Taking care of your pet
by George Kimmerling
“He is soooo cute,” you thought when you first laid eyes on your dog. And—yay!—he seemed to like you too. So you brought him home—only to realize that maybe you weren’t totally prepared for the work this relationship involved. Well, your mom was right (again): Owning a dog IS a big responsibility, from training to feeding to keeping it stress-free. “We don’t have that many years with our dogs,” says Whole Dog Journal editor Nancy Kerns. Here’s how to make sure each day is filled with health—and happiness for you both.
Get an annual physical
You may not think you need one, but your dog does. “Don’t skimp on a in-depth vet exam every year,” advises Kerns. Since “dogs age on an accelerated schedule compared to us,” she says, serious illness can take hold within a year, so early detection is key. The exam should include a complete blood count, a blood-chemistry panel, a thorough dental check, and a vaccination review to ensure that your dog is up-to-date with rabies and other shots. Tip: Find a vet you can establish an easy relationship with. When you make your appointment, be sure the doc will set aside enough time to patiently answer all your questions.
Protect against pests, but with restraint
Treat your dog to prevent fleas, ticks, heart worm, and other ickies from making your dog their home, says Kerns. The health effects of infestation are far worse than pesticide side effects. That said, don’t overdo it, she warns. “Use what’s absolutely necessary for your environment,” rather than mindlessly dosing your dog every month against pests it’s not like to encounter. Tip: You can check the prevalence of pests in your area atcapcvet.org.
Sweat the small stuff
Learn to watch your dog closely, and you’ll be surprised by how much it communicates how it feels, mentally and physically. The position of its ears and tail, it’s breathing, whether it often scratches or licks its paws can all be signs of distress. “Chronic behaviors and symptoms must be addressed,” says Kerns. “Healthy dogs don’t show symptoms on a daily basis.”Tip: Consider starting a health notebook or a calendar, so you can track when you administer meds, change food, or notice new behaviors, like obsessive grooming.
Provide high-quality food
Nutritious mass-market food abounds, says Linda Case, author ofDog Food Logic, but some of the best products come from smaller companies that make food in their own US facilities. Sure, you can feed your dog on 15 cents a day, but making the investment in higher-priced food, say at a few dollars a day, can mean the difference between giving your dog chicken and serving it ground chicken heads (yes, gross!). Tip: Grain should not be one of the first two ingredients on the label, and the protein source should be named (“trout” not “fish,” for example). Bonus: Worried about pet-food recalls? Follow the American Veterinary Medical Association on [email protected] or its Facebook page to stay informed.
“Food is one way we show our dogs love,” says Case, “so banning people from feeding their dogs extras doesn’t work.” Even so, just as you can’t afford the effects of too many snack sessions, neither can your pup. Limit food beyond what’s in your dog’s daily diet—including that tiny bit of leftover salmon from your plate and even training treats—to no more than 10% of its calorie need, Case says. Tip: Make training treats small enough so your dog can down them quickly and delicious enough that they’ll count as a real reward.