Rule of Thumb
Your dog should see the veterinarian for a full check-up, shots and a heartworm blood test every year, and immediately if he is sick or injured.
While many of us may object to our pet's bad breath, we should pay attention to what it may be telling us. Bad breath is most commonly an indication that your dog is in need of a dental check up. Dental plaque caused by bacteria results in a foul smell that requires professional treatment. After a professional cleaning, the teeth and gums may be maintained in a healthy state by brushing the teeth regularly, feeding a specially formulated dental diet and treats, and avoiding table scraps. Your veterinarian can give you more tips on minimizing dental disease and bad breath.
You can clean your canine’s teeth with a dog toothpaste or a baking-soda-and-water paste once or twice a week. Use a child's soft toothbrush, a gauze pad or a piece of nylon pantyhose stretched over your finger.
Some dogs are prone to periodontal disease, a pocket of infection between the tooth and the gum. This painful condition can result in tooth loss and spread infection to the rest of the body. Veterinarians can clean the teeth as a regular part of your dog's health program.
While bad breath caused by dental disease may not be too serious if caught early enough, some odors may be indicative of fairly serious, chronic problems. Liver or intestinal diseases may cause foul breath, whereas a sweet, fruity smell may be indicative of diabetes. If your dog’s breath smells like ammonia or urine, kidney disease is a possibility. Any time you notice your pet has bad breath accompanied by other signs of ill health, such as loss of appetite, vomiting, weight loss, depression, excessive drinking or urinating, schedule a visit to the veterinarian.
Fleas and Ticks
Daily inspections of your dog for fleas and ticks during the warm seasons are important. Use a flea comb to find and remove fleas. There are several new methods of flea and tick control. Speak to your veterinarian about these and other options.
This parasite lives in the heart and is passed from dog to dog by mosquitoes. Heartworm infections can be fatal. Your dog should have a blood test for heartworm every spring—this is crucial for detecting infections from the previous year. A once-a-month pill given during mosquito season will protect your dog. If you travel south with your pet during the winter, your dog should be on the preventive medicine during the trip. In some warmer regions, veterinarians recommend preventive heartworm medication throughout the year.
Medicines and Poisons
Never give your dog medication that has not been prescribed by a veterinarian. For example, did you know that one regular-strength ibuprofen tablet can cause stomach ulcers in a ten-pound dog? Keep rat poison and other rodenticides away from your pet. If you suspect that your animal has ingested a poisonous substance, call your veterinarian immediately.
Spaying and Neutering
Females should be spayed—the removal of the ovaries and uterus—and males neutered—removal of the testicles—by six months of age. Spaying before maturity significantly reduces the risk of breast cancer, a common and frequently fatal disease of older female dogs. Spaying also eliminates the risk of an infected uterus, a very serious problem in older females that requires surgery and intensive medical care. Neutering males prevents testicular and prostate diseases, some hernias and certain types of aggression.
- Puppies should be vaccinated with a combination vaccine (called a “5-in-1”) at two, three and four months of age, and then once annually. This vaccine protects the puppy from distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parvovirus, and parainfluenza. A puppy's vaccination program cannot be finished before four months of age.
- If you have an unvaccinated dog older than four or five months, he will need a series of two vaccinations given two to three weeks apart, followed by a yearly vaccination.
- Puppy vaccination and socialization should go together. Many veterinarians recommend that new owners take their puppies to socialization classes, beginning at 8 to 9 weeks of age. At this age, they should have received at least their first series of vaccines.
Since laws vary around the country, contact a local veterinarian for information on rabies vaccination.
Dogs are commonly exposed to worms and possible infestation—even in urban areas. Microscopic eggs produced by intestinal worms are passed in an infected dog’s feces. Most puppies, even from healthy mothers in good homes, carry roundworms or hookworms.
The key to treatment is correct diagnosis. This will ensure that the medication is effective against the parasite your pet has. A dewormer that eliminates roundworms, for example, will not kill tapeworms. Your veterinarian can best determine the culprit—and prescribe the appropriate medication.