Routine healthcare for dogs

Dogs should be vaccinated against potentially infectious diseases, and receive regular preventive treatments for parasites such as fleas and worms. Dogs should also be regularly groomed and checked daily for signs of illness.

Vaccinations

Dog vaccinations will not only protect your dog, they will also ensure your dog will not infect others in their local dog community. Early dog vaccinations allow you to socialise your dog earlier with other dogs.

An up to date dog vaccination history is often required in places where dogs will closely interact with each other, such as boarding kennels, dog training classes and doggy day care.

Puppies can be vaccinated from 6 weeks of age and require boosters. Adult dogs are recommended to receive annual booster vaccinations to provide protection for the life of your dog. Talk to your veterinarian regarding appropriate vaccination schedules.

In short, as a minimum guideline all dogs should visit your local veterinarian once a year and the appropriate vaccine cover can be selected during a routine health check

Diseases covered by vaccination include the following:

Parvovirus

This disease is highly contagious and can be fatal. This virus attacks the intestines, causing blood stained diarrhoea, vomiting with severe abdominal pain and weakness. Immediate veterinary attention is required as the disease can progress extremely quickly (ie. in the space of 24 hours) and is usually fatal unless treated aggressively early in the course of this disease. In very young puppies, the virus can invade the heart muscles, causing difficulties in breathing and death within a few hours.

Hepatitis

A highly contagious disease which spreads to unvaccinated dogs of any age. However, canine hepatitis is more severe when dogs younger than 2 years become infected. Symptoms include high fever, depression and acute abdominal pain and death can occur within 24-36 hours. Dogs that recover may develop long term liver and kidney problems and can act as carriers spreading this disease to other dogs for many months. Ideally all dogs that come on to or travel off your property should be fully vaccinated.

Distemper

This disease is extremely contagious to all dogs of any age and often fatal. Symptoms can include coughing and sneezing, nasal and eye discharge and depression. Muscle tremors, fits and paralysis can occur later in this disease. As the virus attacks the nervous system the recovery rates even with treatment can be low and recovered dogs may have permanent brain damage.

Canine cough

Canine cough is a highly infectious diseases and is spread wherever dogs congregate such as dog parks and boarding kennels. Affected dogs have a dry hacking cough that persists for weeks and can result in pneumonia. Vaccines are available including those that are given intra-nasally or injection and yearly boosters are required.

Note: up-to-date vaccinations for each of the above-listed diseases is required before admission to a boarding kennel or day care.

Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis can cause acute kidney failure. Infected dogs may show all no signs of infection, from just a mild illness of short duration, to severe disease and even death. Dogs may be exposed to the bacteria if they come into contact with rodents, farm animals (particularly cattle or pigs) or other dogs that may be infected. As such, this vaccine may be required dependent on the geography and environment your dog lives in and its lifestyle.

Parasites – fleas and worms

Dogs should be given regular treatments to prevent them from suffering from fleas and worms.

Fleas are tiny, dark brown parasitic insects that infest the coat and skin of pets. Fleas can cause problems ranging from simple itchiness to weeping sores, scaly skin, and secondary infection. Some dogs are allergic to flea bites (a condition known as Flea Allergy Dermatitis), where one bite sets off an auto-immune reaction. Fleas breed at an enormous rate and can jump up to 150 times their own length, making the transfer of fleas between your pets difficult to prevent. If your dog has fleas it's important to treat the house, your dog and all other pets in the household. Your vet can recommend safe and effective products to use.

Dogs can become infected with a range of intestinal worms including hookworms, roundworms, whipworm, and tapeworm. Common signs for intestinal worm infection in dogs include diarrhoea, vomiting, abdominal pain, pale gums, weight loss and poor coat appearance. Dogs are infected via ingestion of parasitic eggs or larvae from uncooked meat, infested faeces and other substances. You may see white segments or worms in the droppings.

Heartworm is another parasite that can cause serious health problem to your dogs. It is transmitted through mosquito bites. This parasite will attach itself to arteries in the heart causing heart and lung disease and eventually, death. Heartworm is difficult and costly to treat, yet preventable with regular preventative treatment.

Ask your vet for advice about which flea and worming products to use and how often to use them.

Dental care

Just as in humans, good oral hygiene is important for your dogs. The buildup of tartar (calcified plaque on the surface of teeth and gum) can lead to gingivitis, gum disease and other dental diseases. If left untreated, periodontal disease can result in tooth loss and serious infections in the heart, liver and kidneys.

Brushing your dog’s teeth is the most effective method of preventing formation of tartar and should be done at least weekly (ideally daily), followed by a program of professional dental cleaning performed by veterinarian.

Some dogs simply do not allow us to brush their teeth, this is where the commercial dental diets can be used instead. Ask your veterinarian for the dental diets suitable for your dog and feed according to the instructions.

Grooming

All dogs need regular grooming, but long-haired dogs need more coat care than short-haired dogs.

A long-haired dog should be combed and brushed once a day while a dog with short hair will usually only need brushing twice a week. Get a brush and comb that are suited to the hair type of your dog. Some dogs with 'wool' type coats, that grow continuously, will also require regular clipping.

Checking for signs of ill health

You should check your dog each day for any signs of illness. These might include the following:

  • Changes in behaviour
  • Loss of appetite
  • Drinking much more or less than normal
  • Lack of energy/sleeping more than usual
  • Coughing
  • Runny eyes or nose
  • Signs of pain, such as sensitivity to touch
  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Significant weight change (in either direction) over a short period
  • Unusual swellings
  • Skin conditions (itchy skin, unusual hair loss or skin lumps)
  • Limping
  • Unusual bleeding.

If you are worried about the health of your dog, contact your local vet.

Desexing

In general, dogs can be safely desexed from 3 months of age. Desexing at a younger age can be less stressful for puppies than it would be for older dogs, and they may recover more quickly.

Along with helping to prevent dog overpopulation, there are other benefits of desexing dogs.

  • Desexed dogs can be better behaved and less likely to roam.
  • Desexing pets can also prevent them from getting certain types of cancer.

Your vet can give you further guidance on desexing your puppy or dog. You can also find out more about early age desexing.

Page last updated: 13 Jul 2021