.
If you're going to feed lots of
treats then at least make them healthy ones, and
take them into consideration when looking at the
total fed during a day.
Weigh the food out correctly - if
you don't have a measuring cup from your pet shop
then ask the manufacturer for one!
2 - Exercise Sufficiently
If your pet is at all overweight
then the chances are that it's you that's not
getting enough exercise!
Exercise is important, both for the
health of your pet (dog particularly) and also for
your health. What greater way to get the exercise
you need by taking the dog for a run in the park
or beach! Just because you’re feeding and watering
your dog doesn’t mean that he’s healthy. Dogs of
all breeds and sizes require daily outdoor
activity, exercise, and fresh air, or their
quality of life essentially suffers, contributing
to lethargy, poor health, poor appetite, weight
gain, lean muscle loss, or even disease. Even
“indoor” dogs aren’t meant to be cooped up indoors
all day long.
Dogs particularly need mental
stimulation, particularly if they are working dog
breeds. Retrievers need to retrieve, even if it's
only a ball; Spaniels love hunting in the bushes
and countryside - you've only got to see their
tails wagging to know they are happy!
Encourage mental stimulation. It is
never too late to teach old dogs new tricks.
3 - Understand your pet's needs
Your dog or cat is in many ways like
us - when young they want to play all the time,
they're inquisitive and often mischevious. As they
grow older and more mature then their needs and
desires change, and it's important that we
recognise this fact and adjust our relationship
A puppy or kitten needs a lot of
mental stimulation - that is you need to set aside
time to play with them, and introduce basic
training where appropriate and as soon as
possible. Their nutritional needs are also
different to that of an adult and you need to feed
the apppropriate diet for their lifestage.
Older dogs don't need as much
nutrition or vigorous exercise than younger dogs.
According to Dr. J Hoskins in Geriatrics and
Gerontology of the Dog and Cat, small breed
dogs (less than 20 pounds) are in their senior
years around nine to 13 years of age. Medium sized
dogs (21 to 50 pounds) around nine to 11.5 years;
large breed dogs (51 to 90 pounds) around 7.5 to
10.5 years and giant dogs (more than 90 pounds)
between six and nine years. In general, smaller
breed dogs live longer.
An older pet should pay the
occasional visit to the Veterinary Surgeon for a
health check. Exams should include a history and
physical examination with evaluation of the teeth,
listening to the heart and lungs (by stethoscope),
abdominal palpation (feeling of the abdomen) and
inspection of your dog's ear and eyes. Weight
monitoring, blood checks and urine tests are also
often recommended. Other tests may be indicated
depending on your pet's symptoms.
You can do regular health checks on
your pets at home. Things to watch for include
changes in water consumption or patterns of
urination, poor appetite, weight loss or gain,
coughing or difficulty breathing, changes in
activity level, vomiting, diarrhea and skin lumps
or masses. If you have questions or concerns about
your pet, play it safe and have him or her
evaluated by your veterinary surgeon. Early
diagnosis is vital to the success of treatment.
As a pet gets older then there's
more chance of them becoming overweight,
particularly if you are feeding inappropriately.
Obesity may lead to a number of health problems.
Excess weight puts excess stress on your pet's
heart. When the heart doesn't function properly,
other organs may suffer including the brain,
lungs, liver and kidneys. Over time, these
problems may become severe enough to cause
4 - Spay or Neuter
There are social reasons for
neutering a dog or cat if it is not going to be
used for breeding, as our streets are full of
unwanted 'accidents' due to wandering dogs and
bitches on heat bumping into each other! But
having a dog neutered can also help with some
behavioural and potential health problems.
Neutering can make for a better and
more affectionate family pet. Spaying and
castration can prolong the life of our pets and
may reduce the number of health problems in later
life. Females can benefit from spaying by reducing
the incidence of uterine, mammary, and ovarian
cancers. It can also reduce the incidence of
uterine infections such as Pyometra.
Castrating a male reduces the risk of prostate and
testicular cancer. They are less likely to develop
unwanted behaviour's such as marking, sexual
aggression, and mounting. In addition, the desire
to “wander” is diminished, which lowers the chance
of your dog running away and suffering trauma,
such as being hit by a car.
The Dog Trust list the following
benefits of spaying for dogs
- Calmer, more predictable behaviour – making dogs
more suitable as family pets
- Reduces aggressive & unwanted sexual
behaviour, e.g. mounting & being destructive
- Less likely to mark territory or stray
- Less likely to run off looking for a mate
- Avoids inconvenience of messy seasons (and
having to keep away any male dogs that may be
interested in her!)
- Early neutering can reduce risk of some cancers
developing in male and female dogs
- Stops bitches suffering from potentially fatal
womb infections (pyometras)
- Pregnancy can bring health risks for some
- Neutering prevents costs of unplanned
pregnancies & raising puppies
- By preventing accidents caused by unruly
behaviour, can avoid costly vets’ bills and
5 - Vaccinate (but don't
There are mixed feelings in the
Veterinary world about the benefits of vaccinating
annually, other than as a puppy or kitten, which
is essential (see this report on the BBC website and on the
'anti vaccination side' these comments). Vaccination
is about stimulating a pet's immune system to
protect it against infectious organisms that can
cause death in many cases (parvovirus) or are
highly infectious, causing widespread disease when
outbreaks occur (cat flu) and needs informed and
scientific opinion. If in doubt talk to your
veterinary surgeon. If you're not happy with his
response ask another!
On the subject of vaccination
Veterinary Surgeon John Burns of Burns Pet
'My policy is that a
puppy/kitten should be vaccinated by
conventional methods in the usual way.
Distemper, parvovirus and leptospirosis are too
dangerous to be treated lightly and I do not
have sufficient confidence in Homeopathic
'In the USA and in the UK some
veterinary practitioners now recommend distemper
vaccination every three years with an annual
parvovirus and leptospirosis booster. Many years
ago I stopped recommending annual booster
vaccinations. I believe they are unnecessary and
may be harmful in that they may over-stimulate
the immune system.
This is only my opinion, which I am unable to
back with solid evidence but I am sure many dogs
with skin disease suffer flare-ups after being
given boosters. Also, I do not recall a single
case where a dog which was vaccinated as a puppy
but had no boosters ever caught distemper or
Here's an interesting comment from a Veterinary
Practice (Park Pets based in the South
East of the UK)
'Evidence is now available that suggests
protection may be longer lived than annually.
Accordingly there have been accusations from
some quarters that vets and vaccine companies
are place their profits before the well being of
pets. The vested interests that need to be
* Some veterinary practices unfortunately
are heavily dependant on income from
* It would be very costly to vaccine companies
if the policy of annual vaccination were changed
to once every five years for example.
Thankfully attitudes do appear to be changing
and certainly it is now widely acknowledged that
less frequent vaccinations against some of the
diseases is possible.'
They have a good article on Vaccination with sensible advice