Some dogs are more stoical than others and will put up with considerable discomfort and pain before their owners realize something is wrong. This is why it is so essential to check your dog over thoroughly every day for any unusual lumps and sore spots. Check his eyes and mouth for foreign bodies or any sign of inflammation, and watch for irregularities in behavior, eating and excretion. See page 109 for at-a-glance maintenance checks.
Mouth and Teeth
Dog breath should not be offensive – tooth decay is easy to diagnose because of the resulting unpleasant smell. The mouth area and tongue should be salmon pink in color – white gums indicate anemia, red bleeding gums are an indication of gingivitis and blue/grey gums suggest a circulatory problem. If your dog shows a reluctance to eat or drink, seek veterinary advice.
Nose, Ears And Eyes
The nose should be clean, slightly damp and free from discharge. The inner ear surface should be clean, smooth and odor-free. Smelly or dirty ears need veterinary investigation, as this suggests that infection is present.
The eyes should be clear, bright and free from any discharge. Some brachycephalic (broad-headed) dog breeds often suffer from eye discharge; this is a result of the skull structure being deformed, meaning that tears cannot drain away as they would normally. Tearstains can be removed with cotton wool dipped in clean, boiled and cooled water, and you can also buy proprietary tearstain removers. Any clouding of the eye surface requires veterinary attention, since this is usually the result of injury or cataract formation. The pupils should be of the same size, and the third eyelid retracted.
If the insides of the ears are looking dirty due to an accumulation of wax, but are not exuding an offensive odor (which requires veterinary treatment), simply gently wipe them with cotton wool moistened with a few drops of olive or liquid paraffin oil.
Ease Of Movement
Stiffness usually indicates joint problems, and limping suggests a direct pain source, such as a fractured limb, a wound, a thorn stuck in the foot pad, or an infected nail bed. A reluctance to move combined with crying out when you attempt to move the dog may be due to an internal injury or ailment.
Veterinary Health Checks
Choose a vet who specializes in canine health and cultivate a good relationship with them. An owner who takes their pet for regular health checks and routine vaccinations, and seeks advice on parasite control and dental care, is a valued client for whom a vet will be prepared to have more time. Keeping a diary of your dog’s behavior and health and, therefore, being able to explain any changes you have noticed in detail, is very useful in helping your vet treat your pet appropriately and swiftly when the need arises.
Veterinary surgeries and animal hospitals have reception areas where you can make appointments, pay bills and ask for advice. Many also sell canine equipment and run puppy socialization and regular weight-watching clinics.
If for any reason you feel you would like a second veterinary opinion, then it is within your right to ask for one; no one vet knows all there is to know about their particular field of work. Your vet may even suggest that they consult another expert in order to treat your dog appropriately.
Dogs can suffer from a variety of external and internal parasites, including fleas, mites, lice, fungal infections, ticks and worms – all of which cause ill health. A wide variety of preparations designed to treat these parasites are available to buy from supermarkets and pet stores, but they are not as effective (nor often as easy to apply or administer) as those which are available on prescription from your vet. You must also treat other pets in the house, and the house itself, with treatments (also available from vets), or re-infestation will occur immediately. Vacuum-clean carpets and the place where your dog sleeps regularly, and wash your pet’s bedding every week or so to destroy flea eggs.
Intestinal worms (roundworm and tapeworm) are most efficiently controlled by an all-in-one treatment prescribed by your vet. Deworming products available from vets come in granule, pill, liquid or paste form.
Controlling Fleas and Ticks
There are various product options for flea and tick control and prevention available from vets, comprising sprays, which are effective for up to three months, spot-ons (effective for one month, also called drop-ons) pills (effective for one month) and various brands of dog shampoo. One particular flea product will also kill roundworm.
Fleas bite the dog’s skin in order to feed off their blood, with the resulting bites causing intense itching that can lead to severe dermatitis. If your dog scratches himself constantly, check his coat for signs of fleas. Heavy flea infestation can cause anemia, leading to death if left untreated.
Ticks are blood-sucking parasites that cause itchiness, infection and even paralysis in some countries. Never try to pull a tick off the skin. Its head may be left embedded, which will lead to infection. A dab of surgical spirit (or flea spray that kills ticks) will make them release their grip.