The term “dog health” is something that is far more involved than most people would realize or even care to think about. Obviously when we think of dog health, regular visits to the veterinarian for vaccines and preventive care come to mind immediately, as well as a prompt seeking of veterinary care when injury and sickness are suspected by a pet owner. To be sure, these aspects are indeed very important steps in advocating for dog health. However, the health and well being of a dog goes much further than just veterinary care, and it is advisable for any current or would be dog owner to consider all facets of promoting dog health in order to truly understand their responsibility to adequately provide a good quality of life for their dogs. Always remember, that a dog does not ask to be adopted nor does he get to choose who adopts him, and as such, a person who makes the decision to a adopt a dog has an obligation to his well being.
The first essential element of dog health that may seem to most as a no brainer is that they require shelter from the elements, such as extremes of hot, cold, rain, lightning, snow, ice, insects, injury from wildlife or stray animals, etc. While this may seem like common sense to most, it is not uncommon to encounter pet owners that keep their dogs outside 100% of the time, even worse; some of these people are surprised or even appalled at the notion that one would even suggest that the dog spend any amount of time inside the home.
For readers who own a dog or are thinking about adopting a dog with the intention to keep the dog as a strictly an outdoor pet – RETHINK YOUR CHOICE TO BE A DOG OWNER AND/OR RESIST ANY TEMPTATION TO ADOPT A DOG! The domestic dog is genetically adapted for coexistence with human beings. They have been so selectively bred and domesticated for thousands of years, that most have little chance of surviving without our care. This includes the necessity for shelter and protection from nature’s elements.
They feel hot and cold just like we do. They feel and react to insect bites just like we do. Their hair mats and their skin festers from prolonged exposure to moisture just like ours does. If an outdoor temperature, climate, or insect burden is uncomfortable for you, YOU MUST ASSUME THAT IT IS THE SAME FOR YOUR DOG.
This is not to say that a dog cannot spend significant amounts of time outside in a back yard. During spring, a mild summer day, or even mild winter day in a temperate climate, for example, your dog may really enjoy experiencing the outdoors for hours at a time. At night when temperatures drop, insects and wildlife come out, when it rains, snows, or if there is an exceptionally hot day, the dog should be inside with its family where a comfortable and constant temperature is maintained and critters are kept out. Again, the best rule of thumb to follow is: if it is comfortable for you, then it is for the dog, if it is not comfortable for you, then it is not comfortable for the dog. To re-iterate, another good rule of thumb to follow is that if you do not believe in keeping dogs in the home with you and your family, please do yourself and dogs a favor: find another hobby and do not get a dog.
Dogs were selectively bred and evolved from the very social and pack oriented wolf species. As such, an integral component to dog health is fulfilling their inherited need
well-informed, compassionate dog enthusiast is seeing a dog kept outside all by himself tied to a tree or some other inanimate object, or a dog left outside with only its dog house, but no other dog to interact with or other human to offer companionship. Of course this violates the first rule of dog health already discussed to provide shelter, but this kind of treatment denies a dog an integral component to dog health: social interaction and companionship.
Being descended from pack animals, dogs need interaction with others to thrive and develop mentally. This does not necessarily mean that a dog needs to romp with other dogs to achieve this, but it does mean that a person or family that adopts a dog must engage and communicate with the dog. Whether it is positively applied obedience, rolling on the ground with petting and affection, throwing and fetching a ball, or simply veg’ing out on a dog bed in the middle of the family room surrounded by loved ones, a dog needs others to interact with and be near.
When interaction is taken away, a dog suffers, sometimes severely. When forced to spend long periods of time in solitude, many dogs will turn to obsessive/compulsive behavior for relief, which can result in any number of behavioral disorders, such as licking out their fur, chewing themselves, or eating inanimate objects to name a few. Solitude can lead to big decreases in the neurotransmitter serotonin, which leads to an increased in stress hormones causing anxiety and even immune suppression.
So, if you have a very busy life and have no time to spend with a dog, or work very long hours and are rarely home, or you have some distorted notion that keeping a dog tied to tree is an acceptable form of dog guardianship, please do not get a dog. If your work or personal situation has changed that requires you to be away from home for long periods of time, strongly consider getting a dog walker, or enrolling your dog in a doggie daycare center.
