In This Chapter
- Discovering your adopted dog’s unique nutritional problems and requirements
- Choosing the best dog food
- Finding and visiting a great veterinarian
- Spaying or neutering and vaccinating your dog: Why they’re so important
- Recognizing health problems and knowing when to see the vet
- Grooming your dog to near-perfection, for beauty and good health
After successfully navigating the introductory phases of bringing a new dog into your home, you may feel a bit triumphant. Just look how beautifully your dog is adjusting to her den, to you, and to her new home. But all that work you just went through adopting your dog and bringing her home, well… that’s only the beginning. Now that you’re responsible for another living being,you naturally want to give your furry family member the best possible care and that means feeding her good food and seeing to her health-care needs.
People who don’t practice stellar nutritional habits and rarely go to the doctor for annual checkups may find providing such care for a dog a little difficult. When your nutrition and health habits are lacking, how can you expect to practice good habits with your pets? Yet, this part of caring for your adopted dog is crucial, because she depends on you for her food and care. After all, the dog can’t take herself to the vet or pour herself a bowl of kibble, can she?
An adopted dog’s needs may be particularly crucial at the outset because of nutritional deficits and other health problems that need to be corrected. Nutritional and health issues common to adopted dogs usually are related to neglect, abandonment, or previous owners who didn’t want to (or couldn’t) pay for a treatment. Other issues, such as flea infestations, leg injuries, or malnutrition, may be related to time spent wandering. A special effort is required to uncover and treat these nutritional and health needs so that your adopted dog can rally to become a healthy, vibrant, energetic, shiny-coated family pet. Getting it done is all up to you. I tell you how in this chapter.
Keeping Your Dog Healthy
Your new adopted dog deserves the best possible care, now that she lives with you and depends on you to keep her healthy. Although some health problems are genetic and others are caused by your dog’s past experiences, you still have plenty to do to correct and maintain your dog’s health. In the following sections I explain how to start your pooch on the right paw and maintain her good health.
First things first: Choosing a great vet
You and your veterinarian are partners who want nothing more than good health for your pet. But not all vets get along well with all people or pets, so choose yours carefully. You want a vet who
- Is familiar with the characteristics of the breed you have. Each breed (Lab or Poodle, and so on) or breed type (toy or giant, for example) has its own special needs that can impact the type of medical attention it receives. Sighthounds, like Greyhounds for example, are sensitive to anesthesia, so surgery can be risky. Collies likewise can be so sensitive to a certain type of heartworm medication that they should be prescribed an alternative medication.
- Has treated other dogs with conditions similar to your dog’s. If you’ve adopted a senior dog or one with special needs, find out what kind of experience your vet has with your dog’s specific issues or whether he or she has treated dogs with other special needs, such as blindness or paralysis.
Ask yourself these important questions as you consider how you feel about a particular vet:
- Do you and the vet communicate well?
- Do you like the way the vet handles and talks to your dog?
- Is the vet’s office staff friendly?
- Are the vet’s location and office hours convenient and accessible?
Find out whether your veterinarian’s office provides after-hours and/or emergency care before your dog ever needs it. Some vet’s offices actually staff an on-call veterinarian; others may work with an emergency clinic that’s always open. Either way, make sure you know who to call and where to go in the event your dog needs medical attention when the vet’s office is closed.
Giving your new friend a good once-over: The first exam
Every adopted dog needs to visit a veterinarian right away — before ever coming home, if possible. The first visit is a chance for your vet to get to know your new dog; moreover, it’s a time for the vet to give your dog a thorough checkup and do some tests to make sure everything is normal. When you set up the appointment, ask whether you need to bring anything, such as a stool sample from your dog.
At your dog’s first exam, the veterinarian:
- Finds out everything that you know about your dog and his history.
- Pokes, prods, rubs, squeezes, feels your dog all over (paws, nails, eyes, ears, mouth, and rear end) in search of any abnormalities or external parasites.
- Does a fecal test to check your dog for worms and other internal parasites.
- Performs a blood test to check your dog for heartworm, that dangerous parasite transmitted by mosquito bites. This is not appropriate for puppies under 6 months, as the test is not able to pick up infestations this early in the life cycle. Do put puppies on heartworm preventive, and have the vet test after six months or the following spring in northern states when mosquito season gears up again.
