Written by FOTP Team
If you’ve just welcomed a new puppy or you’re caring for an older dog, it’s important to understand what dogs need to stay healthy. After all, it’s your responsibility now.
When you have concerns, we always recommend taking questions to your vet. Your veterinarian knows your dog. So they’re the best person to ask about health concerns and nutrition, and they can explain the dangers (local and species-specific) that might affect your dog.
But we’ll explore the basics of dog health in this article.
Dogs can hide or mask signs of illness and pain. For example, a dog with dental disease will carry on eating! Tumours can grow without any outward indication. But some symptoms are easier to spot – like obesity, stiff joints, bad breath, or lack of energy. Try to note what’s normal for your dog, on a walk and at home, and you’ll be quicker to notice the signs that something is wrong.
There are several visible indicators that your dog is healthy.
Signs that your dog is healthy include a shiny coat, a good weight, manageable levels of energy, fluid motion, clean teeth, and normal breath.
An overweight dog has fat deposits on their back and around the base of their tail. 56% of US pet dogs are overweight. To tell if your dog’s overweight, feel around the chest area. Can you easily feel the ribs? If not, your dog needs to lose weight. An overweight dog is at risk of heart disease, arthritis, and a lower life expectancy.
Your dog is underweight if you can see their ribs. This puts them at risk of osteoporosis (weak bones). Weight loss is usually a symptom of an underlying health issue. A slow rate of growth can be a symptom of a deficiency in iron, zinc or potassium. A poor appetite might indicate a deficiency in Vitamin A, B12 or phosphorus.
Around 80% of dogs aged 3+ have dental problems, even though 50% of owners believe their dogs’ teeth to be fine. Check your dog’s mouth to see if any teeth are uncomfortable, and sniff their breath. If you have any concerns, go to the vet. You can take action to prevent your dog from suffering. The breeds with lowest risk of dental problems include German Shepherd, Labrador, and French Bulldog.
A shiny coat is a sign that your dog has a healthy diet. If your dog has a dull coat or itchy skin, you should consult your vet for a diagnosis. Omega-3 is one of the fatty acids which contribute to a shiny coat; it’s found in balanced dog food, as well as sunflower oil and salmon (or our supplement, The One). Dry or irritated skin can also be signs of deficiency in zinc or vitamin A.
There’s science in your dog’s daily bowl, which is carefully formulated for optimum health. “Complete” dog food includes a blend of six key food groups: Protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and water. To keep your dog healthy, a thoughtful, balanced diet is one of the foundation blocks.
Protein provides amino acid to dogs, which they need to build muscle and tissue. Extra protein can help with building (or rebuilding) muscle, after an operation or exercise. It also helps dogs who need to gain weight, and is easier for them to digest than carbs. Puppies need double the amount of protein on a daily basis, while they’re growing.
Did you know? If you don’t eat meat, it’s useful to know that dogs can survive on a vegetarian diet – provided they get enough protein and Vitamin D.
Fats provide your dog with energy and a shiny coat. They contain fatty acids like Omega-3, which supports body functions including brain and vision. Fat is required in moderation, but too much saturated fat can cause heart disease, obesity and joint problems (just like in humans). Lean cuts of meat and skinless chicken are good choices.
While at least 10% of the diet should be protein, Carbohydrates can play a part in supplying energy resources to your dog. There are different types – some are more digestible and some are more calorific. You can find a useful guide to calorific intake for dogs in Your Dog’s Nutritional Needs published by The National Academies Press.
Like humans, dogs require a broad range of vitamins and minerals in their diets. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine lists 24 key vitamins and minerals which dogs need for various reasons. Vitamins A, D, E, K, and B1 help with functions like immunity, vision, and bone strength.
Finally, your dog must always have access to a bowl of fresh water.
Dogs require walking. But every dog is different. Their size and breed will affect the level of exercise that your dog needs every day. A high-energy border collie might need 2 hours of walking, while an older dog or slower breed will benefit from a shorter, more sedate stroll.
How much walking does your dog need? For pedigrees, the American Kennel Club has a useful A-Z which includes key information like length of walks.
You can increase your dog’s exercise on a walk by incorporating a game of retrieval or some swimming (at a local beach or dog pool) – depending on their personality, and yours! Some energetic dogs can accompany their owners on bike rides, and some will respond positively to agility training. After all that activity, every dog also requires rest to allow their muscles to repair.
Be careful when you begin to walk a puppy. Although they are full of energy, they can become exhausted on an unusually long walk! It is best to start with shorter walks and build up to those longer distances. If you are attending obedience training (which we recommend), your pup will get exercise during those sessions too – it’s another way to increase their fitness.
You’ll want to consider having your dog spayed or neutered, unless you plan to breed them. This helps to prevent overpopulation (or being sued by another dog owner... it happens).
Don’t miss appointments at the veterinarian. Your dog will need annual check-ups and vaccinations relevant to breed and locality. Your vet can advise you about treatments for flea, tick, lungworm and ringworm prevention.
Grooming is important too – claws and coat should be kept in good shape, and your vet can recommend a grooming plan.
Finally, it’s a tough topic, but be prepared for it: palliative (end of life) care can be difficult and heartbreaking. At the end of their life, when health is depleting, your dog relies on you to make careful and thoughtful decisions.
Feeding them a good diet is the best place to start. Choose a food which meets the standards outlined by AAFCO, supplementing with additional protein or vitamins as recommended by your veterinarian. If your dog is overweight, remember to limit table scraps – putting them into the waste feels wrong, but it’s better for your dog.
A healthy dog needs between 30 minutes and 2 hours of walking each day, and some need high-octane exercise like retrieval or swimming during that time. Dog walking, at a moderately brisk pace, happens to be one of the best exercises for people too!
Regular check-ups help your vet to identify and address problems. Missed vaccinations can mean that the whole programme has to be restarted.
After raw bones (which carry risk of injury), brushing was the most effective dental aid in this study at Rutgers University . Results proved that brushing dogs’ teeth reduced plaque by 70% (and dental chews by 54.6%).
Training will establish the pack order in your household. But it brings many more benefits. Did you know that the bond between dog and human provides mental and physiological benefits for both? A loving home contributes to your dog’s state of mind as well as their shiny coat! A strong bond will also enable you to spot any changes in your dog, prompting early diagnosis of health problems.
The One is our brilliant and 8-in-1 supplement that delivers widely-reported benefits. Just like the natural supplements that we humans take, it’s a great add-on for your dog’s diet. With Chrondoitin for supple joints and Curcumin for boosted immunity, it can be sprinkled over your dog’s food. Try it – we think you’ll see the benefits in your dog’s health.