When you bring a dog into your family, you are taking on a serious responsibility. This creature will depend on you for food, shelter and love. You will also be responsible for making sure that your dog is as healthy as he can be at any given time. Some people, however, feel better if they have a guideline to follow so that they can be sure not to miss any crucial aspects of keeping their dog healthy.
1. Dog food – It can be tempting to simply buy what’s on sale each time you go shopping for dog food, but this is never recommended. Your dog’s digestive system can be upset by constantly changing his food. What you want to do is start with a good, high-quality food, and if your dog seems to like it and tolerate it well, stick with it. There may come a time when you need to change your dog’s diet, such as if he develops some kind of medical condition or as he ages, but this should always be done under your veterinarian’s supervision.
2. Diet – A general guideline is to feed your dog 1 ½ cups of food for every twenty pounds of his ideal weight. For example, if your dog’s ideal weight is 60 lbs, then you should feed him 4 ½ cups of food per day. Don’t feed him according to his actual weight; if he is overweight you would be feeding him too much and if he is underweight you would be feeding him too little. If you follow this guideline and think that your dog is not maintaining a healthy weight, consult with your veterinarian about changing the amounts or even the type of food. As far as snacks go, you know that you’re going to give in now and then and let him have a treat, but try to keep that at a minimum. When you do give him snacks, try to make them as lean and healthy as possible. And no chocolate! Chocolate can be deadly for dogs.
3. Exercise – Your dog needs exercise just like you do, and even if you’re not too good about keeping up with your own fitness program, try to make sure your dog keeps up with his. You can kill two birds with one stone by walking your dog every day because you both will get exercise. If you can’t walk your dog every day, however, try to make sure that he will get exercise in other ways. Encourage others to play with him, throw balls for him, or walk him if they can. Set up play dates with other dogs. Do whatever you can to make sure that your dog gets enough activity every day.
4. Immunizations – Make absolutely sure that your dog gets his immunization shots when he needs them. They aren’t expensive, and you could save yourself a lot of grief down the road. Ask your veterinarian to let you know when any new immunizations are developed for dogs so you can decide whether you think your dog should have them or not.
5. Check-ups – Take your dog to the vet at least once a year for a full physical examination. If you don’t think you can afford to do this, then you can’t afford to have a dog. Though some medical problems can’t be predicted, a yearly physical can often alert you to possible problems with your dog that you can take steps to avoid, or that you can you treat early. This can end up saving you a lot of money, and vet bills can add up quickly. If you notice any change in your dog’s behavior, or anything that concerns you such as a cough or a growth on the skin, at least call the vet. Don’t wait until something gets more serious than it needs to be before doing something about it.
6. Safety – Your dog needs to be protected from the outside world. Make sure that your dog is on a leash when he goes out, or is in a secure yard that he can’t get out of. If your dog isn’t used to being around small children, only let him be around them under close supervision, if at all. Children can get too excited when they see a dog and may play too roughly, and this can frighten your dog. This can lead to biting. If you are taking your dog traveling in the car with you, put him in a comfortable crate that is secured to something. There are also special harnesses for dogs that can be attached to seat belts.
7. Spay or Neuter – Unless you are a registered breeder, please spay or neuter your dog before he or she produces offspring. Not only is this the responsible thing to do so that you don’t add to the problem of unwanted pets; it is also healthier for your dog. Dogs that have not been spayed or neutered are more likely to try to run away. The male dogs are more likely to fight and be aggressive. Both females and males will have less potential health problems.
8. Training – Yes, training can be healthy for your dog, both mentally and physically. When a dog is properly trained he knows what is expected of him, and this can cut way down on anxiety. Also, if your dog is trained in basic commands, such as ’sit’, ’stay’, and ‘come’, he is less likely to get into trouble or into dangerous situations.
9. His own place – Make sure that your dog has an area where he can be undisturbed. Though dogs are pack animals and prefer to be close to their families, they still like having a certain place that is all their own. A dog bed under a counter, a doghouse in the backyard, a special blanket. When your dog is in his special place, make sure he is left alone to rest. Enough rest is as important for your dog’s health as it is for yours.
10. Love – Loving your dog is healthy for him. Play with him, hug him, talk to him—he will flourish in the attention and be calmer and more self-assured. If you don’t have time to give a dog the love and attention he needs, you don’t have time for a dog at all.
It doesn’t take much to make a dog happy, but it takes a sense of responsibility to keep him healthy. Decide before you ever get a dog if you are up to this responsibility. If you are, then you will be rewarded with years of love and companionship.