- Treats your dog for intestinal worms. Note: If your new dog is a puppy, the vet probably won’t go through the hassle of testing her because worms are such a common problem in puppies. The vet will just go ahead and give the puppy a deworming medication. Adult dogs are treated after tests reveal problems.
Older dogs that aren’t used to the way the vet touches them may shy away in fear. You can help prepare your dog for future visits with regular grooming sessions. Adopted dogs that have never received regular veterinary care may especially need this kind of conditioning. I explain how to acclimate your dog to regular handling in the “Grooming disguised as a checkup” section later in this chapter.
After the examination, the vet talks to you about your dog’s health-care plan, explaining when it’s time for vaccinations, whether your dog needs treatment for any problems, whether your dog may need to lose or gain a few pounds (see the section on assessing your dog’s weight, later in this chapter), and what options you have for spaying or neutering your dog.
Scheduling spay/neuter surgery
Most shelters and vets recommend that pets be spayed or neutered as soon as possible. Six months is the common age, but some shelters even recommend the surgery be done younger, called “early spay/neuter.” In many cases, the shelter or rescue group ideally will have the spay/neuter done before you take the dog home. If you are responsible for the procedure, get it done as soon as possible, before your pet settles in to the new routine. After the surgery, your dog will need to take it easy for a few days. Keep her calm, keep an eye on the stitches, and follow your doctor’s post-op recovery procedures.
Because people who work for animal shelters and rescue groups see so many unwanted animals, they usually are vocal advocates for spaying/neutering pets. In fact, many shelters require spay/neuter in their contracts and also give adopters certificates for free or reduced spay/neuter surgeries to encourage them to make the healthy, safe choice for their pets. Spaying or neutering does more for dogs than prevent them from adding to the canine overpopulation problem however. It’s also good for them! Spaying and neutering:
- Reduces or eliminates the risk of cancer of the reproductive organs. If the spay is performed on a female dog before the third heat cycle, the procedure greatly reduces the risk of mammary cancer. Spay at any time in the life cycle eliminates the possibility of uterine cancer.
- Eliminates the risks of pregnancy.
- Reduces the dog’s desire to wander, fight with other dogs, or behave aggressively.
Vets do so many spay/neuter surgeries that the risks are minimal — much less than leaving a dog unaltered. Spaying or neutering your pet is the responsible thing to do, and the healthiest option. If you’re still not convinced, talk to your vet about this important procedure.
Staying current with vaccinations
In addition to discussing spay/neuter surgery, your vet also wants to make sure your dog’s vaccinations are up to date. Vaccinations are a controversial issue. Some people, including many vets, believe adult pets are overvaccinated and think too many vaccinations pose health risks. Others believe vaccinations should be performed yearly to keep dangerous diseases like distemper from getting a paw-hold on the pet population like they did in decades past.
Adult dogs may not need annual vaccinations and can instead have titer tests — tests that check a dog’s immunity levels — to determine exactly which vaccinations are needed. One exception is the rabies vaccine, which is regulated by law and may be required every one to three years, depending on where you live and the type of rabies vaccine the vet uses.
Puppies definitely need a series of vaccinations in the first year of life to protect them from many dangerous diseases as they’re immune systems develop. Different vets recommend slightly differing vaccination schedules. Vaccines likewise vary according to the specific dog’s risk factors. Your vet can be more specific about the vaccination needs based on your individual dog, the particular region of the country in which you live, and your individual circumstances. In general, however, the first-year vaccination schedule for puppies usually resembles the schedule in Table 6-1. Note: DHPP is a common combination vaccine that includes vaccines for distemper, adenovirus (hepatitis), parainfluenza, and parvovirus.
Puppy Vaccination Schedule
Distemper, measles, parainfluenza
Coronavirus, Leptospirosis, Bordatella, Lyme disease
Coronavirus, Lyme disease, Leptospirosis
Coronavirus, Leptospirosis, Boradetella, Lyme disease
Every 1–2 years
Coronavirus, Leptospirosis, Bordetella, Lyme disease
Every 1–3 years
Rabies (as required by law)
Deworming and other tests
Your vet also makes sure your dog is dewormed and tests him for any other potential problems uncovered during the physical examination. Worms — from roundworms and tapeworms to deadly heartworms — are common parasites that can severely damage a puppy’s health. All puppies need to be dewormed according to a vet’s recommendation, but dogs of virtually any age that are exposed to mosquitoes need to take heartworm medication.
