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Learning all you can about dog health is a vital part of being a responsible pet owner. When you learn to handle your dog’s needs, you’ll not only save veterinary costs but be able to handle issues immediately rather than delaying. Although it might seem overwhelming, basic dog health care is actually simple. Once you know what you’re looking for, it becomes much easier to decide whether or not a trip to the vet is necessary. And if an issue can be taken care of at home, you need to know how. You should have at least one reputable veterinary handbook for dog owners. And, of course, you should have a good first aid kit, fully stocked and readily available.
You must know the basics of dog health in order to properly care for your pet. For example, a dry, warm nose does not necessarily mean they’re sick. Your dog’s nose may become dry due to weather or indoor temperatures. Unless it’s also flaky, crusty, or inflamed, a dry nose is no cause for alarm. Neither is eating grass. Some of the more obvious signs of poor health are crusty eyes and nose and hot ears, paws, and stomach. You should also know what your dog’s overall demeanor normally is. A happy, perky dog is a good sign while a lethargic, depressed dog may be sick. Pay attention to what is normal for your pet since factors like age, breed, and activity all affect their behavior.
Taking your dog’s vital signs is something you can do. A TPR, or Temperature, Pulse, and Respiration is the first thing your veterinarian does to evaluate dog health. To take your dog’s temperature, use a digital thermometer purchased at any drug store. It must be done rectally for an accurate reading. If you’re uneasy, ask your vet if they can show you how the first time. Use Vaseline, and if your dog won’t hold still, have someone gently hold them. Carefully insert the thermometer approximately one inch, turn it on, and wait. A normal temperature is 101.5° Fahrenheit. Just like with humans, it may be a little lower or a little higher, but anything under 100° or over 103 ° is cause for concern.
One of the best places to take your dog’s pulse is high on their inner thigh. The femoral artery is located there and is large with a strong beat. Use your forefinger and middle finger to apply gentle pressure at the center of their inner thigh, up towards the top of their leg. After a moment you should be able to find it, but if you push too hard you’ll flatten it and be unable to feel anything, so be gentle. Count each beat for fifteen seconds, and multiply that by four. Your dog’s resting pulse rate should be between 60 and 100 if they’re big, and 90 to 120 for small dogs. Puppies may have a resting rate around 180. Finally, count their respiration by simply watching their rib-cage rise and fall for one minute. Normal at-rest respiration should be between 10 and 30 per minute. Remember, bigger dogs have slower heart and respiration rates than small dogs.
In addition to those basic markers of dog health, you should know how to check their gums. Know what your particular dog’s gum color is when they’re healthy; don’t wait until they’re sick to look. A healthy dog has nice, pink color, not pale and washed out or flushed red or too dark pink. Also, their gums should be slick and wet to the touch, not dry or tacky. When you gently press your thumb into their gums, leaving a temporarily bloodless spot, it should fill back in within 1.5 seconds. This is called capillary refill time. When your dog’s blood pressure is too low, or if they’re dehydrated, their refill time will be visibly slower. Conversely, if it’s too high from high blood pressure, it may be basically impossible to create a pale spot with your thumb, or it will fill back in practically before you lift your thumb.
Finally, you should check your dog’s skin elasticity. It’s a good marker of your dog’s hydration. Use one hand to lift a thick fold of skin up on the back of their neck. It should instantly snap back into place. Slow return, stiff skin or, worse yet, not regaining its normal shape at all, are all signs of dehydration. Knowing what healthy, hydrated skin feels and looks like ahead of time will help you recognize poor health later. Once your dog is dehydrated enough to cause the skin to maintain the shape you squeeze it into rather than sliding back immediately, your dog is in serious need of fluids. When you take your dog’s vital signs, write them down rather than relying on your memory. Keeping track of any changes will help you know if they’re getting better or worse, and also provide important information if you do involve your veterinarian. Knowing what elements of dog health to look for will help you provide proper dog health care for years to come.
