Nutrition and Care of your Canine Companion

After taking the American Red Cross dog and cat first aid & CPR certification course a while back, it really opened my eyes to the dangers of not being prepared. I highly recommend looking for local first aid classes so you can be prepared. Your four-legged family members rely on you for their care, so be prepared 24/7 for a medical emergency. These classes cover everything from cuts and impalement, to choking and CPR. You can also obtain valuable information on dog and cat first aid by purchasing the American Red Cross Dog and Cat first aid manuals.

I wanted to just touch on some basic information regarding the nutrition and care of your four legged friends.

The most important thing to remember is to keep your dog healthy; both physically and mentally. Regular vet checkups are essential in preventing health issues and treating them in time if they do occur. It is crucial to keep your dog’s vaccinations up to date and to make sure you care for their dental hygiene.

In addition to proper veterinary care, it is also important to provide them with good daily care, including proper nutrition, regular exercise, socialization, grooming and a safe, comfortable environment.

Proper Nutrition:

Be sure to feed your dog the appropriate amount of food for their breed, size and daily requirements. Choose a well-balanced premium brand food that is appropriate for your dog’s stage of life and nutritional needs.

Food intolerances and allergies can also play a role in your dog’s health, so be sure to seek veterinary advice if your dog shows signs of allergy or intolerance (symptoms usually involve excessive scratching and licking, but may also result in diarrhea and/or vomiting). For more information on food allergies and intolerances, check out Food Allergens and Toxins for Dogs

Do not give your dog bones; these can cause damage to the teeth and swallowed shards may result in internal tearing or obstruction of the esophagus, stomach, or bowel. Choose safe chew toys or dental chews.

What many people do not realize is that a dog is an omnivore and behaves as an opportunistic eater. Dogs have evolved along side humans for at least 35,000 years and in that time, they have adapted to similar diets along the way, including the ability to digest and utilize starches. Companion dogs have diverged from their wolf ancestors and can also thrive on a vegan or vegetarian diet without any problem. In fact, it provides many health advantages. A vegan or vegetarian meal also has to be balanced for proper nutrition and calories for your dog’s breed and stage of life. There are a number of high-quality balanced vegan and vegetarian diets available on the market today.

DO NOT feed your dog a raw meat diet. This is a dangerous fad and the alleged benefits have no empirical evidence to back it up. In fact, the evidence of the dangers of such a diet are substantial. The bottom line; a domestic dog is not a wolf and even so, a wolf is also an omnivore.  To learn more about this controversy and the dangers of this type of diet, check out the book Raw Meat Diets for Cats and Dogs? By James O’Heare. You can also read the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) stance on this topic and the vast research done by the AVMA, as well as the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and many others.

Regular Exercise:

Exercise is essential for your dog’s health and happiness. The amount of exercise depends on your dog’s breed, age and any medical conditions. Regular exercise can increase cardiovascular health and decrease problem/destructive behavior in your dog. Having a large yard does not equal exercise. Your dog needs to walk and experience new environments and stimuli. Playing ball/Frisbee can also stimulate your dog’s mind and body. If you have a very active breed, like a Border collie, Shepherd, Jack Russell, etc., you may want to consider involving them in an activity such as agility or fly ball.

Dental Care:

Your dog’s dental hygiene is very important for their overall health and happiness. If neglected, your dog could start showing signs of gum disease.  Start when their young and get them used to having their teeth brushed. There are some basic steps that can be followed to ensure a healthy mouth.

Regularly check Your dog’s mouth for signs of bad breath, inflamed gums, tumors or cysts, loose teeth and excessive drooling.

Here is a list of mouth disorders to be familiar with in case you encounter them in your dog.

  • Periodontal disease is a painful infection between the tooth and the gum that can result in tooth loss and spread infection to the rest of the body. Signs are loose teeth, bad breath, tooth pain, sneezing and nasal discharge.
  • Gingivitis is an inflammation of the gums caused mainly by accumulation of plaque, tartar and disease-producing bacteria above and below the gum line. Signs include bleeding, red, swollen gums and bad breath. It is reversible with regular teeth cleanings.
  • Halitosis—or bad breath—can be the first sign of a mouth problem and is caused by bacteria growing from food particles caught between the teeth or by gum infection. Regular tooth-brushings are a great solution.
  • Swollen gums develop when tartar builds up and food gets stuck between the teeth. Regularly brushing your dog’s teeth at home and getting annual cleanings at the vet can prevent tartar and gingivitis.
  • Proliferating gum disease occurs when the gum grows over the teeth and must be treated to avoid gum infection. An inherited condition common to boxers and bull terriers, it can be treated with antibiotics.
  • Mouth tumors appear as lumps in the gums. Some are malignant and must be surgically removed.
  • Salivary cysts look like large, fluid-filled blisters under the tongue, but can also develop near the corners of the jaw. They require drainage, and the damaged saliva gland must be removed.
  • Canine distemper teeth can occur if a dog had distemper as a puppy. Adult teeth can appear looking eroded and can often decay. As damage is permanent, decayed teeth should be removed by a vet.

Prevention is the best medicine and regular dental care, including brushing, chew toys and a healthy diet will help keep your dog’s teeth strong and healthy. For information on dental care, check out this great link on brushing your dog’s teeth.


It’s simple; a good dog, is a well socialized dog. Dogs that are well socialized will know how to respond to other dog’s behavior as well as respond appropriately themselves. The best time to socialize your puppy, is right after they are finished with their final set of immunizations. Take them to parks, on walks or enroll them in an obedience or puppy socialization class. Don’t forget to socialize them with people and children. This is very important, since people, especially children can be unpredictable and behave in a variety of non-dog-like ways. Your dog may understand how to react when faced with typical dog behavior, but a 2 year old is not going to exhibit behavior like that!


Be sure to brush your pet regularly to keep their coat healthy and free from mats. Be sure to look for any skin irritations, lumps, parasites, or other abnormalities while grooming. Also be sure to clip your dog’s nails and clean their ears. It may also be necessary to bathe your dog to keep their coat clean and prevent skin irritation. It is important not to bathe your dog too often, as this will rob your dog’s skin of necessary oils. Some breeds also require special care and grooming, so be aware of your dog’s special needs to help improve coat and skin. Here are some great tips on grooming your dog.

Safe Environment:

In my opinion, with the exception of a few breeds, ALL dogs should be indoor companions. They are part of our families and rely on us for care and affection. They should be living as part of our family. Dogs are very social creatures and rely on us to provide that social stimulation. It is not fair to leave them out in a yard all day alone. Even worse, chained out in a yard. It is well documented that dogs often become aggressive and dangerous when confined by chains or left alone to defend a yard.

As mentioned, some dogs, such as those large breeds with thick coats, may not be suited to live in an indoor, temperature controlled environment. However, it is imperative to create a safe a comfortable outdoor environment for them, including fencing, shelter, water and regular social interactions and exercise.

Prevention is the Best Care

The best thing you can do for your four legged family members is to educate yourself about their care and breed specific requirements. When in doubt, consult a veterinarian. Be prepared.


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The information contained in this post is not meant as a substitute for veterinary care. Please consult a qualified veterinarian with any concerns or advice for your particular situation.


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