Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on April 30, 2012 From the WebMD Archives
Sometimes, pet owners with the best of intentions still make serious mistakes when it comes to the health of their dog.
Here’s what top veterinarians had to say about mistakes owners make that lead to ailments they often see and how you can avoid them.
Mistake 1: Not Getting Preventive Care
Houston’s Canine Health Institute associate medical director Adrianne Brode, DVM, says neglecting preventive health care is the most common mistake dog owners make.
“Taking your dog in to the vet for regular examinations, giving heartworm prevention, and getting your dog the appropriate vaccinations and deworming can prevent many diseases,” Brode says. For example, heartworm disease can be difficult to treat and ultimately fatal to dogs, but it’s easily preventable.
Oregon veterinarian Marla J. McGeorge, DVM, says yearly exams help your vet catch problems early. Instead of coping with lengthy treatment of an advanced or chronic condition, your vet can catch issues in their beginning stages when care may mean cure. Early care saves you money in the long run.
Simply getting your dog vaccinated isn’t the same as a full physical exam. Among other things, a comprehensive checkup may include:
- Blood work
- A fecal examination for intestinal parasites
- Examination of a dog’s gums, heart, lungs, teeth, eyes, and ears
Talk to your veterinarian to learn more.
Mistake 2: Neglecting Dental Care
Shawn Messonnier, DVM, author of the Natural Health Bible for Dogs and Cats, says neglecting regular dental care is also common. Dogs need dental care for the same reason we do: to prevent gum disease.
As with human teeth, plaque forms on a dog’s teeth after eating. If left alone, the plaque builds, causing inflammation, decay, and eventually bone and tooth loss. And while this silent war goes on in your dog’s mouth, she’s probably experiencing pain you don’t notice because dogs, like cats, instinctively hide pain.
Gum disease is five times more common in dogs than it is in people. But it’s easy to prevent and to treat with dental care that includes:
- Daily brushings
- Good quality food
- Regular oral X-rays, exams, and cleanings
- Safe teeth-cleaning treats and chew toys
Mistake 3: Overfeeding
If too much love is ever a bad thing, it’s when we show it in the form of too many tasty treats. “Rewarding and loving our dogs with food leads to obesity,” Brode says. Overweight or obese dogs are at higher risk for arthritis and other orthopedic issues as well as other health problems.
It can be difficult enough to balance your own diet let alone that of your dog. Your vet can help you select a good, high-quality food for your dog and give you tips on exercise and treats. You don’t have to stop sharing occasional goodies with your pooch, as long as 90% to 95% of your dog’s diet is healthy and well balanced.
Mistake 4: Sharing Medication
Another dangerous health mistake owners make is giving dogs human medications. “Pain medications like Advil or Tylenol can be very toxic to dogs,” Brode says. In addition, there is a host of seemingly benign human drugs that can pose grave health risks for pets.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, are the most common cause of pet poisoning in small animals, according to the ASPCA. Even small doses can be toxic. Antidepressants, muscle relaxers, decongestants, vitamin D derivatives, oral diabetes treatments, and other common human drugs can all pose risks to pets, ranging from seizures to coma to death.
Always keep medication secure — preferably in a high, locked cabinet — and never discard medication where pets or children can get to it. If you’re worried that your dog may have gobbled up an over-the-counter or prescription pill you dropped — or worse, taken an entire bottle from the trash — don’t hesitate. Immediately call the Animal Poison Control Center 24-hour hotline at (888) 426-4435.
Mistake 5: Delaying Critical Care
We often delay medical care for ourselves, waiting for a bump, pain, or rash to go away. So it may seem natural to do the same thing with our dog.
Unfortunately, dogs don’t have the words to let us know exactly what they’re feeling. Your canine companion could be in pain, sick, and even gravely ill — and chances are you wouldn’t know it because of dogs’ instinct to hide infirmity.
Don’t wait to see if a health problem in your dog gets better on its own. Call your vet if your dog isn’t eating or is eating less, is vomiting, seems lethargic, has diarrhea or fever, or just doesn’t seem well.