Caring for Your Canine Companion

Throughout their lifetimes, dogs should receive regular veterinary care to prevent against any illnesses or diseases.  The following is a very general guideline to veterinary care for your dog; a specific care program for your dog should be discussed with your veterinarian to assess your dog’s specific needs.

Puppy Care

Beginning at 6-9 weeks of age, your puppy should begin his vaccination series.  He should receive a DHPP or DHLPP vaccine (also called Distemper or 5-in-1), which is the basic canine immunization that provides protection against canine distemper as well as adenovirus 2, leptospirosis, parainfluenza and parvovirus.   Your puppy should receive this vaccine every 3-4 weeks until the approximate age of 16 weeks (dependent upon when the first vaccine was given).

Your puppy should also receive a fecal exam deworming treatment at his initial visit to the vet.  Certain types of intestinal parasites can be transmitted from mother to offspring, so it is possible that your puppy had worms before you adopted him.  The four parasites your puppy may carry include tapeworm (looks like small grains of white rice in the puppy’s stool and is transmitted through ingesting fleas), roundworm (unable to detect except if shedding eggs visible in fecal exam), hookworm and whipworm.  Hookworm and roundworm are zoonotic parasites.  That is, they can be transmitted to humans.   Once the initial deworming treatment has been given, a second treatment should follow within 2-4 weeks to ensure complete treatment.

Between the age of 4 and 5 months, your puppy should be vaccinated against Rabies, a very dangerous and deadly disease that is communicable to humans.  Once vaccinated, it is necessary within Contra Costa County to license the dog for a rabies vaccine.  Your puppy’s first rabies vaccine provides immunity for one year and the corresponding license for Contra Costa County will expire one year from the issuing date.  The next rabies vaccine that your puppy will receive will provide immunity for up to three years, and a corresponding license should be applied for with Contra Costa County Animal Services.

After 4 months of age, you may also choose to have your puppy vaccinated against Kennel Cough, a highly contagious respiratory infection that can cause a “hacking”-type cough in your puppy.  Your puppy should be vaccinated with a Bordetella vaccine if he or she is exposed to other dogs in such situations as dog parks, grooming or boarding facilities, doggie daycare, etc.

Your puppy should ideally be spayed (female) or neutered (male) between the ages of 4-6 months, but early spay/neuter can be done as early as 8 weeks of age.  Female dogs generally become sexually mature between the ages of 6-9 months and males between the ages of 4-7 months, but can vary slightly.  Spaying and neutering has many benefits which far outweigh any risks involved:

  • Each heat that a female dog experiences greatly increases her risk for mammary cancer.  Even going through one heat increases her cancer risk 160 times.  Each heat she experiences significantly increases her risk for mammary cancer later in life.

  • Unspayed females commonly have an infection of the uterus called Pyometra, which directly translates to “uterus of pus”.  This occurs in mid-age or older unspayed females and warrants an emergency ovariohysterectomy (spay) as it is an extremely severe infection and often causes toxicity to the dog’s system.

  • Unneutered males are at a higher risk for many illnesses.  One such illness is Prostatic Disease in which case the prostate enlarges and can cause infection, abscesses and tumors.  Enlargement can cause the dog to feel an urgent need to have a bowel movement, which in turn can lead to straining and a perianeal hernea (where the rectum, bladder, or prostate protrude under the skin near the anus).  Herniation of the bladder can be fatal.

  • Unneutered males are also at a much higher risk for testicular cancer.  Needless to say, removing the testicles through neutering eliminates any risk of this type of cancer.

Unneutered males also exhibit many different types of behavioral concerns which can be directly related to the presence of testosterone.

  • These dogs often wander in search of a female with which to mate, and neutering greatly decreases the risk of wandering.  A wandering dog is at increased risk of being impounded by animal services, hit by a car, injuring a person or animal or otherwise becoming injured.  Roaming is eliminated in 90% of neutered males.

  • Unneutered males often exhibit more aggressive tendencies that those that are neutered.  Aggressiveness towards other male dogs is eliminated in 60% of neutered males.

  • Territorial marking is an undesirable behavioral trait of unneutered males.  Neutering eliminates this behavior in 50% of dogs; however, marking can become a learned behavior the longer the dog is exposed to testosterone.  Therefore, the earlier a neuter is performed, the more likely your dog will be to stop this behavior.

  • Mounting is another undesirable behavior exhibited by unneutered males.  This behavior is eliminated in 70% of neutered males, but again, becomes a learned behavior the longer the dog is exposed to testosterone.

One of the most important benefits of spaying and neutering your dog lies in the fact that you will directly be saving the lives of thousands of homeless animals.  Theoretically, in six years, one female dog and her offspring can produce 67,000 dogs.  Not all of these animals will have homes and many will be euthanized.  Each year, 6-8 million animals enter shelters, and each year, 3-4 million animals are euthanized by shelters due to overpopulation.  For every puppy you allow your dog to have, one less home is available for a dog already waiting in a shelter before being euthanized.  You can help to stop end the needless cycle of euthanasia by doing the responsible thing and spaying or neutering your dog!   Wouldn’t you feel better knowing you helped to save that many animals?

At six months of age, your puppy should be tested for Heartworm through a routine blood test.  A potentially fatal parasite, your puppy can be infected through a mosquito bite and should be put on a monthly heartworm preventative as prescribed by your veterinarian in order to prevent against heartworm disease.

Adult Care

At two years of age, your puppy becomes considered an adult!  At this point, he should be full-grown and should be switched from a puppy food to that for an adult.  Provided that your dog does not face specific medical challenges, his veterinary care should consist of routine yearly or bi-yearly exams and vaccinations, as needed.  It is important that the doctor check your dog’s teeth, ears and eyes, as well as his BMI (Body Mass Index) to determine if he is overweight.  Obesity affects 25-40% of the dog population and can cause serious health concerns for your companion such as diabetes, orthopedic problems, cardiovascular disease as well as many other metabolic and physical problems.

Routine vaccinations should include Rabies and Distemper, as well as Bordetella (if your dog is exposed to other dogs).  Similarly, a yearly heartworm test should be done to ensure that your dog is not infected with this parasite.  A yearly or bi-yearly fecal exam will also show if your dog is infected with any internal parasites such as tapeworm, roundworm, hookworm or whipworm.

Senior Care

At seven years of age, your dog has entered his “golden years” and is considered a senior dog.  By no means, however, does that mean that your canine companion doesn’t still have plenty of life and energy left in him.  Depending on his size and breed, some dogs can live to be 16 years of age!  Because the health needs of senior dogs changes, it is important to maintain a close relationship with your dog’s veterinarian to ensure that any medical concerns are noted and addressed.

Aside from vaccinations and overall exams, one of the most important tools your veterinarian can provide for your companion is a senior bloodpanel.  This bloodwork will provide your veterinarian a baseline by which to evaluate your dog’s liver and kidney function, thyroid function, as well as red and white blood cell count.  As your dog ages, many internal changes may also occur correspondingly that are not visibly obvious.  Therefore, by establishing a baseline bloodpanel, your dog’s veterinarian will be able to appropriately assess any changes in your dog’s health.

Similarly, your dog’s nutritional needs will change when he enters his senior years.  It is appropriate to switch him to a senior diet.  If he has special medical concerns, many reduced-calorie and prescription diets are available to assess your dog’s needs.

This information serves solely as a general guideline to your cat’s veterinary care.  It is important to discuss your cat’s specific needs with a trusted veterinarian to ensure that appropriate medical care is received in consideration of your cat’s continued health and longevity.