If you have never owned a dog before, you may have a lot of questions and worries concerning their health. It can be difficult to know if you’ve researched and prepared enough for all the different areas of their health before purchase. Don’t worry, this article will act as a guide that covers all the essentials of dog health basics for beginners.
A dog’s health is not limited to them looking or acting unwell, it can include anything that may bring them discomfort or inhibit their normal behavior, such as an excessively matted coat. We have labeled all the basic dog health factors you need to consistently check and maintain to keep your pup feeling healthy and happy.
Basic Dog Health Procedures
There are some elements of your dog’s health that require an unavoidable vet trip such as vaccinations or getting them spayed or neutered. Here are the basic dog health procedures you will have to consider.
Both puppies and dogs require vaccinations to develop resistance against pathogens. This simply summarized means they avoid being affected by certain illnesses after having these shots. Puppies are particularly vulnerable to becoming ill due to a weak immune system. This is because they have not yet developed the resistance many adult dogs will have and therefore vaccinations will enable them to do this.
Vaccines inject a weakened or dead form of the pathogen into your dog, this causes their immune system to develop the correct antigens to fight the pathogens. As they are already weakened or dead, your puppy should either not be affected or affected minimally, as opposed to how they would be if they actually contracted the illness. Once their body has formed the correct antigen to defend against the pathogen, they store these permanently to protect themselves anytime the illness comes in contact with them. Repeating vaccinations allow your dog to update or strengthen their resistance and are just as important as an initial vaccination.
Spaying and Neutering
Spaying and neutering refer to the surgical process veterinarians conduct to prevent a dog from being fertile. These processes have multiple benefits but are serious procedures that require your pet to go under anesthetic. Firstly, by spaying a female dog, this prevents unwanted pregnancies which may lead to abortions, something that takes a physical and mental toll on your pet. If you decide to keep the pregnancy, this will cost a lot of extra money and require a lot of planning you may not have time for. As for neutering a male, this can curb aggressive behaviors alongside preventing unwanted mounting.
You must be aware of the toll these surgeries have though. Your dog will require a period of healing for two weeks with the prevention of running and jumping as the surgery site can tear. Furthermore, you will have to be with your dog during their recovery to prevent them from licking or gnawing at the site.
We recommend cleaning your dog’s teeth regularly using wipes or a toothbrush and dog-friendly toothpaste. However, it is also advisable to get a professional teeth cleaning session from your vet once a year. Book in an appointment with your local vet and they will be able to clean their teeth in one session. This can prevent their teeth from accumulating plaque and leading to pain, gum inflammation, and even tooth rot.
Your dog will have to be put under anesthetic as performing the procedure awake would be almost impossible. Your vet needs your dog to be still, keep their mouth open, and not move their tongue. This is so they can remove all the plaque from each tooth. Some vets will give your dog a pre-medication injection to help with pain relief after the procedure. Your dog may have a sore throat when they wake up as a breathing tube is placed down their throat to maintain proper breathing throughout the procedure.
Regular Physical Checkups
You and your vet should conduct regular physical health checks. You should initially start from the head and work your way down to their tail. Check your dog’s face for any growths or abnormalities, for example, are their eyes watering? Or is their nose excessively dry? Next work your way down their body checking their neck, torso, and front legs. Any injuries, abnormalities in their skin or anything unusual should be recorded and documented to a vet. Finally, you can look at their stomach, hind legs, genitals, anus, and tail.
A vet can notice elements you cannot or may not be aware of, which is why a yearly check-up is recommended for your pup. They are able to identify what is a cause for concern, what is okay, and are able to treat a problem then and there. Furthermore, there are some elements as owners we may not realize are abnormal, therefore these checkups can be hugely beneficial to our pups’ health.
Your dog’s diet can influence their health massively. From the amount provided to their requirements, there is a lot to consider. We have labeled out all the diet requirements and then what you can consider for your pup to provide the best food for them.
A dog not only requires certain foods in their diet but certain amounts. These are also influenced based on their age, weight, and exercise levels. An appropriate diet is a crucial part of dog health basics.
Protein should be one of the main food types in a dog’s diet. An adult dog will require 18 – 25% protein in their diet if they are living an average lifestyle. Puppies require a larger amount of protein as they are still growing, usually around 30%. This is because a protein contributes towards growth and repair, therefore it is crucial for a growing puppy. Elderly dogs can have 25% protein in their diet, the same as many adult dog foods.
