Keeping your dog fit and healthy
Exercise and dog health
Keeping fit is as important for healthy dogs as it is for you. A healthy dog will enjoy an exercise regime that keeps them in shape and give them lots of ways to play and interact with you. It will also help puppies stay full of energy, and builds a strong immune system that means a dog of any age is less likely to fall ill.
Your dog loves to play and be friends with you, but some breeds won’t want to stop even when they’re very tired – think about their limits and be careful not to over-exercise them. If you are not sure how much to exercise your puppy or dog, ask your vet about how much your dog needs.
This is particularly important if you own a breed known to have orthopaedic problems, for example a Labrador Retriever or a large or giant breed, as their requirements may be different from smaller or toy breeds.
When you start getting to know your new healthy puppy, their exercise needs are easily met as they play in the garden or a park. (Although make sure they’ve had all the right vaccinations before they go into the big wide world.) On the other hand, your breeder may give you a suitable exercise programme to follow – if they don’t, just ask for one or consult your vet.
Apart from keeping your pup in top condition, exercise also provides a vital way to socialise and play freely with other dogs and people, which can also turn into an opportunity to start training your puppy. Just remember to avoid extremely rough play, especially with larger breeds, as it can damage growing joints. You can read about training your puppy to walk on a lead and other general puppy training tips to find out more.
Variety is the spice of life, so keep your puppy’s exercise and dog fitness routine interesting. Playing chase games with balls and toys (avoiding sticks, which can splinter and cause injury) can really help retain your puppy's interest in their exercise, and they’ll love the interaction with you as well. If you live in the country, include some road walking to keep your puppy or your dog’s nails trim. It will get them used to different environments and improve their behaviour on the lead, too.
If your dog is of a breed that likes a lot of exercise, why not take them to a class or choose a specific form of training that makes the best of their characteristics? After all, a healthy dog is a fulfilled dog, too! For example, if you have a Border Collie, they’ll be naturally good at obedience and agility classes, as well as playing exciting games like dog flyball. Labradors and Spaniels, on the other hand, make excellent retrievers. Even Terriers have a lot of agility behind that adorable look! Ask your breeder about the training your dog will like best, or do some research into clubs and dog sports – they’re a great way for your dog and you to meet others, too.
As well as playing on dry land, your dog’s health can benefit from being in the water too. Is there a canine swimming pool near you, for example? Some breeds, such as Newfoundlands and Retrievers, love to practice their doggie paddle and will happily splash around for ages! Just remember that dogs can get into trouble swimming in places where there are depth changes and currents (like rivers or the sea) so stick to a hydrotherapy pool.
Your puppy’s first trip to the vet
Before you bring your adorable new puppy home, you should register with a local vet to make sure you’re prepared. When you have your new puppy, arrange an appointment and let them know it's a new puppy health check. Your vet may want to allocate your puppy a bit more time than the usual 10-minute consultation just to make sure everything starts off on the right foot.
At the surgery, carry your puppy into the surgery and keep them on your lap and away from other dogs. Don’t put them on the waiting-room scales or let them explore and sniff other dogs, especially if your puppy hasn’t been vaccinated (or hasn’t completed the whole course), as they are particularly susceptible to unwanted illnesses. Take some treats along to make the visit a positive one, and ask the vet or nurse to reward your puppy during the check-up as well – they’ll be happy to come back next time if they know treats are involved!
At their first consultation, your puppy will have a thorough examination and your vet will discuss vaccinations with you. Details of any previous treatments, which your breeder or the rescue centre should have supplied, will be useful to bring along. You’ll have a chat about common problems such as worming and fleas (which again your breeder or the rescue centre should have given you details of), as well as microchipping, neutering, and any questions you have about puppy health care. You might also talk about feeding, exercising and grooming.
Remember to ask for details of puppy parties and dog-training classes held at the surgery or nearby, as these will help your puppy with training and becoming socialised. If your puppy is not already insured, discuss this too, as policies have different advantages and disadvantages – your vet can help you make a decision about what’s best for your puppy.
Of course, no matter how well you look after your canine friend, sometimes your puppy or dog might fall ill. The earlier a problem is identified, the sooner it can be treated and the sooner your puppy can get back to their usual, bouncy selves. This is why your pet will benefit from regular dog health checks at home, and it will get them used to being examined too.
If you’re carrying out your own dog health check, keeping an eye out for some common symptoms should alert you to anything that needs veterinary attention. Below are some useful points about what to look out for.
Regular dog health assessments by your vet are highly recommended, but you can easily assess your dog’s body condition at home between visits. For easy reference, use the Body Condition Chart as you go.
First of all, run your hands around your dog’s flanks and abdomen. At an ideal weight you should be able to feel, but not see, their ribs covered with a thin layer of fat. Their waistline behind their ribs should be visible from above, with their abdomen noticeably tucked up when viewed from the side. If this isn’t how your dog looks, it’s a good idea to ask the vet to check your dog’s weight to make sure it’s not too high or low.