Dogs like people, need regular exercise for optimal physical and mental health. Exercise prevents obesity and diabetes, while maximizing cardiac health and maintaining muscle tone to prevent diseases or injuries of these systems, respectively. From a psychological standpoint, exercise provides a release of energy that satisfies a dog’s inherent need for activity, while preventing behavioral problems. Also from a psychological standpoint, exercise naturally raises serotonin levels (serotonin is the neurotransmitter involved with feelings of contentment), while decreasing stress hormones that can cause harm to the body. For all these reasons, exercise must always be considered an important and integral component to optimal dog health.
It is no secret in people that optimal health begins first and foremost with good nutrition, and it is no different in the consideration of dog health. Nutrition provides the basic elements that provide cellular/tissue building and re-building, metabolic and physiological function. If the nutritional platform for these processes is poor, then the overall health will also be poor. Whether we are discussing skin and hair coat, urinary tract health, brain function, muscle and joint integrity, cardiovascular function, etc., the health of any of these and other systems first and foremost depend on being fed proper quality nutrients.
The single most important nutrient of all is water. Without free access to clean, fresh, water, a dog’s health suffers greatly. Make sure water bowls are kept clean and are constantly monitored so they remain full at all times, and by all means, close the toilet bowls to keep dogs from drinking out of them. Toilet bowl detergents and disinfectants that we use to maintain the cleanliness of our toilets are toxic to dogs, and bacteria that tend to proliferate in toilet bowl can be very harmful to dogs.
Next, you must make certain that the dog is fed a good, well balanced, diet, with a good quality dog food. Feeding from the table is discouraged by most veterinary health care professionals due to resultant nutritional deficiencies (a dog’s physiological needs are different from our own) that can result, as well as this practice commonly leading to obesity and health consequences associated with that.
But purchasing just any dog food is not the answer. As a general rule, most of what is offered for sale at grocery stores or superstores are poor quality dog foods, loaded with poor nutrient sources and fillers. For example, while a good quality diet may rely on well utilized protein sources, such as animal muscle or organs for fulfilling the minimum protein requirement, a poor quality diet would instead fulfill this requirement with cheap, poorly utilized protein, such as hair, hoof, and skin. In most cases, you will need to shop at a retail pet store in order to procure a high quality diet for your dog.
This is not to say that all the brands available for purchase at pet stores are necessarily the best brands to feed your dog, which is why your veterinarian is the best source to advise you on what type of dog food to feed your dog.
Veterinary and Preventive/Wellness Care
While we certainly know that if a dog is obviously sick or injured that he needs to go to the veterinarian to get treated, what many do not realize is that regular wellness and preventive visits are a necessary component to optimal dog health. Listing the elements of a wellness veterinary visit below, one can clearly see how important they are, and that illness or injury are not the only times when a dog should be seen by his vet.
Yearly examination – One year of a dog’s life is equivalent to 5-7 years of a person’s life. We know a lot can go wrong with us in this period of time, so our recommendation for a yearly examination is actually quite conservative. During wellness visits, early signs of disease are often found, and with early detection, disease is most effectively dealt with and kept from getting beyond a dangerous point. From arthritis, dental and gum disease, cataracts to cardiac disease, many would be amazed how often disease is picked up on just a routine wellness physical. This is especially true for dogs, as like other animals not wanting to show signs of weakness, dogs can be very cryptic about showing signs of disease.
Vaccines – Rabies vaccines prevent the viral disease rabies, which is deadly to both people and animals. All states in the U.S., and most developed countries have laws in place requiring this vaccine for dogs, considering rabies a major livestock, wildlife, and human health hazard. Other vaccines that we administer to dogs, such as parvo, distemper, and infectious hepatitis, are potentially deadly canine diseases that dogs must be protected from.
Heartworm screening and prevention – One of the biggest killers of dogs is a parasite that colonizes the heart called heartworm. Left untreated or unchecked, heartworm disease leads to risk of clot formations and right sided heart failure. Several commercial monthly administered heartworm preventives are available to protect your dog from heartworm disease, and are considered one of the staple elements of a quality canine wellness program.
Stool analysis – Being low to the ground and prone to sniffing around vile things (as well as eating vile things), dogs are prone to infection with intestinal parasites. While these parasites are harmful for your dog, they also pose a human health risk for very young children, elderly, or immune compromised people that come in contact with the dog.
Flea/tick prevention – Veterinary grade pest preventives are considered an essential part of a canine wellness program. Fleas and ticks are a nuisance whose bites cause inflammation, pain, and sometimes skin infection directly, but they are also a vector for transmission of dangerous, even deadly infectious disease.
As you can see, caring for a dog and providing for its optimal health and wellbeing has many elements. In order to provide your dog the best quality of life, all of these basic elements of dog health bust incorporated into caring for your dogs.