Heartworms are microscopic parasitic worms transmitted by mosquitoes into your dog’s blood. They travel to the heart and grow, tangling themselves inside the heart and blood vessels. If left untreated, heartworms are fatal. Even if discovered in time, before the worms have grown too large, the treatment still is risky and expensive. Fortunately, medication to prevent heartworms is available in tasty treat-like pills that your dog takes every month.
The medication used to prevent heartworms can kill dogs that already have the parasite; therefore, testing for heartworms is a must to ensure that your dog is clear. Although the test isn’t 100 percent reliable, it will likely reveal heartworms after they’ve lived inside your dog for six months or more, so a yearly test at the beginning of each mosquito season is important to detect any heartworm infection acquired in the previous year. Your safest bet is to keep your dog on heartworm preventive medicine year-round, not just during mosquito season.
Other tests your vet may want to do are related to any signs he or she sees that may indicate a health problem. Ask your vet to explain the tests, what they reveal, and how much they cost.
Ridding your pooch of pesky pests
Fleas and ticks, not to mention worms, mites, flies, and various other internal and external parasites, are a common problem with any dog, but especially dogs that have been wandering, spend a lot of time outside, or have been frequently exposed to other dogs. One of the first things the veterinarian does when he examines your new adopted dog is check for the presence of various types of pests and parasites and then suggest strategies for eliminating them.
These nasty critters can transmit serious diseases like tapeworm and Lyme disease, and they can jump onto you and bite you, too. Ridding your dog of these pests and preventing them from returning is important. Thanks to technology, keeping your pooch pest-free is easier than ever.
If your dog already has a flea infestation, you can get rid of them with a long thorough bath and a flea comb. Rinse and drown fleas, dry your dog, and then comb through the dry coat carefully, looking for any strays. Drop them in a cup of alcohol, and then flush them.
Ticks that are already attached to your dog must be removed immediately. The longer a tick is attached, the greater the risk that it will transmit a disease to your dog. Here are the steps for removing a tick:
1. Soak the tick in alcohol.
You can use a cotton ball soaked in alcohol to accomplish this task. Doing so makes the tick loosen its grip.
2. Carefully pull the tick out at a 45-degree angle to the dog’s skin.
You’ll need either tweezers or special tick forceps you can buy in the pet store. Don’t pull straight up, or the mouth parts of the tick can break off and remain under the skin! If this happens, you may notice a red lump at the site where the tick was attached, caused by a reaction to the tick parts. Usually, this situation will resolve itself, but keep the area clean and monitor it for signs of infection, such as pus, swelling, or red streaks.
You can remove a tick by hand, but in all cases wear rubber gloves. If an engorged tick bursts, tick bacteria can infect you through your skin.
3. Drop the tick in alcohol to kill it, and then flush it.
After removing fleas and ticks, apply a reliable monthly spot-on treatment that you can purchase from your vet. A few drops between your dog’s shoulder blades protect him from fleas for a month. Various brands are available. Some kill only fleas, and others also kill ticks and repel mosquitoes that transmit heartworm, the dreaded West Nile virus, and other diseases. Your vet can recommend which brand is most appropriate for your dog.
You can also buy flea and tick products over the counter at the pet store. Some of these work better than others, and the spot-on treatments seem to be the most effective, but please read the label carefully. You can injure or even cause a fatal reaction in your pet if you misuse these products. You can look for prescription-only products like Advantage and Frontline on the Internet at discount prices. Although vets much prefer you get these products from them, in a setting where they can examine your dog and explain the proper usage, these products are less expensive on the Internet. (A vet at the company writes the prescription for you without ever meeting you.)
Get in the habit of applying the spot-on treatment when you give your dog his monthly heartworm pill. Your vet can recommend treatment for other pests, such as mites that cause mange — resulting in scaly skin and hair loss — or a fly infestation. Really nasty cases of pests will probably have been treated at the shelter before the dog was offered for adoption.
Noticing problems after you get home
Adopted dogs have many of the same problems that other dogs have, but they may be more prone to problems that result from wandering, being exposed to many other dogs, living in a kennel, being neglected or abused, and not being vaccinated against contagious diseases. For that reason, when you first adopt a dog, you may pay several visits to your veterinarian.
