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You are here: myPetSmart.com > Pet Care Library > Articles > Preventative Care For Your Dog

Preventative Care for your Dog


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Preventive care is what will keep dog healthy day after day. It's keeping an eye out for what your Non-Sporting dog eats, how he sleeps, how his eyes and coat look, how much he exercises and his general well-being. Since we are all what we eat, and our pets are no different, feeding a high-quality 100 percent complete and balanced diet will go a long way toward reducing other health-related problems.

External parasites like fleas and ticks can wreak havoc on your dog's skin and coat. Just a few years ago these pests posed major problems and it was difficult to keep dogs and homes flea or tick free. Today there are a number of products available that are non-toxic to pets and humans but deadly to fleas and ticks, and they're safe and easy to use. Good news for Terrier dog owners! Also, because allergies appear to have a threshold effect, minimizing sensitivity to flea bites should be part of a successful allergy management program.

Dogs do not get heartworm by socializing with infected dogs; they only get infected by mosquitoes that carry the infective microfilariae. The adult heartworms grow in the heart and major blood vessels and eventually cause heart failure.

Fortunately, heartworm is easily prevented by safe oral medications that can be administered daily or on a once-a-month basis. The once-a-month preparations also help prevent many of the common intestinal parasites, such as hookworms, roundworms and whipworms.

Prior to giving any preventive medication for heartworm, an antigen test (an immunologic test that detects heartworms) should be performed by a veterinarian since it is dangerous to give the medication to dogs that harbor the parasite. Once the test results show that the dog is free of heartworms, the preventive therapy can be commenced. The length of time the heartworm preventives must be given depends on the length of the mosquito season. In some parts of the country, dogs are on preventive therapy year-round. Heartworm vaccines may soon be available, but the preventives now available are easy to administer, inexpensive and quite safe.

Mange refers to any skin condition caused by mites. The contagious mites include ear mites, scabies mites, Cheyletiella mites and chiggers. Demodectic mange is associated with proliferation of Demodex mites, but they are not considered contagious.

The most common causes of mange in dogs are ear mites and these are extremely contagious. The best way to avoid ear mites is to buy pups from sources that don't have a problem with ear mite infestation. Otherwise, pups readily acquire them when kept in crowded environments in which other animals might be carriers. Treatment is effective if whole body (or systemic) therapy is used, but relapses are common when medication in the ear canal is the only approach. This is because the mites tend to crawl out of the ear canal when medications are instilled. They simply feed elsewhere on the body until it is safe for them to return to the ears.

Scabies mites and Cheyletiella mites are passed on by other dogs that are carrying the mites. They are "social" diseases that can be prevented by not exposing your dog to others that are infested. Scabies (sarcoptic mange) has the dubious honor of being the most itchy disease to which dogs are susceptible. Chigger mites are present in forested areas and dogs acquire them by roaming in these areas. All can be effectively diagnosed and treated by your veterinarian should your dog happen to become infested.

The most important internal parasites in dogs are roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms and whipworms. Roundworms are the most common. It has been estimated that 13 trillion roundworm eggs are discharged in dog feces every day! Studies have shown that 75 percent of all pups carry roundworms and start shedding them by 3 weeks of age. People are infected by exposure to dog feces containing infective roundworm eggs, not by handling pups. Hookworms can cause a disorder known as cutaneous larva migrans in people. In dogs, they are most dangerous to puppies since they latch onto the intestines and suck blood. They can cause anemia and even death when they are present in large numbers. The most common tapeworm is Dipylidium caninum which is spread by fleas. However, another tapeworm (Echinococcus multlloculads) can cause fatal disease in people and can be spread to people from dogs. Whipworms live in the lower aspects of the intestines. Dogs get whipworms by consuming infective larvae. However, it may be another three months before they start shedding them in their stool, greatly complicating diagnosis. In other words, dogs can be infected by whipworms, but fecal evaluations are usually negative until the dog starts passing those eggs three months after being infected.

Other parasites, such as coccidia, Cryptosporidium, Giardia and flukes can also cause problems in dogs. The best way to prevent all internal parasite problems is to have pups dewormed according to your veterinarian's recommendations, and to have parasite checks done on a regular basis, at least annually.

Dogs get viral infections such as distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus and rabies by exposure to infected animals. The key to prevention is controlled exposure to other animals and, of course, vaccination. Today's vaccines are extremely effective and properly vaccinated dogs are at minimal risk for contracting these diseases. However, it is still important to limit exposure to other animals that might be harboring infection. When selecting a facility for boarding or grooming an animal make sure they limit their clientele to animals that have documented vaccine histories. This is in everyone's best interest. Similarly, make sure your veterinarian has a quarantine area for infected dogs and that animals aren't admitted for surgery, boarding, grooming or diagnostic testing without up-to-date vaccinations. By controlling exposure and ensuring vaccination, your pet should be safe from these potentially devastating diseases.

Canine infectious tracheobronchitis, also known as canine cough and kennel cough, is a contagious viral/bacterial disease that results in a hacking cough that may persist for many weeks. It is common wherever dogs are kept in close quarters, such as kennels, pet stores, grooming parlors, dog shows, training classes, and even veterinary clinics. The condition doesn't respond well to most medications, but eventually clears spontaneously over a course of many weeks. Pneumonia is a possible but uncommon complication.

Prevention is best achieved by limiting exposure and utilizing vaccination. The fewer opportunities you give your dog to come in contact with other dogs, the less chance of becoming infected. Vaccination is not foolproof because many different viruses can be involved. Parainfluenza virus is included in most vaccines and is one of the more common viruses known to initiate the condition. Bordetella bronchiseptica is the bacterium most often associated with tracheobronchitis and a vaccine is now available that needs to be repeated twice yearly for dogs at risk. This vaccine is squirted into the nostrils to help stop the infection before it gets deeper into the respiratory tract. Make sure the vaccination is given several days (preferably two weeks) before exposure to ensure maximal protection.

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