It’s the Year of the Dog!!! Even though I think every year should be Year of the Dog - there is no better way to celebrate than by developing some new Healthy Habits for your dog.
These four Healthy Habits for your dog are easy to do and will have a tremendous positive impact on your dog’s health and wellness now and into the future.
Habit formation is the process by which new behaviors become automatic. In humans, it can often take 30 days or more to develop a new habit. If it is too hard, too time-consuming or not valued we often stop doing it well before we are able to see the long-term benefit. The key to success is to make them easy to do and not too much change at once.
Habit #1 Gum Check
Check your dog's gums. You hear it all the time, but do you know what to look for? How often do you do it?
For those that participate in canine sports - checking your dog’s gums is a pretty routine item. But it isn’t just for working or sports dogs, this is a healthy habit that EVERYONE should engage in with their dog.
Know Your Normal
Establish a baseline appearance for your dog.
It is quick and easy, just lift up those lips and take a look at the gum line above the teeth. A normal color is a salmon pink color - but the shade can vary by breed, age etc. So check your dog a couple of days at around the same time each day, when he is relaxed, to get a good sense of the color of his gums.
When should I check them? Once you know what healthy gums look like - you should be checking them routinely and then also after or during strenuous activity.
If your dog’s gums are any color than their normal pink, you need to observe your dog carefully and consider calling your vet. Gums can be a variety of colors if your dog is in trouble - very dark, blue, dark red or pale and white. Any of these colors can indicate that your dog needs veterinary care right away.
Take breaks during rigorous activity and do a really fast gum check. A change in color can indicate that your dog is overheated.
If you notice your dog is not behaving normally, maybe sluggish, not eating or other changes in behavior - take a quick look at the gums to see if there is a change. Sometimes our dogs are just having an off day, especially as they get older - but a change in gum color can indicate that it is time to call your vet.
For senior dogs, make these part of your daily routine. Know what is normal for your dog and if something is off, make the call.
Habit #2 Full Body Check - Nose to Tail
While most of us have our hands all over our dogs all the time, I like to do a full body check on my dogs from Nose to Tail once a month. Take a few minutes and carefully go over your dog. Check in their mouths, ears, around their eyes, and feel up and down their entire body. Look for any lumps or bumps, cuts, parasites... anything! Also, check in between the toes from the top and the bottom.
I do these checks on the same day I give my monthly heartworm prevention. I also do them anytime after training or competition.
After the Dog Park or Play Date
Do you take your dog to the dog park or to other parks to play off leash? This is the perfect time to do this quick check! Dogs can get things stuck in their toes, in their mouths (sticks etc), small nicks or cuts from rough play, or parasites (ticks/fleas) from being in an environment with other dogs.
Check your dog from nose to tail after these play sessions.
Health Tip: If there is a hose or wash area outside the dog park, give your dog a quick wash down before you come home. Bring a trial size bottle of shampoo and a towel in your backpack for hygiene on the go. If it isn’t possible - at a minimum... doggie wipes are a great way to clean your dog’s paws, face and body before you get home. Remember - there is a lot of waste from many dogs you don’t know, so proper hygiene after play is important.
P.S.: Not giving monthly heartworm prevention? Talk to your vet and get your dog on it today! Can’t remember to give it each month? There is an app for that! Set it on your phone and get that reminder each month. Ask your vet for manufacturers coupons or find online sources for discounts. Heartworms can be deadly but they are PREVENTABLE!! We all know those dogs in our foster and rescue groups that are going through Heartworm treatment - it is so so tough on the dog. Get your dog on preventatives today!
Habit #3 Dental Care
Dental care is the toughest one of all and probably the most important habit to develop to improve your dog’s overall wellness.
If your dog doesn’t have any tartar or plaque built up on their teeth, consider yourself lucky and start a good dental routine today! This can be anything from daily teeth brushing, changing diet or simply using an additive to your dog’s water.
Already there with tartar and plaque build up? Unfortunately, it won’t go away by itself and a trip to the vet is in order for a good cleaning. Put some funds aside and make this a priority for your dog. His good health depends on it.
According to the American Veterinary Dental College, Periodontal disease is the most common clinical condition occurring in adult dogs and cats, and is entirely preventable. Periodontal disease is usually under-treated and may be associated with damage to internal organs as dog begin to age.
Once you get your dog’s teeth cleaned - regular daily home care is critical. Remember, it takes 30 days of doing an activity before it becomes a habit. Daily dental care for your dog is the best gift you can give him. Make it a healthy habit.
The Veterinary Oral Healthy Council (VOHC) publishes their Seal of Acceptance awards for home oral hygiene products that meet or exceed the VOHC standard for retarding accumulation of dental plaque or dental tartar. Get brushing and get your dog started back on a path to wellness today!
Healthy Habit #4 Walk, Walk, Walk your Dog
The Daily Walk
No matter how young or old, big or small... regular physical activity is critical to maintaining your dog’s weight and overall health. Regular exercise is not only mentally stimulating for your dog, it also helps keep their muscles toned, and can help reduce arthritis and other degenerative joint diseases.
Again, it is the consistency that is important. At a very minimum, your dog should have three days a week of aerobic exercise for approximately 20 minutes. This will help your dog to maintain a healthy weight and prevent loss of muscle tone. If you are able to go every day, even better.
If either you or your dog is not ready for this much walking, you will need to start slow and build up. Start by establishing a walking schedule/time that is at least three days and keep the actual walk short. Then build on increased frequency and duration over time as you both get stronger.
While going out in the yard or to the dog park are wonderful opportunities for play and socialization... it is that regular, consistent walk that will keep your dog healthy into old age. Just like you, your dog will get bored if he never leaves home! Carve out the time for walking with your dog.
Have a Leash Puller?
Leash manners, take practice... and the only way your dog will improve is to keep practicing. The more you do it, the better they will be. Brush up on your leash training, update your collar or harness system and get your dog moving!
Tips for Success• Check out your path ahead of time without your dog.
• Is it safe? Check for lighting, traffic, loose dogs, debris on the path etc.
• If your neighborhood isn’t ideal, tour some local parks. These are usually well lit, great sidewalks and everyone else is always on their leash too!
• Get the right equipment - leash, collar/harness, proper shoes for you, waste bags, mini-flashlight etc and Say NO to the Flexi-lead!!!
To celebrate the Year of the Dog start these easy Healthy Habits with your dog today. Eat right, brush your teeth, get some exercise and get a check-up! Pretty easy for us all. They really do make a difference in your dog’s health and wellness. If you fall short, remember that each day is a chance to start fresh... and I bet your dog might remind you that it is time to go for a walk!
Cheers to a healthy new year with your best friend!
Kathryn Durno's passion is canine sports, nutrition and fitness. She is a freelance writer, the owner of Dog Mamma's Organic Dog Treat Company and is owned by three Brittanys - Biddy, Tristan and Nate. Visit her on the web at www.dogmammas.com