Although shelters do their best to adopt out healthy dogs, your dog may still bring home some health problems. Shelters treat obvious conditions like broken bones, wounds, major pest infestations, and serious diseases before their animals are adopted, but not-so-obvious health problems may not appear until later. These include certain parasites like heartworms, skin infections that get worse, generalized itching, sprained or injured joints and tendons, and respiratory problems. All these conditions warrant a trip to the vet.
Because your new dog is likely to need several visits with your vet, keep a list of problems you want him or her to check out. On this list, include any physical and behavioral changes you’ve noticed (many serious health problems begin with subtle signals). With this list and your keen observations, your vet is better able to diagnose and treat any problems — big and small — before they get out of hand.
The symptoms your new dog exhibits may indicate a slight or serious health problem, so how do you know when to call the vet? Even though your dog may be just fine, you’re better off playing it safe and calling the vet if your dog exhibits any of the following symptoms:
- Suffers from persistent coughing, wheezing, choking, and gagging, periodically throughout the day for more than one or two days. These symptoms can signal a throat obstruction, respiratory disorder, or heart problem.
- Limps or seems reluctant to exercise. These symptoms can signal arthritis, a pulled muscle or tendon, or joint disease.
- Shows signs of fatigue and/or disinterest in doggy activities that differ from the dog’s normal behavior, lasting more than a few days. Dogs with low energy can signal a thyroid problem, heart disease, or many other problems.
- Yelps, nips, or bites when touched — as if in pain. This symptom can signal a wide range of problems.
- Shows a sudden increase or decrease in appetite and/or sudden weight loss or weight gain. These symptoms can signal thyroid or other autoimmune problems, diabetes, or pain from any cause, including mouth or dental pain.
- Shows a sudden increase in thirst for no apparent reason that continues over several days. Drinking larger-than-normal amounts of water can be a sign of diabetes or other diseases.
- Suffers from a lump, rash, or skin thickening or a sore that won’t heal or that looks infected. These symptoms can signal a skin infection that requires antibiotics or a skin or other cancer.
If your dog exhibits any of the symptoms on the following list, you need to go immediately to the vet or emergency vet clinic. Consider these symptoms signs of an emergency:
- Gagging, choking, or any sign of an inability to breathe easily. Your dog may have something lodged in his throat or be suffering from a severe respiratory problem.
- Inability or unwillingness to move, severe lameness, and yelping when touched as if in severe pain. These symptoms can indicate a broken bone or disk rupture. Disk rupture is most common in long-backed dogs like Dachshunds. Without immediate treatment, dogs can become permanently paralyzed.
- Pacing, panting, and salivating for no apparent reason, especially with a distended abdomen. These symptoms can signal bloat, a serious emergency in which the stomach swells with gas and twists.
Without immediate veterinary treatment, this condition is fatal. Bloat is most common in deep-chested breeds like Great Danes, Labrador Retrievers, and German Shepherd dogs.
- Has or shows signs of having had a seizure, including fainting, a blank stare, sudden whole-body stiffness, rigid or jerking legs, sudden collapse, stumbling, drooling, or uncontrolled peeing and pooping. These symptoms may point to epilepsy, which is treatable, or a brain tumor or other secondary response to disease.
- Continuous vomiting and/or diarrhea beyond one or two episodes. These symptoms can point to poisoning (see next item), intestinal parasites, or digestive disorders.
If you suspect your dog has been poisoned, time is of the essence. Either get your dog to an emergency veterinary clinic immediately, or call the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center. This service, which is operated out of the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois, can help you treat a poisoning emergency faster than you can get to a vet. For $50, a vet helps you with your emergency over the phone. Call them toll-free at 888-426-4435.
- Exhibits neurological changes. Signs of neurological changes include stumbling or disorientation, confusion, failure to recognize you, seizures (see description of seizures earlier in this list), and collapse.
Following up with an annual exam
After puppyhood, your healthy adult dog still needs to see the vet, even if you’re not vaccinating your dog every year. An annual exam is an important part of good health maintenance, because you greatly increase the chance of catching a problem while it’s still easy to treat. Many diseases that are common to dogs first show themselves with only minor symptoms. A skin lump, a dull coat, and minor changes in behavior can be signs of an impending problem, so keep your vet informed by scheduling your dog for a physical every year.
Your choice of pet food makes a big difference in the health of your dog. Pet foods range dramatically in quality from the supercheap to the superpricey. They’re marketed for different ages, stages, sizes, and even breeds. How the heck do you know which pet food to choose from among the many that decorate pet- and grocery-store shelves? Read on!
Choosing the right food for your dog
With the help of your vet, you can determine what your dog needs to eat. If your dog is healthy, a premium adult maintenance diet is probably just fine. Read the label, look for recognizable meat protein sources listed among the first few ingredients, and get advice from your veterinarian if you aren’t sure about which food is best for your adopted dog. But what do you do about overweight or underweight dogs, puppies, adult dogs, senior dogs, and dogs with special needs?
I tell you about better ways of feeding overweight or underweight dogs in the “Correcting a weight problem” section later in this chapter, or you can pick up a copy of Dog Health & Nutrition For Dummies by M. Christine Zink (Wiley).
Puppies, on the other hand, need a high-quality puppy food, but large breed puppies — even the skinny ones — must grow slowly, so after the first few months of life, most of these dogs need to be weaned off puppy food. Large breeds like Labs, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, and large mixed breeds are prone to bone and joint abnormalities as they age. If they grow too quickly, bones won’t be as dense, and joints won’t develop well. Feed large-breed puppies a high-quality food with moderate amounts of protein, fat, and calories.
Senior dogs and dogs with special needs, such as injuries or diseases, may have specific nutritional needs. Dogs that develop kidney problems may need a low-protein food, but other seniors need enough protein to keep their muscles nourished. Many good prescription foods address specific health problems and chronic diseases. Talk to your vet, who can advise you best about prescription diets to meet your dog’s particular needs.
To a large extent, price is indicative of quality, but more expensive premium foods are actually more of a bargain than you may think. Cheap pet foods are full of fillers, including protein sources that aren’t as digestible as more expensive protein sources like muscle meat. When dogs eat cheap foods, their stools (that’s a fancy word for poop) are large, soft, messy, and quite frankly, stinky. When they eat premium foods, their stools are smaller, tighter, easier to pick up, and hardly smell at all. That’s because dogs actually digest more of the food, and that means you won’t have to feed your dog as much food to get the same or better nutritional value.
Premium diets come in dry kibble, canned, frozen raw-meat, or dehydrated patties. Each has its own benefits, and your choice usually depends on what you’re willing to spend, how much time you want to take preparing the food, and whether your dog actually eats it. Dry kibble contains more fiber and helps keep teeth clean, but it contains less water, so dogs may need to drink more water to compensate. Canned food may taste better and contain more water, but some vets think it may contribute to tooth decay. It also gets expensive for large dogs, because it’s less concentrated than kibble, so you feed your dogmore of it. For some dogs, frozen and dehydrated raw diets can be healthy, if they’re from a reputable company, but they can be expensive and need to be defrosted or rehydrated. Raw food is controversial — debate rages over whether it is more nutritious or more likely to harbor harmful bacteria — so talk to your vet about whether raw food is a good diet for your dog. One kind of food that most vets won’t recommend is semimoist. Although these chewy kibble pieces may taste good to dogs, they’re typically loaded with sweeteners and artificial colors and aren’t a good nutritional choice — like junk food for dogs.
Addressing bad nutritional habits: What your dog doesn’t need to eat
Adopted dogs that had to scrounge for themselves or even beloved pets that lost their homes but had owners who couldn’t resist feeding them not-sohealthy people food may already have bad eating habits. Two key factors to remember for keeping your dog’s diet in shipshape are that dogs do just fine eating a high-quality dry kibble and never should be given any kind of junk food like sweets or processed food intended for human consumption.
Some human foods are good for dogs and, like high-quality canned foods, can give kibble a little more appealing taste. However, junk food, which isn’t all that great for humans, can be harmful to dogs, leading to malnourishment, obesity, digestive problems, and even disease. If you include healthy people food in your dog’s food bowl, reduce the amount of kibble you give her and keep a close eye on your dog’s waistline. I show you how to gauge your dog’s waistline in the “Administering the body evaluation test” section later in this chapter.
Helping Fido’s tummy transition
Regardless of how good the food that you choose for your dog happens to be, remember that some dogs have sensitive digestive systems and don’t adjust well to changes in their diets. When adopting, find out what the shelter or rescue worker has been feeding the dog. Then, if you decide a different food would be better, introduce the new food gradually, mixing it with the old and gradually increasing the amount of new food over the course of a week to prevent digestive upset.
