No one said that being a dog parent is easy and while there are plenty of upsides, one of the biggest challenges is knowing whether your dog is happy and healthy. Or, perhaps more accurately, it can be difficult to figure out if there is something wrong with your dog.
For example, they aren’t good at hiding their happiness and are eager to please but they may try concealing any health issues from you so discovering them is more difficult. And so, with National Pet Day on the 11th of April, we thought we would put the focus on how to keep a happy and healthy dog.
Knowing what signs to look for in an unhealthy or unhappy dog is important but so too is understanding what else you can do to help them lead a complete and fulfilled life. Here are some tips for a happy and healthy dog.
Understanding your dog
Whether you take your dog to a vet, share your concerns with a fellow dog parent or the groomer spots unusual behaviour, no one knows your pet better than you. That means you understand the nuances in their behaviour the best, so if something truly isn’t right then you are most likely to be the one to spot it.
This knowledge of your dog’s behavioural traits occurs over time and the more you know them, the more you’ll know whether their being clingy is out of the ordinary or if sitting by themselves in a different room is for peace or because they need to vomit.
Thankfully, our dogs mostly wear their hearts on their sleeves so their body language and behaviour are often an outward projection of how they feel inside. While it’s a shame they can’t speak, dogs can still get their message across if you know what you’re looking for.
Typical signs that a dog is unwell:
- Decrease in appetite
- Excessive urination or thirst
- Difficulty walking up or down stairs
- Unusual bowel movements
- Blood in stool or vomit
- Excessive tiredness or looking for somewhere to hide
- Obvious personality changes
- Itchy skin or hair loss
Of course, there are many symptoms to look out for if your dog is unwell, which is why it’s so important to pay attention to their behaviour and note when something is different.
Regular vet trips
Although many of them hate it, a regular trip to the vet is a great opportunity for the vet to talk to you about your dog. You can raise health concerns, while the vet will also weigh your pooch and complete other health checks to monitor for any changes from their previous visit.
This could range from testing the mobility of their legs to their heart rate and your vet needs to build up a clear picture of your dog so they can diagnose potential illnesses or diseases. If your dog does really dislike going to the vet, consider some desensitising training to help them overcome their fears.
- Get your pet used to being handled – from their ears and eyes to their toes and tail
- Get your dog used to strangers – invite people they are unfamiliar with to visit or arrange to meet them in the park
- Visit your vet socially – show them that not every trip to the vet ends in a needle prick or an intrusive thermometer. This process may take considerable time if your dog has had a bad experience in the past
- Make the vet as stress-free as possible – this can include bringing toys from home, acting calmly and gently walking your dog to the vet, rather than dragging them!
Given their reliance on their mouths for investigating and interacting with the world, dental hygiene for dogs is arguably more important than it is for humans. Unfortunately, you can’t teach your dog to brush its teeth twice per day like you can with your children but there are ways to ensure our dogs have healthy teeth.
Dental disease is common for dogs and can be extremely uncomfortable, while a build-up of plaque is also a danger that some dogs are prone to. Giving your dog’s teeth a gentle brushing on the regular is a great way to ensure they maintain a healthy mouth.
However, if your dog is a chewer then you can introduce toys and foods that will help clean their teeth without the intrusion of a brush. Rope toys are a great example of a tooth-cleaning toy as the strands of string act like floss between their teeth.
Regular medication and vaccinations
Although it would be nice if our dogs didn’t need regular vaccines or medication, that’s not the case. For example, keeping your pet wormed regularly is an essential part of a sound preventative care regime, while keeping your pet parasite free will greatly reduce potential threats to your pet.
Other common medications and vaccinations for dogs include:
- Yearly boosters
- Rabies vaccination for travel
- Kennel cough
- Flea and tick treatments
- Pain relievers
Each dog can have its own medical needs too, from arthritis and seizure control to ear infections or skin conditions.
When giving tablets to a dog that doesn’t like taking them, make sure to read the box or accompanying leaflet to check whether you can break them into smaller pieces or administer them with food. Some tablets are fine to break up, while others need to be eaten whole and not wrapped in food – which can be difficult to get them to consume!
It won’t come as a surprise to read that dogs need regular exercise. How much they need largely varies depending on their breed, with some happy with a short walk while others seem to have the energy to run a marathon. The advice can vary, with some sources saying one or two walks per day and others suggesting less exercise is okay.
If you are unsure about how much exercise your dog needs, consult with your vet who can tell you in detail how often they should go for walks and what other types of stimulation are also good for your pet’s breed.
This could be food puzzles, scent games or playing with toys. If your dog is getting older or struggles physically, mental games are a great way to keep them entertained and happy when walks are less of an option.