We all know that heart-sinking feeling when our dog gets ill or injured or has a sudden emergency. But let’s step backward in time before that illness or accident, and take a look at ways it might have been prevented.
Too many of us don’t think a lot about preventive care; instead, we only take action when our dog is clearly sick, badly injured, or due for a vaccination. But that’s backward-looking care, when we should be looking forward.
One of the most important preventative steps is to take your dog for annual veterinary checkups. (If your pup is a senior, you should be looking at vet visits twice a year, since older dogs are more likely to suffer from life-threatening health issues like cancer, heart problems, or kidney disease. They’ll also help you catch age-related problems such as hearing or vision loss, cognitive issues, arthritis, and obesity before they become acute.)
Comprehensive veterinary exams can also give you an opportunity to have a frank discussion with your vet about your dog’s lifestyle, activity level, mental health, life stage, and behavioral questions. Talk too about what vaccinations and preventative medications are essential for our specific area, and which ones you can skip. For instance, because Lyme disease is endemic in Nevada County, many vets recommend annual Lyme boosters. Another example is heartworm: because this disease can be fatal, it’s crucial that your dog begins and stays on heartworm preventative for her entire life. Your vet can also help you decide when to spay and neuter your dog, and can do routine procedures like checking to make sure his microchip is scanning properly. (Your dog IS microchipped, isn’t he?)
Another prevention suggestion that you may not have thought about is keeping your dog’s toenails trimmed. A too-long toenail can easily get snagged, resulting in a painful, torn nail.
Remember that many potential problems can be alleviated if your dog understands basic commands like “sit,” “come,” “stay,” and “leave it.” These commands aren’t just a matter of good manners: they can literally save your dog’s life if he gets away from you and starts to dart into the road, or puts something dangerous in his mouth.
In the car, always secure your dog with a harness and dog seatbelt, or in a crate or carrier that’s strongly fastened in the car. Never let your dog be untethered or uncrated in the open bed of a pickup truck. (In fact, it’s illegal in California to have an untethered dog in the back of a pickup.) And speaking of cars, remember to NEVER leave your dog alone in a parked car during warm weather unless you’ve taken strong precautions to keep him cool. I’ll talk about some of these ideas in a future column.
Make sure your yard is secure: check your fencing regularly for things like holes, downed sections, and areas where your dog could scoot underneath and get out. Make sure any gates can’t be opened by a curious or rowdy dog. Reliable fencing also prevents other animals from getting in and initiating a fight, or in the case of wild animals, badly injuring your dog. And don’t rely on so-called invisible or electronic fencing: while it may keep your dog contained (or it may not: many a dog has broken through the electronic barrier and either disappeared or been hit by a car), it won’t keep other dogs or animals from coming into your yard and potentially attacking your dog.
Keep all medications out of reach of your dog. Particularly deadly are meds like beta blockers, ACE inhibitors, and ADD/ADHD medications. Even common over-the-counter meds like ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and naproxen can cause serious and even fatal effects if your pup ingests them. And something you think of as harmless like a multivitamin or nasal decongestant can also cause serious health problems for your dog.
The same is true for dog treats, or any type of food your dog might find tasty. Don’t assume that your dog “probably” can’t reach a counter or table, or get into a bag of chocolate chips. Most of the time, gorging on a half-full bag of dog cookies will only result in a bout of vomiting or diarrhea, but there’s a chance it could trigger a potentially deadly condition like pancreatitis or bloat.
Try to brush your dog’s teeth. Dogs can suffer from dental problems just as humans can, and the problems it can cause aren’t restricted to only their teeth: the bacteria created by periodontal disease can enter the bloodstream and travel to areas like the heart, the liver, and the kidneys. If your dog absolutely refuses to let you get anywhere near him with a toothbrush, try a dog chew specifically made to address plaque and tartar buildup. There are several on the market, but some are more effective than others, so talk with your veterinarian about what she recommends.
So remember: prevention really IS the best medicine!
Joan Merriam lives in Nevada County with her Golden Retriever Joey, her Maine Coon cat Indy, and the abiding spirit of her beloved Golden Retriever Casey in whose memory this column is named. You can reach Joan at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you’re looking for a Golden, be sure to check out Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue