Health Care


Some dog breeds are naturally healthier than others thanks to their genetics and breeding history, as can be seen in common ailments notes in the A-Z dog breeds section. Providing your dog with a healthy diet, plenty of fresh water and regular exercise will go a long way towards keeping it in good health too. However, as responsible dog owners there are other measures we can all take regarding healthcare to ensure that our dogs remain as fit and well as possible to enjoy a long and healthy life. And as we grow very attached to our dogs these simple measures are worth taking.

Initial Check up

It is a good idea to take your new puppy or dog for its first check-up at the vets within a couple of days of acquiring it. The vet should check its overall condition, including listening to the heart, checking respiration, the abdomen, muscles, joints, eyes, ears (for infection and mites), the mouth (for gum disease and plaque build up) and the condition of the skin and coat. The vet will probably require some information, such as eating habits, and perhaps a stool sample (fresh, under 12 hours) to check for internal parasites. Take your pet's vaccination record along too.


Immunisations should be started early. It's not unusual for a puppy to receive vaccinations for distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parvovirus, and parainfluenza every 2-3 weeks from the age of 5 or 6 weeks. The rabies vaccination is given at 3-6 months and a vaccine for kennel cough (bordetella) can be given anytime from the age of 5 weeks. The vet will advise on this, especially as immunisations can affect long term health if given all at once (the rabies vaccine should be given at least 4 weeks before or after any other vaccine). An annual check-up should be arranged with the vet, which will include booster vaccinations and checks for internal parasites and heartworm. This is important as the most common health issues associated with dogs are caused by parasites, which includes worms but also fleas and mites. The latter are easily dealt with using flea powder.

Getting your dog spayed / neutered

Getting your dog neutered or your bitch spayed by a vet at 6 months is important. The operation involves the removal of both testicles in male dogs and the womb and ovaries in bitches. This may sound harsh but it not only reduces the risk of unwanted litters (which can be dangerous if the bitch has bred with a mate whose pups will be too big to deliver safely), it comes with significant health benefits for the dogs and improved temperament. Neutering prevents testicular tumours, may reduce the risk of prostate problems, and reduces the risk of perianal tumours and hernias that are common in older dogs. Spaying reduces the risk of breast cancer and helps eliminate the threat of uterine and ovarian cancer and uterine infection. As for temperament, neutering reduces aggression in dogs, stops them being distracted by females in heat and makes them less likely to mark their territory or to try to mate with objects and people's legs. Similarly, spaying stops stray males camping in your garden.


With most dogs it is important to keep the ears clean and dry to reduce the chance of bacterial and yeast infections, and to check them regularly too. Genetics can play a part, and dogs with long hair or floppy ears can be predisposed to suffering with ear problems because the ear canal simply does not receive as much exposure to the air, although some ear problems can be a sign of allergies. It is important to keep your dog's ears clean and free of internal hair to allow air circulation. It is a good idea to check your dog's ears once a month for any sign of mites or illness. If you do notice anything unusual, such as red blotches, areas differing in colour to the skin, or an unpleasant odour, then a trip to the vets is advisable. Some dogs such as the Bichon can be susceptible to ear infections because of the amount of continually growing hair around the outside of their ear canals. Excess hair should be removed by pulling out, but do this in small clumps at a time to lessen the shock. Ears should also be cleaned once a month, using a damp cloth or cotton buds to wipe the visible inside portion of the ears (do not stick anything inside the ears).

Dental Care

Most puppies have teeth by 4 weeks, and they need to chew to develop physically and mentally. Those with adequate chew toys will be less destructive and their teeth will develop properly. The permanent teeth should be complete at 6 months and this is when dental care is required. Dental care should not be overlooked because oral disease not only impacts on a dog's mouth, it can also affect the heart, lungs or kidneys if left untreated for long enough. Oral examinations and dental cleaning should be part of the annual visits to the vet, and you may also choose to brush you dog's teeth occasionally and buy special chews that help remove plaque.


Plenty of fresh water and a properly balanced diet containing the essential nutrients in the correct proportions is the best preventative way to ensure a dog remains healthy. As well as being essential, water will help prevent bladder and kidney disease. Dog food should preferably be top quality, organic, human-grade food bought in a pet store or a home-made diet. The vegetable content of any dog food is important, but so are protein and fat; after all, dogs are carnivores. For white dogs like the Bichon Frise, avoid foods with high levels of artificial colourants as they will discolour the dog's beard. If staining does become a problem, try a tear stain remover (readily available on Amazon).

Some puppies need to eat 3 times a day until about 6 months, and then twice a day reducing to once a day when reaching 10-12 months of age (1 cup per day suffices). Occasionally they can be rewarded with doggy snacks but it is not wise to offer them kids' sweets or chocolate. Also, avoid allowing them to eat scraps from underneath the dinner table, although it is fine to sometimes mix leftovers in with their dinner later - this is to avoid them from becoming a pest at meal times.

Chocolate - Is it poisonous to dogs?


Absolutely! In sufficient doses chocolate is lethally toxic to dogs (and some other pets) because it contains a stimulant known as theobromine that dogs are unable to metabolize effectively. If ingested this can remain in a dog's bloodstream for up to 20 hours and may cause increased heart rate, heart attack, hallucinations, severe diarrhea, epileptic seizures, internal bleeding, and eventually death. If your dog does accidentally eat chocolate, the best advice is to contact a vet as soon as possible. If done within 2 hours, the vet will most likely give the dog medication to induce vomiting. Outside of this time and the chocolate will have passed into the small intestine to be absorbed by the body. Inducing vomiting will no longer help and the dog will need monitoring until the theobromine has left its system. Theobromine has a half life of 7½ hours, meaning after this period half the theobromine will have left the dogs system. Symptoms can last up to 72 hours.


The normal weight range for dogs varies greatly from breed to breed, and this information is available in the Dog Breeds A-Z. As a general rule, to assess if your dog's weight is normal, rub across the ribs with your fingertips. You should be able to feel each rib but with slight padding on them. If the ribs are prominent with no padding, your dog is underweight. If you can't feel the ribs due to excessive padding, your dog is overweight. Older dogs will tend to excercise less than younger ones and may need less food or a senior diet to avoid becoming overweight.


Equivalent Dog Years
YearsUnder 20lbs (9kg)20-50lbs (9-23kg)50-90lbs (23-41kg)Over 90lbs (over 41kg)

The many different breeds all age at different rates and also have different lifespans. To find what the equivalent age is in human years, it is common to assume that 1 human year = 7 dog years. Unfortunately this is slightly inaccurate since most dogs reach adulthood within the first couple of years, whereas humans take somewhat longer than this. In addition, breed and size both have a major influence. Large breeds mature more quickly and live shorter lives, while small and toy breeds tend to live longer. Large and giant breeds are considered seniors by the time they reach five, medium sized breeds at about seven, and small and toy breeds reach seniority at roughly ten years. To confuse matters more, certain breeds can have shorter lifespansthan suggested by their size, such as Border Collies and Bulldogs. This could be down to the former being hyper-active and the latter being essentially dwarfed Mastiffs and so sharing the same shorter lives of their ancestors.

Providing you look after your dog properly, feed them a healthy diet, allow them regular exercise and access to vetinary care whenever needed, then genetics aside you should enjoy many quality years together. It is worth noting that, much like in humans, the lifespans of dogs seems to be increasing, which could be down to better care being taken generally.