How to Keep a Dog in Good Health

Four Parts:Maintaining a Good DietGrooming Your DogCaring For Your DogProviding Routine Health Care

It's only natural that you want to take care of your dog so he'll be by your side for years. The good news is that there are lots of things you can do to care for your dog. Learn how to maintain a good diet of high quality food, get preventative veterinary care, and do your best to provide a healthy, loving environment.

Part 1
Maintaining a Good Diet

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    Feed your dog high-quality, well-balanced dog food and treats. This should be your pet's main source of nutrition. Look at the first five ingredients listed on the pet food label. These ingredients make up the majority of the food. Meat (not meat by-products) and vegetables should be the first few ingredients in the dog food. Lower down the list may be meat by-products and grains.[1]
    • Avoid common filler ingredients in dog food that may actually harm your dog's health. Some of these include: Ethoxyquin, Propylene Glycol, BHT/BHA, Corn Syrup and corn, and animal by-products.[2]
    • Occasionally, some dogs might show signs of a food sensitivity or intolerance. Watch for: diarrhea, vomiting, or skin conditions. Work with the veterinarian to determine what food ingredients the dog can and cannot eat.
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    Be careful when feeding your dog human food. Realize that certain human foods can hurt or kill a dog. Dog’s bodies can’t always metabolize foods like humans can so make sure your dog does not have access to these foods: grapes, raisins, chocolates, avocados, yeast dough, nuts, alcohol, onions, garlic, chives, and sugar-free gum (mainly the ingredient xylitol[3][4]). These are all toxic to dogs.
    • While you can make your own dog food, you must work with an animal nutritionist or veterinarian with education in pet food nutrition. This ensures your dog’s diet is nutritionally balanced.
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    Maintain your dog's weight at a healthy level. A dog is considered overweight when he weighs 10-20% more than his ideal body weight. If he is 20% overweight, he's considered obese. Being obese can shorten a dog’s life span by 2 years. Obese dogs are at higher risk for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and urinary bladder stones.[5] Talk with a vet about the ideal weight for your dog and feed him accordingly.
    • Most dogs are overweight or obese because they don't get enough exercise and get too much food. Refer to the package of pet food for specific guidelines about feeding based on ideal weight.
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    Give your dog healthy treats. Just like in humans, snacking or treats, can add quite a few calories to a dog’s daily calorie allowance. This could cause your dog to put on extra weight. Try giving your dog homemade treats, instead of store bought ones.[6]
    • Give your dog low calorie treats like baby carrots, canned green beans (low sodium or rinsed to wash off the added salt), or small slices of cooked sweet potatoes.
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    Give your dog a constant supply of fresh water. Dogs need lots of fresh water for the body to properly work and digest food. The water should be clean and fresh, so change the water at least once a day. Clean the water bowl or bucket with dish soap and water every once. Rinse and dry the container before refilling with fresh water.
    • Bacteria and algae can grow in the bowl, especially during warm weather. In freezing temperatures, you'll need to keep the bowl from freezing.

Part 2
Grooming Your Dog

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    Groom your dog regularly. Brush your dog's coat to keep it shiny and healthy. This will also encourage good circulation. Note any new lumps, bumps, or cysts on the skin and bring them to your veterinarian’s attention. Scabs, redness, or itchy skin should also be addressed by a veterinarian.
    • Grooming is also a good time to check for skin conditions like fleas, ticks, and mites.
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    Clip your dog's nails. While it may take a little time for you dog to get used to, clipping the nails can become a routine part of grooming. Just be careful not to trim the "quick," the part of the nail that contains sensitive blood vessels and nerves.
    • If you aren’t sure how to clip the nails, have your veterinarian technician show you how to clip your dog's nails.
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    Brush your dog's teeth every day.[7] Brushing lets you remove any plaque or bacterial build up on your dog’s teeth. This is also a good chance to check the mouth for sores, loose or damaged teeth, or any other odd problems. Only use a dental toothpaste made for dogs. The fluoride in human toothpaste is poisonous to dogs and can cause serious health problems.[8]
    • Occasionally, your dog will need a dental cleaning at the vet's office. He'll be sedated while the veterinarian performs a thorough examination and cleaning.
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    Check your dog's ears. The ears shouldn't smell or have any discharge. The inner part of the ear should be a whitish color; but some dark colored dogs may have dark colored inner ears. Flip the ear over to inspect it. It should be clear of dirt, debris, or parasites like ticks. Plant material can sometimes work their way into the ear. These should be carefully removed.[9]
    • If your dog has floppy type ears, they should be checked daily, otherwise check them regularly.
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    Clean your dog's ears. Use a product specifically made to clean dog’s ears or use a solution of half white vinegar and half rubbing alcohol. Saturate a cotton ball with the fluid and gently wipe out the dog’s ear. If blood appears on the cotton ball stop cleaning and consult your veterinarian.[10]
    • Shaking the head excessively, scratching or pawing at the ear, odor, or discharge (waxy, fluid, or brown) is not normal. If you think your dog has an ear infection or other ear problem, take him to the vet.

