Regular Check Ups and Vaccines
Loading your pooch in the car for their regular check ups might make for a barky car ride, but they’ll be happier in the end. Get on a heartworm preventative regime—it’s much easier (and inexpensive) to prevent than treat. (And yes, they’ll need it, even in California.) Many local vets offer care plans that cover check-ups and vaccines for a monthly fee. Confusingly, this is different from pet insurance, which might—but often doesn’t—cover preventative visits.
Dogs don’t obsessively self-clean like cats, so someone’s got to get that pup in some water. Depending how wet you feel like getting, check out our list of DIY dog-washing spaces, or groomers who’ll do a wash and pro clip. If you go it alone, use dog shampoo—human products will disrupt the dog’s natural defenses, leaving them more vulnerable to parasites and bacteria. As for, um, anal glands: many dogs will keep them clean naturally just by pooping (more fiber helps), but signs of a problem include scooting, bloody stool, swelling or just being more attentive to their bums than usual. And keep nails clipped (or outsource the job) to make sure they aren’t causing pain and to reduce chance of rips or breaks.
Treat for Fleas
The battle of dogs vs. fleas continues as it has for over 31,000 years when the first known dog started scratching wildly behind its ears. Here in SoCal our good weather means we need to treat for those little pests year-round. What’s the best defense? Depends. If you have an active dog, a water-resistant flea collar could last for months. For convenience and easy application, try a topical treatment. Pills and chewables will most likely require a prescription—have your vet crosscheck for interference with other meds. For less chemically options, ask your vet—common Internet-recommended remedies like tea tree oil and garlic can actually be dangerous.
Just like humans, dogs should get a professional cleaning every six months and x-rays every couple of years to avoid pain and infections that can harm the rest of their bodies. If your dog has mobile teeth, bone loss or needs extractions, they’ll need anesthesia, but healthy dogs can get a cleaning without, says Rebecca Engstrom of Qualified Pet Dental, which offers anesthesia-free cleanings. Brush their teeth at home as well. Start getting puppies used to you mucking about in their mouths when they’re very young—about 3 months. Once both of you get used to it, you should brush their teeth every day, or if you’re slacking, three times a week. Human toothpastes aren’t healthy for dogs so pick up a dog-specific paste in flavors like (ack!) poultry and seafood. And don’t think you can just toss them a dental chew every once in a while and be done with it. “We see a lot of pets inhaling those, so owners are using them as a very expensive treat,” says Engstrom.
Spay or Neuter, Why?
Spaying or neutering your dog reduces pet overpopulation, but it’s also healthier for your pet because it prevents certain diseases, even some cancers. It’ll also give your pet some chill—an un-”fixed” animal is more likely to be aggressive or moody, just like a hormonal teenager. It’s a quick procedure with an easy recovery, and if you’re worried about it being a pocketbook stretcher, check out Petsguide’s list of low-cost options for spaying and neutering. (Some are even free, if you’re eligible!)
Diet and Weight Management
A healthy dog should have an hourglass figure—if you stand over them, you’ll see a waist. (If you have a fluff ball, you should be able to feel their ribs.) If your pet needs to drop a few, the simplest way to start is to feed them smaller portions. Make sure they’re eating high-quality, healthy food. If that’s not working, look for sources of hidden calories. Are they eating out of another pet’s bowl? Is someone in the house (maybe even youuuuu) sneaking them people food?
Keep that doggo happy and healthy by keeping them active. A walk around the block is a classic, but if you’re thinking outside the walk, check out our Dog Sports & Fitness section or dog parks and beaches.