These are some important elements…
Proper dog health care is something all dog owners should learn. A good starting place is learning the basic elements of proper care. There are a few basic steps to taking care of your dog: first, know your dog, how they act, eat, and look when they’re healthy, second, provide basic health maintenance, third, if you think something is wrong, learn how to diagnose and evaluate their needs, and, finally, know when their needs surpass your abilities and they need a vet.
We’re going to focus on the second step, basic dog health care. Some parts of dog care you should already be providing, such as the best dog food, best dog beds, and, if need be, dog shelters. You should also be grooming your dog, bathing them and giving them daily attention. When you’re grooming your dog, take note of any new bumps, or whether existing ones have grown, as well as noticing signs of problems like extra sensitivity around their ears or excess drainage from their eyes or nose. If you’re paying attention, you should notice issues before they become real problems.
One part of dog health care often overlooked is brushing teeth. You can buy a toothbrush and pet-safe toothpaste at any pet store. It’s best not to use the fingertip brushes because they simply do not clean your dog’s teeth as well as a regular toothbrush does, and you should never use your own toothpaste because it is not safe for your dog to swallow.
Flea control is another important part of dog care. The money you save initially by buying inexpensive flea and tick products is nothing compared to the size of a vet bill for poisoning from cheap products. Spend the extra money on good quality products – not the brands you can buy at the grocery store – and your dog will thank you. You should only need the once-monthly drops, no collars, sprays, or dust. If your dog has a serious flea problem, talk to your vet about Capstar to immediately kill the fleas on your dog, or Comfortis for month-long flea control. Maintaining your dog’s overall health through basic dog care will reduce the need for veterinary help and extend their lifespan.
Finally, the most important part of dog health care is regular veterinary visits. Your dog needs an annual visit for vaccines and a general checkup. It’s also beneficial to keep track of your dog’s weight and to know what their blood work looks like when they’re healthy. Just like people, dogs are unique, and although there is a baseline for blood panels, your dog may have some variations that are completely normal for them. Knowing what those differences are will help your dog’s diagnosis if they do get sick. And, of course, unless you are going to professionally show and breed your dog, you should have them neutered or spayed. Have your dog fixed after six months of age, preferably not later than one year, although late is better than never.
Educating yourself about proper dog care is the first step to having a healthy, happy dog. But the most important part of dog care is simply paying attention. If you take the time to run your hands over your dog and look them over, you’ll notice any problems and be able to handle them immediately. Providing proper dog care ensures your dog will be around for a long time, and that’s all any dog owner really wants.
..but a few very common ones you should know about…
There are a few dog health problems that are commonly seen. Your dog is your loyal friend, offering you unconditional love and companionship. Return some of that love by taking care of any problems that might arise immediately rather than putting it off. Never assume a problem will go away. Dog allergies cause some problems, so making some adjustments to your dog’s diet could reduce the frequency of certain health issues. There are four major dog health problems, distemper is one of these diseases. It’s deadly but it’s preventable. Following dog health problems are most common and you can take necessary actions yourself to prevent these from happening.
Ear infections occur with some frequency for dogs, especially dogs with dropped or hanging, ears. Common primary causes include parasites, yeast infections, fungus, and foreign bodies (such as foxtails). Infections occurring secondarily to another cause include bacterial, masses, hypothyroidism, disease processes such as lupus, and dog allergies. When your dog has an ear infection, they need to see the vet, because by the time it has reached the stage where you notice, they’re in pain and it cannot be fixed with over-the-counter products. Symptoms include:
Dog allergies to foods like corn are often a factor in chronic ear infections. The simple answer is to change their food to a brand without corn. Improper, rough cleaning can also cause trouble, so take care when you clean your dog’s ears. Water is another issue, which is why you have to be careful not to get any water in your dog’s ears during a bath. Unfortunately, ear infections are incredibly serious and cannot be taken lightly. If you suspect your dog has an ear infection, take them to see the vet.
Worms are one of the dog health problems that are typically easy to take care of and also easy to prevent. The most common kinds of worms are tapeworms, roundworms, hookworms, and whip-worms They vary by region, so if you don’t know what is most problematic in your area, ask your vet. Heart-worms are another kind of problem altogether, and only a problem in specific parts of the country. So how do you know if your dog has worms?