Deciding when to ring the dinner bell
Adopted dogs tend to have an almost desperate obsession with food. If they’ve gone for weeks, months, or even longer, barely getting enough to eat, they can be protective of food, fearful that someone will take it away, or eat ravenously, as though they may never get another meal. Your adopted dog may take a long time accepting the fact that food always is available. For that reason, feeding your adopted dog twice or even three times every day is a good idea. The more often food shows up in front of your adopted dog, especially at regular times, the more she will realize that you’re a dependable source of food. Just remember to divide up the daily food ration into multiple feedings. Small frequent meals are good, but too many calories are not good for your dog. If your dog aggressively protects her food, try feeding her by hand. (For more about dealing with aggression, see Chapter Doggy Boot Camp: Basic Training and Behavior Management
Keeping an eye on your dog’s waistline
You can keep your adopted puppy or dog slim and at a healthy weight while improving the nutrients he gets every day, but doing so can be a tricky balancing act.
Many adopted dogs come to their new homes slightly underweight, but they often grow pudgy — sometimes quickly, because their owners can’t resist those longing eyes, hungry faces, or those protruding ribs. How can you not want to feed such a pitiful creature just a little something extra? But obesity can cause many serious health problems in pets of any age, from puppies to seniors. Too much weight stresses bones and joints, strains the heart and other internal organs, crowds the lungs, and turns a simple walk around the block into a major chore. In fact, overweight dogs suffer much the same risks and consequences as overweight humans.
Malnourished dogs don’t have it any better. Lacking crucial nutrients can lead to serious nutritional issues, too. Signs of malnourishment include a bloated abdomen, bleeding gums, and an emaciated body with ribs clearly visible.
Even so, many pet owners are startled to hear from their veterinarians that their skinny, “wasting-away” dog is actually at a healthy weight. Because so many pet dogs are overweight, people have grown accustomed to seeing dogs in a slightly padded condition and don’t always recognize that for most dogs, thin is better.
So how do you know whether your adopted dog is overweight, underweight, or just right? With some dogs, the answer is obvious. They’re either emaciated from a lack of food and other harsh living conditions or roly-poly and waddling down the street. With others, the answer isn’t so easy to tell. Use the body evaluation test and the figures that follow as your guide.
Administering the body evaluation test
To determine whether your dog is the correct weight, compare his body condition with the graphical representations of how dogs typically look when they are overweight, underweight, or just right in Figure 6-1. Use this figure to guide you as you evaluate your dog using the following three-step process:
1. Look at your dog from the side.
His tummy needs to tuck up from his chest and not be level with or hang below his chest. If you can easily see a dog’s ribs, he’s probably underweight. Many dogs in shelters are severely underweight because they starved while enduring harsh living conditions, expending huge amounts of energy to escape hazards, find food, and look for shelter. A few breeds are exceptions, including Greyhounds, Whippets, and Italian Greyhounds; their ribs show at a normal weight. Breeds with heavy coats need closer scrutiny because you probably can’t see ribs even when the dog is underweight, so try the next two steps for a more complete assessment.
Figure 6-1: Purina’s Body Condition Chart shows how to recognize whether your dog is overweight, underweight, or just right.
2. Look at your dog from above.
As you stand over him and look down, your dog needs to have a visibly tucked-in waist, but his hipbones shouldn’t protrude too severely. If your dog looks like a barrel, a sausage, or a small beach ball with legs, he’s probably overweight. If his hips protrude sharply, he’s probably underweight. If he has a nice curve inward at the waist, he’s probably at a good weight.
3. Feel your dog’s sides for the ribs.
This test is especially important for heavily coated dogs, whose fur often conceals excess or lack of sufficient weight. If you can feel no evidence that your dog possesses a rib cage, he may be overweight. If you can feel the ribs but they have a slight padding, like a light blanket over them, then your dog may be just right. If the ribs are obvious and feel like they’re covered with only the thinnest layer of skin, your dog may be underweight.
Correcting a weight problem
If your dog is underweight, choose nutrient-dense dog food as recommended by your vet, such as premium puppy food or prescription food designed to help dogs gain weight. Or, if your vet recommends it, add healthy, nutrient-dense people food to his regular kibble, such as chopped meat, whole-milk plain yogurt, olive oil or flax seed oil, and fatty fish. You want calories, healthy fat, and plenty of vitamins and minerals in every bite of food you feed your dog — but not junk food or high-salt or high-sugar content.