The more lovely and long your dog’ ears are – like a Cocker Spaniel’s – the more prone to infection they are. However, if you give their ears a mini check-up every now and then, you can get any problems sorted by the vet before they become too serious. Your dog’s lovely ears should be clear of any thick brown or green wax, they shouldn't smell, and your dog shouldn’t be scratching them or shaking their head. Long-eared breeds might benefit from some gentle ear cleaning, and there are loads of cleaners designed just for the job – but don’t use cotton wool buds or clean too deeply, as it’s fairly easy to accidentally damage their ear canal. If you’re unsure, your vet can help you get your technique up to scratch. You can read more about your dog’s ear health here.
Your dog’s eye should be wide open, bright and clear – which you’ll probably see when they bring out their irresistible ‘puppy dog’ eyes! If their eyes are runny, red or sore, or if they shy away from the light as though it hurts them, see your vet as soon as possible.
You probably recognise the feeling of being nudged by a friendly wet nose! If your dog’s nose is particularly runny however, or there is bleeding, discharge, or a change in colour, it’s time for a trip to the vet. Your dog’s health might also be compromised if their nose is particularly dry or crusty – the dampness of it will vary with the weather, but either extreme is a warning sign.
Skin and coat:
Your dog’s skin can be either pink or black depending on their natural pigments – either is totally normal, and probably not immediately visible under all that fur! If you take a look, however, you should find it free of dandruff, sores, or fleas (which might look like little black dots in the coat). Of course your dog’s coat varies according to its breed, but generally it should be thick and shiny with no broken hairs.
Your dog will probably shed hair all year round, and usually more in the summer and autumn, but it shouldn’t ever result in bald patches. Some breeds won’t shed, which means less vacuum-cleaning for you, but they will need clipping by a profession dog groomer.
You can read the full article about dog health and skin conditions here.
Your dog’s nails should be nice and smooth, and they can be white or black. A lot of the time your dog’s nail will look after themselves, especially if they walk outside on rough surfaces, but if they do need attention don’t forget the dew claws too!
Ask your vet to show you how to keep your dog healthy with nail clipping, as it’s surprisingly tricky and it’s easy to accidentally cut the wrong part. Read more in our article about caring for your dog’s nails.
Nobody likes being ill, but puppies and dogs can suffer occasional diarrhoea and vomiting just like us. This could happen if their diet is changed or they eat the wrong thing outside; in most cases, nothing long-lasting is wrong.
However, if the illness continues or your dog seems depressed, see your vet right away. For more information about digestive disorders in dogs, check out this detailed article.
If your puppy is well socialised, they’ll be a joy to be around all through their life – they’ll love meeting people and having a little bit of fuss made of them! A well socialised puppy is a great family pet that everyone can bond with, not just one person.
To train and socialise your puppy, ask your vet about training classes in your area. If you notice any behavioural problems such as your dog or puppy biting, chewing or crying when you leave the house, consult your veterinary practice promptly; if negative behaviour becomes too established, it can be hard to shake off again!
Like human teeth, your puppy or dog’s teeth and gums are vulnerable to disease. Although it can be a source of discomfort, tooth loss, and bad breath – not pleasant for either of you – oral dog health can easily be maintained with a simple brushing routine.
But what should you look for when you’re checking your dog’s oral health? Healthy dogs’ teeth should be white with no excess tartar (which looks thick and brown). The gums should be pink, not red or swollen. Regular brushing should help you keep their teeth clean and shiny, ready to tackle all those yummy chews and exciting toys.
Getting your puppy used to having their teeth brushed means the job will be a lot easier when they’re all grown up. As well as this, the enzymatic dog toothpastes available from your vet come in flavours including mint, meat and malt to make them more appealing. Don’t use human toothpaste, as it won’t do the same job as a specially-designed canine one!
Ask your vet or vet nurse to show you how to clean your puppy’s teeth to make sure you’re doing it correctly. Start slowly, lifting your dog’s lips on either side of their mouth and rubbing their teeth with your finger. When they’re okay with that, progress to a dog toothbrush or a finger brush. Unlike humans, you don’t need to worry about cleaning inside (back) surfaces of their teeth, as they don’t get much plaque there. Last of all, give your dog lots of reassurance and end with a treat.
Not all dogs like having their mouth handled, especially if their dental care has started after puppyhood. If your dog’s particularly unhappy about having their teeth brushed, take them to your vet to make sure oral problems aren’t causing them pain. If your dog is definitely anti-toothbrush, there are many things that can you can use instead, including bacteria-discouraging oral hygiene gels (which you can get from your vet), chew toys, and dental chew products. Some dry dog foods promote good oral dog health by scraping away plaque and tartar.
But what about bad breath? Unpleasant for both of you, bad breath can indicate either a digestive or a dental problem. If, despite a regular cleaning routine, your dog still has bad breath check with the vet to see if something’s up.
Remember that your dog’s needs will change with the weather, so you may have to adapt to keep them fit in the summer and winter. You can read more in our article about caring for your dog all year round.
All in all, by following your vet’s advice and checking your dog’s health regularly, many canine health problems are easily avoided. Best of all, your puppy will grow into a healthy adult dog that loves to enjoy your company for years to come!