Protein provides essential amino acids to our dogs which can aid in healthy teeth, fur, and bones. Dogs can also gain energy from protein, and this is a healthier replacement than large quantities of carbohydrates for energy. This prevents possible carbohydrate storage and instead uses all the protein towards benefits.
Fats used in a dog’s diet play a beneficial role in long term energy release and aid in normal cell functioning. This can help everything from your dog’s coat, skin, and vision. Fat in a dog’s diet can quickly become stored fat if the amount provided is excessive. Therefore, be careful to monitor this in conjunction with their activity levels.
An adult dog only requires 10 – 15% of fat in their diet, many dog foods today have an average of 20 – 40% which can quickly lead to your dog gaining weight. Puppies require a much larger amount of fat in their diet than adults, 10 – 25% on average. Elderly dogs do not necessarily require an increase or decrease of fat in their food, instead, this judgment should be made based on their weight and health.
Carbohydrates are a form of energy, but similar to fats, they can quickly lead to obesity in your dogs. This is because cells will store carbohydrates. However, that does not make carbohydrates any less important to a dog’s diet. Pups should be kept active and an active dog still requires carbohydrates. A lack of carbs can lead to fatigue and even anxiety.
There is not a direct numerical amount recommended for a dog to consume in their diet. The average dog food ranges from 40 – 70% in content, but some argue that no carbohydrates are needed in your dog’s diet. Many pieces of research demonstrate the benefits of carbohydrates being included in your dog’s diet though, but often they summarize at around 40%
Although fat, protein, and carbohydrates compose the majority of your dog’s diet, there are other elements to consider, such as fiber, minerals, and vitamins. Fiber is crucial in a dog’s diet as it aids digestion and defecation. Without proper fiber, your dog can get constipated or have a general upset stomach. This can lead to nausea, pain, and fatigue which can be quite distressing for your dog.
Minerals and vitamins are broad titles that cover all the other various aspects of your dog’s health such as their teeth, bones, fur, skin, and even digestive system. Each plays a small role but that does not make them any less important. It has been recorded that a deduction in vitamins and minerals has had a negative effect on our dog’s health.
Dog Food Options
There are five main options to consider for your dog, here they are outlined with their benefits and drawbacks.
Dry Dog Food
Dry dog food is great for your dog’s oral health as it can help to clean away any plaque on your dog’s teeth. This type of dog food can be high in protein, carbohydrates, fiber, and fats but usually contains fewer nutrients as the food is stored and not directly fresh. The harder, more chewy dry food can also be a form of enrichment. Some owners say this is not the most nutritious food but does have added benefits, therefore nutritionists recommend using some dry and some canned food. Just be sure to check that your dog’s stomach is okay with both types first and gradually introduce them.
Wet Dog Food
Wet dog food is found in a can and is often a combination of meat, crushed fruit and veg, and some kind of jelly. This food often has a much higher water percentage which can make your dog’s food more palatable and easier to digest. This is because it is softer and the smell is more prominent. However, this food does not have as many oral benefits as dry food does as it is soft. This soft food does not challenge your dog to chew it and does not scrape off any plaque from their teeth. This is one of the reasons many vets recommend combining dry and wet food, do so gradually of course.
Special Diet Food
This is a type of food that is specific for obese dogs to lose weight. You can get low-fat dog food which has low calories, carbohydrates, and fat percentages. These lead to a smaller amount of stored fat in cells so your dog does not have excess weight. This food is great for a dog that needs to lose weight, however, your dog should be weaned off of this mix once it reaches a healthy weight. This is because it then requires an average percentage of fat, carbohydrates, and a normal number of calories.
Homemade Dog Food
Homemade dog food can be some of the most healthy dog food, this is because you know exactly what goes into it. However, making homemade dog food can be a tedious process, sometimes expensive, and takes a lot of research. You need to find out the kind of food your dog can eat and the types that are toxic. Next is to find out what proportion of each food is required. You need to make sure their food is well balanced. Finally, create this food and make sure that they are being gently weaned onto it and not just swapped immediately.
Raw Dog Food
Raw feeding puppies can be a long process and certainly, it comes with its advantages and disadvantages. A raw diet is raw meat combined with fruit and veg to replicate a more natural diet. It comes with many benefits such as healthier teeth, bones, fur, and some say their dog has more energy. Other benefits include a dog that has a better digestive system and even nicer breath. However, there are some risks with raw dog feeding such as potential bacteria contamination. Research this diet fully before starting a transition.