Should you make your own pet food?
Do you love the idea of making your own pet food? Many people do it, but feeding your dog from the food you have in your cupboard isn’t as easy as handing him a slice of pepperoni pizza and pouring him a glass of milk. Dogs don’t have the same nutritional requirements as people, and if you leave out certain nutrients, your dog can suffer serious health deficiencies. Before making your first batch, do some intensive research, and decide whether you want to feed a cooked diet, a raw meat diet (sometimes called a BARF diet, which
stands for Bones And Raw Food), or a combination of the two. Get the thumbs-up from your vet, and then gradually ease your dog into a home-cooked diet, so that your dog’s digestive system has a chance to adjust. As you make the switch, keep an eye on your dog, making sure he looks healthy, feels good, and enjoys the food. Many people think making their pet’s food is fun, enjoyable, and rewarding, but the subject is controversial, so do your research before taking on this task.
If your dog is overweight, you’ll do him a big favor if you help him correct this problem with a little more exercise, fewer treats, and in some cases, a switch to a dog food made for overweight dogs. Your vet can advise you on the best ways to put weight on or take it off your adopted dog, but in general, dogs lose weight the same way humans do: fewer calories, good nutrition, and exercise.
Good Grooming Matters
Some adopted dogs have come from homes where they received regular grooming, but many were neglected in this important area and may need some help with their personal hygiene. (I address ridding your dog of the fleas and ticks he carries around in the “Ridding your pooch of pesky pests” section earlier in this chapter.)
Grooming is far more important than beautification, although a well-groomed dog is certainly a pleasure to behold. Grooming is part of good healthcare. A tangled, matted coat traps bacteria, hides pests, and encourages skin infections. Dirty ears develop yeast infections or mites, runny eyes stain your dog’s adorable face, and toenails allowed to grow too long actually deform your dog’s feet. Regular grooming gives you a chance to keep tabs on your dog and any changes in her skin, coat, body, and even behavior.
Grooming disguised as a checkup
Most dogs don’t absolutely require daily grooming, but a few minutes set aside each day for grooming can become a comforting routine, a chance to bond with your dog, and an opportunity to get your dog used to regular handling. Besides, daily brushing decreases the amount of dog hair you have in the house. Brush more, vacuum less.
Each day at the same, take your dog to a special grooming spot on a counter, in the bathroom, on the front porch, or in a spare room you set up as a grooming station. Smaller dogs are easier to groom on a raised surface like a counter or sturdy table. Put down a bath mat or towel to prevent slipping on slick surfaces and do the following:
- Rub your dog all over her coat and skin. Doing so provides your dog with nice relaxing massage, gets her used to human touch, loosens dead hair for more efficient brushing, and reveals any unusual skin changes like lumps, rashes, or thickening — something that feels different than normal.
- Check your dog the way a veterinarian would. Look in her ears and at her eyes, pick up each foot and gently squeeze each footpad, examine her nails, lift up her tail, and feel her abdomen, gently prodding with your fingers in the soft tucked-up tummy skin below your dog’s ribcage. When your dog is used to these procedures, she won’t be disturbed when a vet does the same things. As you conduct your own exam, talk to your dog, praise her, and pet her, occasionally offering a treat. The entire experience needs to be fun, not frightening or annoying, to your dog. If you notice any abnormalities, like lumps, skin changes, or if your dog reacts as if a particular area is sensitive, give your vet a call to see whether you need to bring your dog in for a check. Now you can break out the brush.
Brush, comb, trim, bathe, and polish
Once every day, or at least once a week, brush your dog’s entire coat using a natural bristle brush, or use a slicker brush (see Figure 6-2) during times of heavy shedding to help pull out a dead coat. For long-coated dogs, pay special attention to mat-prone areas behind the ears, at the place where the front legs meet the chest, and around and under the tail. For long-coated dogs, follow thebrushing with a thorough comb-through, using a steel comb. Comb all the way down to the skin, to get out every tangle before it tightens and has to be cut out.
Figure 6-2: Long-coated dogs need frequent brushing to keep mats and tangles out of their coats. This slicker brush is good for pulling out dead hair during times of heavy shedding.
