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Keep That Tail Wagging

Looking after your dog is a big responsibility and you need help. Let your vet keep an eye on your dog’s health by giving it regular check up.

You want a happy, tail-wagging dog, don’t you? Keeping your pet well is a big responsibility – but it is one that is well rewarded. The number one priority is vaccination to keep nasty – and crucially – avoidable diseases at bay. Inoculation can reduce your dog’s risk from diseases such as distemper, parvovirus, hepatitis, kennel cough and rabies, just to name a few.

Understanding how horrible these diseases should be all the incentive you need to stay on top of those jabs – all dogs should be vaccinated. Even if you’re adopting a dog and think he’s probably had his shots, play safe and have him vaccinated again. It’s better to give an extra vaccine than none at all. Booster vaccines should then be given every three to four weeks until puppies are five months old; vaccinations of adult dogs should be discussed with your vet.

The diseases:

Distemper is a contagious viral disease that affects the respiratory and nervous system of dogs. Distemper does not cause ‘bad temper.’ It is a serious illness that is almost always fatal.

Hepatitis is a viral infectious disease that affects the liver and eyes and may cause reproductive problems. Hepatitis is not contagious to people.

Leptospirosis is a bacterial, infectious disease that causes severe liver and kidney damage and may also affect humans.

Parainfluenza is a highly contagious viral respiratory disease that may spread quickly from dog to dog.

One of the most serious contagious diseases for puppies, parvovirus, causes severe vomiting and diarrhoea while suppressing the immune system and may be fatal even if treated. After the initial vaccination series, a blood test can be done to ensure adequate protection. Rottweilers, Doberman pinschers and pit bulls seem to be more susceptible than other breeds.

Finally there is Bordetella. A bacterial problem and the cause of ‘kennel cough.’ If your dog is to be boarded frequently, the kennel may require this vaccination.

So top of that list of things to do when you acquire a new pet, is taking him, or her, to the vet. This is the first and best step in caring for your puppy’s long-term health and wellbeing. Typically, there will be paperwork to sort on that first visit including information about you, but more importantly about your pet. Name, age, sex, where he was obtained and what medical care he has already received.

Next your pet will be examined. A nurse will weigh your puppy, take his temperature and listen to his heart. Probably, when you made the appointment, you would have been asked to bring in a fresh faeces sample for analysis.

The vet will ask you a variety of questions about the animal and then discuss tips on behaviour, training and feeding and try to answer your questions. If your puppy is a pure-bred, your vet may be able to discuss breed-specific topics including spaying or neutering your puppy.

Next the vet will check the puppy’s eyes, ears and teeth to look for any abnormalities; the skin, for more abnormalities, dry skin, fleas or ticks; the belly for pain, enlarged organs or other abnormalities; the heart and lungs to detect any heart murmurs, irregular heart rhythm or harsh lung sounds the joints for normal movement and the kneecaps will be checked to make sure they are not loose.

The first visit often happens when your puppy is due for a vaccination and that normally occurs between at six to eight weeks of age and every three to four weeks until 16 to 20 weeks of age. Sometimes, the breeder will have given the first vaccination and de-wormer. And de-worming is another important job. Even if the stool sample is negative, nearly all puppies are born with roundworms so at least two doses of de-wormer are recommended three weeks apart. Some vets recommend de-wormer every three weeks until the puppy has finished his series of puppy shots.

Your vet will likely discuss parasite prevention including flea and tick prevention. At the end of the visit, the vet will let you know when you should bring your puppy back for booster vaccinations – usually, three or four weeks later.

Often overlooked is proper dental care but it should be a regular part of your programme for keeping your dog healthy and happy. Pets can suffer the same kinds of dental problems as humans, including severe pain, infection and tooth loss. You can help prevent those issues – and solve those that do arise – by learning about the basics of tooth care and working closely with your vet.

Most problems start small and build over time for dogs. Beginning at a very young age, food particles, bacteria and debris can build up at the gum line and under the gums to form plaque. Left unattended, plaque can harden to become calculus and lead to serious oral conditions, including gingivitis, periodontitis and stomatitis.

Some vets also believe – although the evidence is not conclusive – that bacteria associated with tooth and gum disease can spread to internal body systems and contribute to infections in organs like the heart, liver and kidney. If so, a dental prevention programme could even help extend a pet’s life.

Periodontal disease is the most common disease of small animals. It can be very painful, but pets often suffer in silence – sometimes until all of their teeth have become infected. Relieving that pain may bring a noticeable brightening to a dog’s behaviour and personality.

Dogs should have periodic dental exams. The frequency depends on the animal’s age. You should have your puppy’s mouth examined as early as possible and again at every vaccination appointment up to four months of age. Another dental examination should be performed at six months, including an assessment of your pet’s bite. Some do not lose all their baby teeth when they should, and their permanent teeth can wind up pushed out of line. If that happens, your vet may have to pull the stubborn baby teeth.

Between one and three, dental exams should be done annually then, between four and six, unless your pet has perfect teeth, every six months is more likely. Once your pet starts to get old, seven and upwards, they should be automatically taken for a six-month dental check up.

This ‘well-dog clinic’ trip should become an annual event until your dog reaches seven. From then on, twice yearly visits are recommended. What is one year in your life can be between five to 10 comparative years in your pet’s life. A lot can change in that much time. Sometimes, dogs can be ill for weeks and you are unaware of it. This may not be from a lack of monitoring or caring; your dog just hides his illness until it is so far advanced he has no choice but to show signs of disease. The vet trip will help keep on top of such potential problems. The examination is not just a chance for your vet to see how cute your dog is; it’s a thorough exam that can pick up on a variety of illnesses and prevent potential catastrophic disease. By finding, diagnosing and treating these problems early, your pet will live a much healthier and longer life.

Proper nutrition is also essential in maintaining health. Active dogs need more calories. Grooming is also a part of the good health process.

In spring, some owners of long-haired dogs choose to have them professionally groomed, trimming their hair even to the point of shaving. These owners feel that their dogs greatly benefit with less hair during the heat of the spring and summer. Other owners prefer to leave their dogs natural. In all dogs, routine combing and brushing is recommended. And as we go to the gym to keep ourselves trim, so you should keep an eye on your dog’s exercise regime and here’s a tip that once you’ve heard it seems obvious. After a long winter of being cooped up, exercise must be started slowly – for you and the dog, that is!
Your pet is not prepared for sudden long excursions outside. If your dog exercises too quickly, his muscles, heart, lungs and internal heat control cannot keep up. Amazingly the worst months for dog ill health are in the spring when people come out of their relative winter hibernation.

Dogs, unlike cats, are pack animals; that is, they prefer to associate in groups rather than alone. Because you, the guardian, are a part of the pack your dog forms an intense emotional bond with you. It will follow you around the house, sleep on the floor by the bed and watch anxiously as you leave for work without it. It’s this type of loyalty that attracts many people to dogs. In the face of that loyalty, you owe it to you pet to keep him, or her, in good health.

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