Exercise is a very important part of keeping a healthy and happy dog and can be considered dog health basics. It prevents excess weight gain, helps with the mobility of joints, and can even aid the digestive system. Not only does it have physical benefits, but there are mental benefits as well. Exercise minimizes frustration and can thereby prevent destructive behavior. Furthermore, it can minimize anxiety, help your dog sleep better, and help them form a stronger bond with you. Here are some of the most enjoyable exercises you and your dog can do together.
Hiking can be considered a low impact form of exercise that you and your dog can do together. Simply drive to a hiking site and you can start, just be sure to bring water for both you and your dog. Low impact exercise can be better for obese dogs trying to lose weight or those with painful joints or arthritis. This is because the muscles are being pushed but not overly exerted, which can lead to strains and tears, worsening these problems.
There is also the added benefit that you and your dog can stay out for as long as you want. If you have a smaller or older dog, you could do a shorter hike than with a two-year-old of a larger breed. Furthermore, you can both take breaks whenever you like and enjoy the view together.
Running is an activity a lot of dogs adore, it can be an exciting game, especially if you involve a chase! Simply run and call your dog to follow you and they can run after you, you can encourage them to do this with a toy. These short sprints are enjoyable and make your dog feel excited to play.
There is also the option of a gentle jog, this cardio is low impact and can be good for a puppy that has excess weight or joint pain. Make sure to start off jogging a shorter distance and gradually increase it, your dog should be tired at the end but not exhausted. Also, be sure that your pup is fully hydrated before and after the jog. This should push them but it still needs to be an enjoyable activity.
This is one of the best sports for dogs with joint problems, movement issues, and obesity. Hydrotherapy is one of the best treatments for dogs with trouble moving as it is the ideal low impact sport. Therefore, this is a great exercise for either weight loss or to start your dog exercising.
There are special centers you can bring your dog to in order to begin swimming, these come with specially treated water as well as workers who can help your dog with technique if they have joint problems. You also don’t have to worry that something bad may happen, as the workers are constantly with your dog if you leave them there for a trained session. There is also the option for you to stay at the center with your dog depending on what location you have traveled to.
Tug of War
A game of tug of war is one of your dog’s favorite games. Puppies and adults alike will engage in this game for quite a while if offered. Dogs will have to use a wide variety of muscles to play this game which is a great form of exercise. This will have to use their core strength to pull the rope whilst they use their legs to center themselves and pull themselves back. This is the combination of many muscles in your dog’s body and can certainly help keep them happy and healthy.
Another great advantage of this is that you can engage in this at any time with your dog. No planning needs to go into this, merely grab a toy and play. Just be sure to allow your dog to rest when they need to.
Fetch is another great game you can play with your dog. It is easy enough to do if you either have an area of space or can walk to a dog park. Simply go to this area with a toy and throw it, get your do to retrieve it and keep going. This is a great form of play for bonding as well as a beneficial form of exercise for your dog. This is an extremely cheap method as all you need is a toy or ball to throw which you can grab from any pet shop.
This exercise combines sprinting with jumping. This combines the use of many different leg and body muscles. The jumping movement requires strength from the hind legs which will increase over time. The more you play fetch with your dog, the faster they will run and the higher they will jump.
Some people may believe that interactive toys are only beneficial for mental health, however, physical health can be benefited too. Toys such as an automatic ball thrower can play a continuous game of fetch. You simply need to either stock up the balls in the machine or teach your dog to drop the ball into it. This training isn’t too hard to do and can be taught over a few days usually.
Like regular fetch, this exercise involves sprinting, jumping and retrieving the item. But how is it better to regular fetch? Well, your dog is kept physically and mentally stimulated whilst you aren’t at home. This means you’re not coming home to a frustrated dog who has possibly torn up the house.
Grooming is an essential part of keeping your dog healthy as it keeps many health problems at bay. Grooming is not limited to fur, but the care of your dog’s teeth and skin as well. Check out some of the concerns and methods you should think about.
