Time for a lifestyle review for your pet?
I've written previously about choosing a new pet, but a reader recently contacted me with a different request: what tips do I have for people with an established pet?
The best way of tackling this is to go through the various aspects of a dog's life, reviewing each area to ensure that all is being done optimally.
Nutrition is a good place to start. The biggest problem in modern pets is too much food: over 50% of dogs are overweight, caused by too much food. Ask your local vet clinic to let you know if you have got your pet's weight correct. Is your pet too fat? Should you be feeding more or less?
It's also worth reviewing the type of food fed to a pet. Some people follow fads - like raw meat diets, or grain-free foods - in the mistaken belief that these are the only correct way to feed dogs. The truth is that every dog should be treated like an individual. For some dogs, these diets may be ideal, but other dogs thrive on different diets: some do well on dry kibble of various brands, others do well on sachets of food mixed with biscuits. The best answer is to start by choosing a diet that comes recommended by a reliable source: perhaps your vet, maybe a dog-loving friend or just somebody else with experience. Be aware that some retail outlets may recommend certain products partly because they stock them: factor this into your decision making. Once you have chosen a diet, make sure that your dog enjoys eating it, and then monitor them. Within a few days, you'll see the effect of the diet on their digestive system: well formed but not too voluminous droppings are a good sign. The broader effect of a new diet takes longer - around 6 weeks - to become fully visible in a dog's appearance and health. So if your dog looks great after this time, with a glossy coat, bright eyes, and a fit, lean appearance, and a well-functioning digestive tract, then you are onto a winner.
Dogs don't need variety in their diet: most pets enjoy eating the same, good quality diet day after day for many years. Indeed, one of the common causes of digestive upsets is a sudden change of diet: if a dog is fed something that they are not familiar with, they can suffer from gastrointestinal upsets.
Some people like the idea of home-cooking for their pets, but be aware that you need to get professional advice for this: it's important that a diet is nutritionally balanced, with the right levels of nutrients. You need to include certain vitamin and mineral supplements. You don't need to do this with commercial diets. These are legally obliged to provide everything your pet needs: pet food manufacturers employ nutritionists to ensure this.
So even if you have a settled adult dog, it's worth reviewing their diet: if you feel they could have more of a spring in their step, more of a glint in their eye, consider a change.
Parasite control is the second area to review, with recommendations varying depending on a dog's lifestyle. For some dogs, a worm dose every three months is enough but if a dog is prone to eating slugs and snails (or chewing grass, which can lead to slugs and snails being accidentally swallowed), then once monthly dosing for lungworm is important. Many people waste money by using inappropriate or ineffective products from supermarkets and pet shops. It's best to ask your vet what's really needed for your dog, and then choose products that meet those needs effectively.
The same applies to external parasite control: what do you do about preventing fleas and ticks? Your vet can help you find the most practical, cost-effective answer.
Vaccinations are important too, and again, these need to be selected on an individual basis: all dogs need puppy vaccines, then a booster one year later, but after that, you need to look at the risks that your dog is exposed to. Do they ever go near rats? If so, a once yearly vaccination against Leptospirosis makes sense. Do they go to boarding kennels or day care? Then an annual Kennel Cough vaccine is needed. Again, your vet will help you put the safest vaccine programme in place.
Next: exercise. As a rule of thumb, dogs should have around half an hour's exercise, twice daily. This keeps them both physically and mentally fit. It's also worth looking at what toys you have for them: a wide range of entertaining accessories for dogs are available, and they can add to a dog's enjoyment of life. From the latest designs of ball chuckers to new styles of interactive chew toys, there's plenty to choose from.
Home dental care is often neglected by owners, and this is worth reviewing too: brushing teeth takes just two minutes twice daily, but evidence shows that dogs with healthy mouths live for significantly longer than those with gum and tooth problems.
Grooming is also worth bringing up to date: new bladed types of grooming tools can make it far easier to keep pets' coats clean and tangle-free,
The last area to think about is pet insurance: this is the best way to prepare for the financial shock of an unexpected illness or accident in a pet, and a wide range of policies are now available to choose from.
Just as many people review their own lifestyles from time to time, it makes sense to do the same for your dog.