12 Can’t-Miss Steps To Your Healthiest Dog (Checklist)
Isn’t it true? All we want is for our dogs to be the happiest and healthiest they can be! Sometimes, however, it’s hard to remember all the things we’re supposed to do to ensure we meet that goal.So that’s why we’ve created this post and we hope it will help you make sure all your bases are covered when it comes to your best friend’s health. If you check off all the items here, you’ll know you’re doing your best to provide a long and happy life for your dog!
STEP 1: Schedule annual (or bi-annual) exams with a trusted vetIf you’re looking to maximize your dog’s health and longevity, and minimize the amount of money you spend on it, then make sure to schedule a yearly check-up exam with a trusted vet.
Dog’s bodies age seven years for every one human year, so consider at least one annual exam for young dogs and maybe two exams for older dogs (around 9 years or older).
By checking in and speaking with your vet annually, you will not only get a full head-to-tail exam of all body systems for preventative care purposes, but you will also receive suggestions regarding dental, nutritional, behavioral, and pain management, if necessary.
These annual exams and consultations will help keep your dog healthy and your out-of-pocket expenses to a minimum over time.
If you haven’t yet found a trusted vet, try these options:
- Ask your friends who are pet parents who they would recommend from first-hand experience
- Find an accredited vet or vet hospital using a vet finder like this one from the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)
- Find, or double-check, a vet’s public perception by reading their reviews on Yelp
STEP 2: Have your dog spayed or neuteredSpaying or neutering your dog provides a solution to many potential future problems, specifically it:
- helps reduce the number of homeless dogs who may end up in a kill shelter
- helps prevent prostate, testicular, and uterine cancers
- has been shown that spayed and neutered dogs tend to live longer
- reduces aggression with other dogs, which can ultimately reduce vet costs
STEP 3: Determine a vaccination schedule (if any) after speaking with your vetThere is plenty of debate on if, when, and how often you should vaccinate your dog. The first thing you should do is speak with your vet, as factors such as the breed and age of your dog can change what vaccinations you should give them and when.If you want to view the entire, in-depth vaccination guide from the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), click here.
The generally agreed upon standard vaccination schedule is as follows:
STEP 4: Talk to your vet about parasite prevention and managementInternal and external parasites, such as heartworms, intestinal parasites, fleas, and ticks cannot not only cause extreme discomfort from allergies and skin irritation, but can also cause life-threatening illnesses.
Consult with your vet on what exams, treatments, and medications they can give your pup to prevent or manage potentially dangerous parasites.
STEP 5: Don’t forget about your dog’s dental hygieneNot only can your vet examine and care for your dog’s oral health, but you should, too! Keeping a dog’s dental hygiene in check can help prevent:
- Bad breath
- Oral diseases
- Other diseases that can affect major organs
- Tooth loss
Check out this helpful video on how to brush your dog’s teeth.
Note: Make sure to use dog-specific toothpaste ONLY. Human toothpaste can be harmful to your dog!
STEP 6: Feed your dog the highest quality foodsAge, genetics, allergies, and lifestyle all play a part in choosing the perfect dog food for your dog. Consult your vet on if there are any specific reasons to supply your dog’s breed with certain foods over others.
In general, however, here are a list of items you should look for when buying dog food:
- Animal-based proteins should be listed high on the ingredients label (ingredients are listed by weight for dog food)
- There should be a specifically named animal protein (i.e. chicken, beef, lamb, duck, etc.) in the ingredients. If it just says “meat” in the ingredients, this probably means it’s a low-grade mix of meats from who-knows-where!
- Look for whole vegetables, fruits, and grains in the labeling. Whole ingredients still contain the majority of their complex mix of vitamins, enzymes, and antioxidants.
- Check the “best-by” date and make sure it’s six months or more away. This ensures the food is as fresh as possible. The further away the “best-by” date, the better.
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STEP 7: DON’T feed your dog low quality or other dangerous foodsCertain ingredients in low-end dog food can really hinder the healthy growth and lifestyle of your pet.
Here are some items to look for and avoid when choosing your dog food:
- Avoid corn, wheat, and soy in dog foods. These three ingredients are typically fillers to help cut manufacturing costs and are also big factors in dog allergy and digestion issues.
- Watch out for too many animal by-products in the ingredient label. An animal by-product is what remains after it is processed for human consumption… meaning that the by-product may be illegal for human consumption, but not illegal for pet consumption. This doesn’t always mean it’s the worst thing for your dog, but the less by-products and the more whole and high-end meats, the better.
- Avoid added sweeteners. Sweeteners can encourage dogs to eat only foods made of grain fragments instead of high quality meat-based foods.
- Look out for added artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. They’re typically unnecessary and unhealthy.
- Watch for any ingredient generically labeled “animal fat,” which can come from an unknown fat source and most likely lacks any valuable nutrition.
Lastly, make sure to never feed your dog these human foods that can be highly dangerous for dogs to consume:
- Macadamia Nuts
- Any foods high in fat, sugar, and/or salt
STEP 8: Keep your dog hydratedAlways make sure your dog has clean, clear water available to him or her at all times. Hydration is absolutely key to a healthy dog’s function and quality of life.
Your dog should drink at least one ounce of water per pound of body weight, every day. Outside temperature and exercise habits can cause a need for higher water intake.
STEP 9: Make sure your dog is fit and trimIf you cannot feel your dog’s ribs when you run your hand along his or her side, then they might be in need of a weight control program. An obese dog means they are more susceptible to heart disease, arthritis, circulatory problems, and much more.
Consult your vet on how to properly reduce the weight of your dog. Typically, you will need to do one or more of the following:
- cut feeding portions down
- follow a specific diet prescribed by your vet
- increase exercise volume
Step 10: Exercise, exercise, and more exercise!Dogs are active animals by nature and they need exercise to remain healthy, both physically and behaviorally. Dogs who don’t exercise enough can become dangerously overweight, as well as act out in the form of excessive barking, chewing, scratching, and aggression due to frustration and boredom.
Try to walk your dog two to three times per day. Having a big yard for them to run around in is beneficial, but interaction and stimulation is key. If you live in a city, take them to a dog park so they can really let loose and interact with other dogs.
Step 11: Provide a safe environmentMake sure your home is dog-proof so they don’t get into anything that can do serious harm.
Here are a list of items to keep out of dog’s reach:
- Certain plants that are toxic to dogs
- Trash bins
- Cleaning supplies and other toxic chemicals
- Electrical cords
- Small objects they might chew and choke on
- Human foods that are not suitable for dogs (see Step 7)
If you have an outdoor dog, make sure they have a doghouse of some sort so they can shelter themselves from the elements.
Step 12: Purchase pet insurance (optional)We can’t say that pet insurance is a must for everyone. It truly depends on how much money you have to spend, or is available, if something happens to your dog. If your dog is super healthy and has little to no risk of inherent breed-specific issues, you might decide against insurance.
However, having pet insurance can help you avoid that decision between your wallet and your dog’s life if something major ever happens. There are many stories of pet parents saving up to $40,000 in pet care costs, while simultaneously saving their dog’s life.
We’ve written an in-depth article on how dog insurance works and how you can decide from whom and how much coverage to purchase. Make sure to check it out here before purchasing!
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