Part 3
Caring For Your Dog

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    Offer your dog shelter. Most people with pet dogs chose to keep them in the house with the family. If you do keep your dog outside, provide an insulated dog house, warm bedding for cold climates, shade for warm climates, food, and water (that won't freeze or stagnate). Never chain your dog, since this could cause leg or neck injuries.
    • Don't keep your dog outside if he hasn't acclimated to weather extremes. It is considered negligence to keep a dog outside without proper shelter. If you can't shelter your dog correctly, keep him inside or don't get a dog in the first place.
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    Get your dog plenty of exercise. Depending on your dog’s breed, this could be anything from a 10-15 minute walk per day to a good hour romp in the park. A fun game of fetch or Frisbee can also be physically challenging to very active dogs. Playing or walking is a great chance for you to bond with your dog.
    • Exercise and playing can cut back on bad behavior, like tearing things up around the house, inappropriate chewing, and aggression. It will also keep your dog’s weight down and his body healthy.
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    Socialize your dog. Once he's gotten all his important first vaccinations, socialize him. This means carefully introducing him to people, other animals and dogs, and situations outside the immediate home environment. Getting used to riding in the car, walking around the neighborhood and dog parks are great ways to introduce him to people and other dogs.
    • As long as the dog isn’t scared or threatened he will get used to these situations. The more unique social situations you expose your dog to when he's young, the better.

Part 4
Providing Routine Health Care

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    Take your dog to the veterinarian. Schedule yearly examinations so you dog can get important tests and vaccinations done. Your vet will also get to know your dog and will be able to tell if something's wrong with his health. Regular check-ups can prevent many treatable diseases.[11]
    • If you have a puppy, take it to the vet around 6 weeks old. The puppy will be checked for hernias, heart, lung, eye, and ear problems. The puppy will also be put on a preventative de-worming schedule and given important early shots and boosters.
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    Get your dog vaccinated. The rabies vaccination should be given around 12 weeks and is required in many areas. You might be severely penalized if you haven't vaccinated your dog and he nips or bites a person or another pet. Consider vaccinating your dog against Lyme disease. This disease causes joint pain, swelling, fever, and possibly fatal kidney disease.[12]
    • Dogs that spend a lot of time outside, live on farms, or hunt are at increased risk of getting this tick-borne disease.
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    Consider spaying or neutering your dog. Spaying or neutering your dog can reduce some behavioral problems and decrease the chance of certain tumors and infections. If you spay or neuter your dog, you won't need to worry about caring for or placing unwanted puppies.[13]
    • Microchipping is also encouraged in case your dog ever becomes lost.
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    Monitor and prevent fleas. Watch for signs of fleas on your dog: dark specks in the fur, lots of licking and scratching, or scabs on the skin.[14] Once you've found fleas on your dog, you have several options. See your vet for an oral medication, wash your dog with flea shampoo, and put a flea collar on your dog.
    • Flea collars and monthly skin treatments are good ways to prevent fleas in the first place. Talk with your vet about a regular flea prevention routine.[15]
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    Have your dog tested for heartworm. A yearly blood test is needed to check for this widespread disease. Heartworm is spread by mosquito bites so it's hard to prevent. Instead, a monthly tablet or a shot which lasts for up to 6 months is used to kill any organisms present in the blood stream.[16]
    • If your dog does get heartworm disease, there is a treatment but it is hard on him, expensive, and can take months to combat.


  • A small number of dogs are overweight weight because of medical conditions. Obesity can be the sign of disease, mainly hypothyroidism (poor functioning thyroid gland) or Cushing’s disease (overproducing adrenal glands.) Dogs that are overweight because of these diseases should be monitored by a veterinarian and placed on a diet to maintain their optimal weight.
  • If you notice your dog not acting strangely (lethargic, not eating, restless, painful) immediately contact your veterinarian.
  • Keep a record of your pet's key information: name, age, breed, description, license and microchip number, and vaccinations, as well as a photo of your dog.
  • NEVER hit, kick or throw anything at your dog. He will only associate you with punishment and will be disobedient or fearful of you.
  • As your dog ages, take him to the vet at least twice a year for examinations. Older dogs frequently suffer from arthritis and heart disease just like elderly humans. There are effective and safe treatments which can help your older dog live a reasonably pain free and comfortable life.
  • Giving your dog healthy food, keeping your dog active and taking your dog to the doc once in a while or whenever you want. Engage yourself playing with your dog by playing fetch or running after it. Give your dog proper food and take it to the veterinary doctor every once in a while.


  • Don't give your dog small balls to play with. They can get stuck in the dog's windpipe and suffocate the dog.
  • Very hard bones, rocks, and sticks can crack or damage teeth in dogs that are aggressive chewers.
  • Never give your dog cooked bones or fatty foods. Bones can get lodged in the intestinal tract and your dog will need expensive surgery to fix this. Fatty foods can give your dog a painful case of pancreatitis and lead to expensive veterinary interventions.

Sources and Citations

  1. The Merck Veterinary Manual. C.M. Kahn and S. Line (eds.) 2010. John Wiley & Sons.
  3. The Merck Veterinary Manual. C.M. Kahn and S. Line (eds.) 2010. John Wiley & Sons.
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Article Info

Categories: Canine Health