If you encounter a tangle that you can’t comb out, try spraying it with coat conditioner to loosen it. You can get this handy grooming supply at your local pet store. Don’t get the tangle wet because wetness tends only to tighten tangles. You may have to slice it vertically with a scissors or mat splitter, another handy grooming supply you can get at your pet store. Then comb out the pieces. Be careful not to cut your dog’s skin, and always cut parallel to the hair, rather than across the hair, so you don’t leave a hole in your dog’s coat.
Some dogs don’t need baths very often, especially short-coated breeds that stay inside most of the time. In fact, too-frequent baths can cause skin irritation from the depletion of natural oils in your dog’s coat. Long-coated breeds need baths about once every four to six weeks, with a good brushing first and a good blow-dry after, to keep their coats in good shape. When a dog gets into something stinky, a bath definitely is in order. Assemble all your supplies first and bathe your dog in the tub or outdoor children’s pool with lukewarm to cool water, rinsing out all shampoo thoroughly. Blow-dry long coats to make them fluffy.
For short-coated dogs, rub down the coat with a chamois or velvet square for extra sheen after it is dry. Next, clean your dog’s ears with a moist cotton ball soaked in water or ear wash made for dogs, available at your pet store. Wipe your dog’s face and apply moisturizing eye drops if necessary for your breed (your vet will tell you if your dog needs this, but it is most often required of dogs with flat faces and large eyes). If your dog has a white or light-colored coat, she may develop tear stains under her eyes. You can buy tear-stain remover at the pet store to get rid of them. Keeping the eyes clean and dry minimizes future staining.
Trim your dog’s nails using a nail clipper made just for dogs, as in Figure 6-3. If you clip off just the tips once each week, your dog quickly grows accustomed to this chore. Also, the quick, or small vein that runs partway down the nail, tends to recede farther back into the nail if you clip more often, reducing your chances of accidentally cutting this vein. You can see the quick in dogs with light-colored nails, but in dogs with black nails, you just have to guess. You’re best off just clipping the ends of the nails.
If you do cut off too much nail and clip the quick, it will bleed, and your dog will feel an unpleasant pinch that can quickly turn a dog against nail clipping. Be careful, and keep some coagulating powder handy just in case. You can buy some at your local pet store.
Some adopted dogs are resistant to nail trimming and won’t let you hold their paws. In that case, you may have to take your dog to a professional groomer for nail clipping, but if you can do it yourself, it’s much easier, and cheaper. Start by getting your dog used to letting you just touch and then hold her paw. Praise and offer lots of treats. Go very slowly. When your dog is comfortable letting you hold her paw, try clipping just the tip of one nail, then giving a treat. Try for another nail tomorrow. Small steps with plenty of rewards and reinforcements are the best way to acclimate a dog to something new that she doesn’t necessarily enjoy.
Figure 6-3: Use a nail clipper designed just for dogs, and be careful not to cut the quick.
Don’t forget good dental care! Lack of it can lead to dental bacteria, which can quickly travel to a dog’s heart, causing heart disease. Clean teeth can actually increase your dog’s life span. Brush your dog’s teeth as often as you can — every day is best, but once a week is still good — with a toothbrush and toothpaste made especially for dogs that’s meat flavored for palatability. If your dog doesn’t like brushing, you can start by simply wiping her teeth once a day with a soft cloth or trying one of the toothbrushes that slips over your finger. Or, try ProCare Dental Gel, which requires no rinsing and only weekly applications. This gel helps keep tartar from building up in your dog’s mouth. You can buy a variety of treats (including gel treats) that help reduce tartar, and some dog foods are designed to help keep dog’s teeth clean. Ask your vet if one of these foods is appropriate for your dog.
If your adopted dog’s teeth already have a lot of tartar, your vet can properly clean them. This procedure requires your dog to be put under anesthesia, and it can be expensive; however, severe tartar buildup can cause an infection leading to your dog’s heart, so consider it a necessary pet health expense if your vet recommends it. After that, you can start your dog on the road to good dental habits.
Some adopted dogs don’t like to have their teeth touched, but this skill is an important one for a dog to learn, because the vet has to look in your dog’s mouth. So you need to try touching her mouth, lifting up her lips, and touching her teeth every day, to get her used to it. Then you can introduce the toothbrush and brush just a little at a time, giving your cooperative dog lots of praise. Good dental health is well worth the extra effort.
by Eve Adamson