Take your dog to the vet to be wormed. Don’t buy over-the-counter wormers. Not only do they frequently fail to work, they are usually nothing but poisons which can also be dangerous to your dog, not just the worms. Treating your dog regularly with quality monthly flea treatments is one way to prevent some types of worms. Advantage and Revolution can also repel mosquitoes and other bugs which protects your dog from some worms. Just because you don’t see worms in your dog’s feces doesn’t mean they aren’t there. They show up in their feces when they die, so that is actually the best place for them to be. Roundworms look like spaghetti, and wherever there are dogs, there are roundworms.
Tapeworms are segmented and usually break up so they look like pieces of rice on your dog’s feces or sticking to their hair. These are most likely to cause scooting. Hookworms look like roundworms, but have teeth; both hookworms and whip-worms cause anemia. Worms are one of the rare dog health problems you can get from your pet. Roundworms are especially dangerous to children. Tapeworms are far more dangerous for humans than dogs and can cause liver disease. Talk to your vet about a proper worming schedule. Use the high-quality flea treatments because tapeworms come from fleas and heart-worms which are fatally dangerous, come from mosquitoes.
Known in layman’s terms as hot spots, the medical term for these is acute moist dermatitis. There is a whole multitude of causes for these. Basically, anything at all, internal or external, that irritates your dog’s skin enough to make him bite or scratch violently enough to remove the hair and skin, creating a raw, red patch. Your dog may only have one, or he may have them all over his body. Dog allergies are a very common culprit, bringing us right back to corn as the top contender, although there are, of course, others. Fleas can cause hot spots, and so can topical allergies and irritants, even something as random as your hand lotion, if your dog is sensitive enough.
Another cause is Demodex mites causing demodectic mange. The location of the hot spot helps your vet figure out the cause. Usually, the area needs to be clipped and scrubbed to allow it to heal, and, depending on the cause, topical creams or sprays may be used. Dog medications such as oral antibiotics or anti-inflammatory may be prescribed as well. In serious cases, steroids like prednisone may be used. Keep in mind that hot spots can be indicative of a much larger problem, so take their diagnosis seriously.
Dog health problems involving vomiting and diarrhea are simply too broad to list, some minor, some major. If your dog throws up once, his stomach may have been upset, and it’s over. If he continues to vomit, or if you see blood, take him to the vet. Poisoning, pancreatitis, blockage, and parvo are just a few possible causes. And, once again, dog allergies to foods or outside substances are always a possibility. Diarrhea is another problem that could just be a passing bug. If your dog has loose, watery stools that last for more than one day, call your vet. One of the biggest risks of persistent diarrhea is dehydration, so make sure your dog has access to and is drinking plenty of clean, fresh water. You can add Pedialyte to their water for added electrolytes; just remember not to give it to them straight. Always mix it with water. Dehydration is also a risk with vomiting, which is another reason to call your vet if your dog’s vomiting persists. Other signs to watch for hand-in-hand with vomiting and diarrhea:
If your dog has multiple symptoms, see your vet. There are simply too many potential illnesses and diseases with these symptoms. A good rule of thumb, in fact, is that whenever in doubt, call your vet. Your vet can prescribe your dog medications that can temporarily halt the vomiting and diarrhea while diagnosing and treating them. Dog health problems cannot be taken lightly because, unlike humans, your dog cannot tell you what is wrong. By the time symptoms are severe enough for you to notice, things have often already progressed too far. Remember, pay attention to your dog so you know when their behavior changes, and learn the basics of dog health so you can evaluate your dog at home.
Although there are a lot of dog medications on the market, both over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription, there are a few you should know about for home use. Always talk to your veterinarian about medications, because your dog is unique and could have drug sensitivities. Also, certain breeds of dogs are more or less sensitive to certain drugs (Immodium can be fatal to Collies). Even so, there are general guidelines for some medications that can be purchased at your local drugstore.
