Dog health care
It’s more common for animals to end up in our care due to unintentional neglect rather than deliberate physical abuse. Owners have a duty of care towards their pets. This means you are responsible for ensuring your dog is happy and healthy by protecting them from pain, suffering, injury and disease.
Dogs instinctively mask signs of pain or illness therefore it’s important to be able to spot the signs such as a lack of appetite, lameness, vomiting, diarrhoea or straining to urinate. While there are things you can do at home to keep your dog healthy, you must consult your vet immediately if you notice any abnormalities.
In this section:
Providing a balanced and nutritious diet is crucial to your dog’s overall health and well-being but with so many different types of dog food on the market, it’s hard to know what to feed your dog.
For dietary advice specific to your dog’s needs, or if you notice any changes to their eating habits, please consult your vet.
What can I give my dog to eat?
Whether you choose a dry diet or wet food for your dog, make sure it is labelled ‘complete’. This means it meets all their nutritional needs.
Dogs need different types of food at different stages of their life so check the packaging to make sure you’re giving them the correct type. If your dog has special dietary requirements, consult your vet on suitable types of food.
What can I give my dog to drink?
Always ensure your dog has access to plenty of fresh water, and top up more often during spells of hot weather. Discourage your dog from drinking from bowls left in public places as the water could be stagnant or contaminated. Instead, remember to take water supplies and a bowl with you, particularly if you are going on a long trip.
Can I feed my dog a vegan or vegetarian diet?
Dogs are omnivores which means they can digest meat and plant products. However, we do not recommend a vegan or vegetarian diet for dogs as it can be extremely difficult to get the balance of nutrients right. If you have any queries about your dog’s diet, consult your vet.
Can I cook my dog’s meals myself?
Some owners choose to cook their dog’s meals from scratch, however we don’t recommend this as it is very difficult to get the balance of nutrients right. Many of the ingredients we would use to prepare meals for humans are too fatty or salty for dogs.
Should I feed my dog a diet of raw food?
Raw diets usually contain raw meat and vegetables. Raw feeding has increased in popularity over the last few years and some pet shops even supply commercially prepared raw food.
However, a raw diet is not necessary to keep your pooch healthy. A complete dog food appropriate to the age of your pet is all they need.
Raw meat contains bacteria, parasites and other pathogens that would normally be killed during the cooking process. We strongly advise against preparing a raw diet for your dog at home due to the risk of cross-contamination and to your dog’s health.
Which foods are unsafe for dogs?
Avoid feeding your dog scraps of food meant for humans. Many common foods which are safe for us can be toxic or even deadly to dogs:
- Chocolate contains a stimulant which is poisonous to dogs.
- Onions, garlic and chives can damage a dog’s guts and stomach.
- Grapes and raisins can cause kidney failure - just one can be deadly.
- Corn on the cob can cause intestinal blockage and abdominal pain.
- Macadamia nuts contain a toxin that can harm your dog’s muscles and nervous system.
- Avocados contain a toxin that can cause sickness and diarrhoea.
- Products containing artificial sweetener (xylitol) can cause liver problems and blood clotting disorders.
- Avoid any cooked meat with bones as these can fragment and cause serious harm.
- Always keep alcohol out of reach of pets.
If your dog consumes anything which is poisonous or harmful, or you think they might have, contact your vet immediately.
How much should I feed my dog and how often?
The amount of food you give your dog and how frequently you feed them will vary depending on their breed, size and age. You can find recommended portion sizes and feeding instructions on the packaging.
Puppies need to be fed specially-formulated puppy food, once they have been weaned off their mother’s milk (around seven to eight weeks old). This contains all the nutrients growing pups need and is good for development. Puppies need to be fed little and often.
Adult dogs (one year and over) are usually fed two meals a day but this will depend on their activity levels.
Senior dogs require food which is specially-formulated for older canines to help support their organs and muscles as they age.
Pregnant or weaning bitches will require additional nutrients to keep the mother and her pups healthy. If your dog is pregnant or feeding puppies, she should be given unlimited access to puppy food. It’s normal for female dogs to eat more when they are pregnant or weaning pups.
If you notice your dog is gaining or losing weight, adjust the amount you’re giving them and monitor their weight. If you have more than one dog, you may need to feed them separately to ensure they are not over or under-eating. If you notice your dog has lost weight but their eating habits haven’t changed, or if they have trouble putting on weight when food intake is increased, speak to your vet.
Some dogs eat their food very quickly which can lead to bloating, stomach pain or even choking. Try using a slow-feeding bowl or mat to slow them down.
All dogs need regular exercise to keep them fit and healthy. How much exercise your dog needs will depend on their breed, age and overall health. Some dogs may be happy with a daily walk and running around the garden, whereas energetic breeds will need longer and more regular walks. Some breeds need to avoid certain types of exercise to prevent injury and poor development.
We do not recommend the use of aversive training methods or equipment. This is anything designed to cause pain or discomfort such prong collars or shock collars.
Playing not only allows you to build a strong bond with your dog but it also helps them learn how to communicate and form relationships with other dogs. It also gives them a healthy outlet for their natural instincts to prevent behavioural problems from developing.
Your dog will need lots of suitable objects to chew and play with. Choose toys that will allow your dog to display their natural behaviours such as chasing, retrieving or pouncing. It’s vital to make sure any toys you buy or make are suitable and safe for your dog. Make sure there are no small parts that could be choking hazards.
Grooming is a vital part of caring for your dog. Regular brushing and clipping helps to remove dead hair, dirt and dandruff and prevents matting. The type and frequency of grooming required will vary depending on the length and texture of your dog’s coat. You can groom your dog at home if you have the right tools and skills but for many people, it’s easier and safer to opt for a trusted professional groomer.
Getting your dog used to grooming as early as possible can make vet visits or trips to the groomer less stressful. It also gives you a chance to check them over for any signs of illness or injury.
From rubber combs and grooming mitts to de-shedding tools and bristle brushes, there is a huge variety of grooming tools available. If you’re unsure what type will work best for your dog, speak to your vet.
Allow your dog to see and sniff the grooming tools to start with. Using gentle strokes, brush your dog’s coat. If they seem scared or uneasy, back off and try again another time. Producing treats at the same time as their grooming brush can help them make a positive association. Over time, you can gradually build up the time you spend grooming, making sure to reward your dog each time. If your dog still seems uncomfortable when being groomed, consult an accredited behaviourist. Aggression during grooming is often linked to pain so speak to your vet if your dog displays these signs.
Do I need to give my dog a bath?
Shampooing can strip your dog’s coat of its natural oils and nutrients so bathing your dog is only necessary if they are dirty or have a skin condition. Use warm water only and avoid using a hairdryer. Never use shampoo made for humans.
Walking on pavements and roads is usually enough to keep your dog’s nails short. However, it is common for the dewclaw (a nail on the upper, inner part of the dog’s foot) to become overgrown. Keep an eye on your pet’s nails and consult a vet if you notice any abnormalities such as limping or holding a paw up.
Some puppies and rescue dogs will already be fully house-trained. However, being in a new environment can be unsettling so you need to be prepared for the odd accident or to provide further training.
To get started, take your dog out regularly at times when they are likely to need the toilet, such as after eating, sleeping and playing. This helps to establish a routine.
Always praise your dog for doing the toilet outside. If they do have an accident indoors, avoid punishing them. Use a biological detergent and water to clean the area. This will remove the scent so they will not return to the same spot to do the toilet.