Your dog’s coat consists of any fur on their body. The care provided for this can be anything from brushing, bathing, de-matting, and trimming. When a dog coat becomes tangled or en-coated in something, it makes it difficult to clean and care for. This, in turn, can lead to skin irritation and pain from knots in the fur. This pain and irritation will lead to your dog licking excessively, chewing at their coat, and a possible reluctance towards movement. As you can see, it can affect your dog negatively in many areas of their life. But how do you treat and maintain their coat?
Bathing your dog whenever it is needed will remove any unwanted debris or liquid from their coats. Use dog-friendly shampoo and be sure the water is not too hot. As for their coat, you can either take them to a groomer regularly or groom them at home. Be aware that some dog breeds may require grooming care much more frequently than others. If you are interested in grooming your dog at home, do some research about your breed’s coat type and buy the appropriate brushes to help.
The health of your dog’s teeth can severely influence their quality of life. If your dog is feeling toothache, they will be reluctant to eat and can quickly begin to lose weight. Another problem that can arise is their behavioral response. Your pup may isolate themselves, become more anxious, or even begin to show aggression. This can be particularly concerning for those that own a large dog or have children in the home. Most importantly though, your dog may be in pain, and no owner wants to leave their dog feeling like that.
A regular schedule of dental care can prevent many problems. Consider cleaning your dog’s teeth regularly or using dental wipes once or twice a day to prevent plaque build-up. Giving your dog dental chews will also remove excess plaque as well as being a great form of enrichment. Dogs love chewing toys and treats so be sure to provide them when you can. If you’re ever concerned about your dog’s teeth, you can take a quick look yourself or even take them for a vet visit.
If your dog’s skin is not cared for properly, this can lead to dandruff, irritation, and other health problems. Over time these smaller issues can develop into something serious that may require vet visits. For example, what may start as dandruff can lead to itching and irritation. This can then progress to excessive itching and licking which can turn into injuries and even cuts after a while due to your dog’s increased frustration and discomfort.
These are lots of ways to keep your dog’s skin healthy though. Firstly, bathe them regularly, as this can wash away any dirt or irritants that can cause a negative reaction from the skin. These irritants may even lead to allergic reactions which will require a vet visit. As for preventing dandruff, you can consider some anti-dandruff shampoo to stop it and the added symptoms occurring. You can also consider using essential oils for dogs to improve their skin health. However, not all essential oils are healthy for your dog so be sure to do your research first.
If your dog’s nails are too long, they can hurt you and can cause difficulty and pain when they are walking. When your dog is walking with very long nails, the pressure from walking on them can cause pain due to the nail bed being pressed backward.
Make sure that you are trimming your dog’s nails regularly to avoid any pain or difficulties in walking. If you have trouble trimming your dog’s nails, consider taking them to a groomer or to your vet who will be able to do so.
Dog Health Basics – FAQs
To make sure we have answered all of your questions in regard to dog health basics, we have found the four most searched FAQs and answered them for you.
What Are The Basic Needs of a Dog?
The basic needs of a dog include food, water, shelter, freedom from poor health and pain and they are able to display natural behavior. These are the basic requirements of a dog and just because these are satisfied, it does not mean enough is being done for a dog.
Your pet should not just be given food, but a suitable diet for their health. They should also not just be given shelter, but warmth, comfort, and privacy where needed. As owners, our job is to go above and beyond for our animals and provide more than just care, but love and friendship for them.
How do You do a Health Check on a Dog?
A health check for a dog can be briefly summarized as an examination for anything out of the norm. You should conduct this health check from head to tail and in this order to prevent the spread of bacteria from the anus and genitalia to the face.
Check the eyes, mouth, nose, and ears first, then look at the skin on your dog’s face and head. Work your way to your dog’s neck, shoulders, and chest. Gently press and feel around the body for any lumps or areas of pain. Continue this process until you reach the end of your dog. If you have found any cause for concern, consult your vet.
How Can I Know if my Dog is Sick?
A change in physical appearance or behavior can indicate a dog is sick. If they have any lumps, discharge, hair loss, or any other noticeable physical changes, this may be an indication of poor health. Similarly, if their behavior suddenly changes, this may be another sign. Such as your excitable dog is suddenly lethargic or your calm dog is displaying signs of aggression.
What Vaccinations do Puppies Need?
Here is a basic summary of the vaccinations puppies require:
- Intranasal Bordetella
- Lyme disease
Understanding the health basics of dogs is important for them and their ongoing care and happiness. We may miss signs of poor health if we are not aware of them in the first place.