Humans and dogs actually take most of the same things, but dogs metabolize drugs differently. An amount that could be an overdose for you might not even work on your dog. You cannot give your dog medications according to the label on products sold for humans. In order to calculate doses, you need to know how much your dog weighs. You also need to know how to convert pounds to kilograms. One kg (kilogram) is equal to 2.2 lbs (pounds); 1 lb is 0.45 kg. If your dog weighs 50 pounds, you would multiply 50lbs by 0.45kg and come up with 22.5kg. Once you know your dog’s weight in kg, you can figure out their dosage.
Benadryl is the brand name for diphenhydramine, which is the active ingredient in it. There are several uses for Benadryl, including allergies, bee stings, and anxiety. It’s a good idea to keep a box on hand in case your dog needs it. This works as a great sedative on the fourth of July as well. When Benadryl starts to work your dog will be lethargic, sleepy, and, if they try to walk, wobbly on their feet. Proper dosing for Benadryl is 1 to 2 mg per kg every 6 to 8 hours. Start low the first time to see how it affects your dog. Do not give your dog a little extra if it doesn’t work as well as you hoped with the first dose. Wait until their next dose to increase it.
If your dog is sore and needs mild pain relief, buffered aspirin is your over-the-counter (OTC) choice for safe dog medications. Never give your dog ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol). Acetaminophen causes liver failure and damaged red blood cells more easily than you might think, and ibuprofen causes bleeding ulcers and kidney failure. Buffered aspirin such as Bufferin is a safe pain reliever. The proper dosage of buffered aspirin is 5 to 10mg per 1 pound every 8 to 10 hours. It does need to be buffered, do not give your dog uncoated aspirin; it makes a difference in how the drug is absorbed. And keep in mind that aspirin thins the blood, which means it should not be taken long-term or right before surgery.
If your dog has an upset stomach or is vomiting, you can give them Pepto-Bismal. Never, ever give this to a cat. Dosage is 1 tsp (teaspoon) per 20 pounds of body weight every 4 to 6 hours. You can use a syringe to administer this or mix it into a little-cooked rice.
Gas-X is generically known as simethicone. The reason to include it here is that if you suspect your dog has bloat, you should give them Gas-X immediately, then go straight to the vet. The extra minutes and partial gas relief the simethicone can give your dog could be the difference between life and death. This should be one of the first dog medications you add to your first aid kit. Of course, you can also give your dog Gas-X for bad gas; just don’t make a habit of it. If your dog is habitually gassy, chances are their diet needs to be changed. Dosages are: under 25lbs, ¼ tablet; 26 to 50lbs, ½ tablet, 50lbs and up, 1 tablet. If you suspect your large breed dog is bloating, give him 2 tablets as you run out the door to the vet.
Although there are many supplements you can give your dog that is good for him, glucosamine is one of the most common. When dogs have soreness from joint issues, whether, from arthritis or old age stiffness, glucosamine is a good place to start. Keep in mind that it does not work instantly. It can take up to two weeks for it to reach its full efficacy. Glucosamine dosage is as follows: 25lbs takes 500mg, 25lbs to 50lbs take 1000mg and 50lbs and uptakes 1500mg. Glucosamine chondroitin is the best kind for the greatest results.
This is actually something to keep for emergencies only. Hydrogen peroxide can be used as an emetic, that is, to induce vomiting. If your dog has been poisoned, a few teaspoons will bring it right back up. Make sure you know what poisons to induce vomiting for, though, because not all poisons should be handled this way. Talk to your veterinarian.
These are a few basic OTC dog medications. If you’re ever unsure whether or not a dog should take something, don’t give it to them. And if your dog takes prescription medications, check with your vet to make sure there won’t be any drug interactions. Having a few medications on hand is a good idea so you can handle as much as possible at home. Weigh your dog and calculate their weight in kilograms ahead of time. Give your dog pills tucked into a piece of hot dog or stuck in a small spoonful of peanut butter. And, finally, keep all medications out of your pet’s reach so the only one dosing them is you.
When not writing about himself in the third person, Andy spends many an hour walking his dog Mr Wox, aka Soxy Woxy, a mischievous, mixed breed rescue. A leading authority on dog-related topics, Andy is highly respected, deeply appreciated and widely admired.