How to Keep Medium-Sized Dogs Healthy at Every Life Stage

Katy Nelson, DVM
Sep 08, 2020
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Medium-sized dogs are the perfect size between small dogs and large-breed dogs. They can still be lap dogs, but they can play like bigger dogs, which appeals to many pet parents.

Medium dog breeds require regular exercise, balanced nutrition, routine health care, and mental stimulation. Here are some tips for how to take care of dogs that fall within the range of medium-sized dog breeds.

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What Is the Weight Range for Medium-Sized Dogs?

Medium-sized dogs range from 20-60 pounds. Some can be smaller or bigger depending on their gender and genetics. The terrier, hound, sporting, non-sporting, and working-breed groups are often represented in this size category. 

Along with an endless variety of medium mixed-breed dogs, this category includes:

What Health Issues Do Medium-Sized Dogs Have?

The most frequently seen health issues of medium-sized dogs may involve the joints, eyes, skin, or heart.

Common health issues in medium-sized dogs include:

Other medium-sized dogs may develop:

How Long Do Medium-Sized Dogs Live?

The average life span of a medium-sized dog is 12-15 years. They age slower than large dog breeds and have nearly the same life expectancy as small dog breeds.

Some individuals may live longer depending on their genetics, as well as the nutrition and preventative care they receive during their lifetime.

How to Keep Medium-Sized Dogs Healthy at Each Life Stage

Each life stage has specific requirements to ensure the health of medium-sized dogs.

Medium-Sized Puppy: 0-12 Months

Puppy-proof your home so that it is safe for your exploring puppy. Remove small objects that could be swallowed, and prevent access to steps or pools with a dog gate.

Providing a safe space such as a crate for your puppy to sleep in will ensure that they are not getting into trouble when unattended. This will also help with potty training. Be sure to choose a crate with a removable divider that will fit your puppy now but also be large enough for your medium dog’s adult size.

Here’s a guide for keeping your puppy healthy.

Nutritional Needs

The nutritional needs of medium-sized puppies begin with nursing the mother dog’s milk or being bottle-fed with a puppy milk replacer.

They are gradually weaned and transitioned to a well-balanced puppy diet that is labeled for growth and development beginning at 3-4 weeks of age and ending at 6-8 weeks of age.

Initially, medium-sized puppies should be fed three servings per day, and then you can go down to two servings per day by 10 weeks of age. This is an individual process; some puppies will take longer and some will take less time, so be patient.

Here are some medium-breed puppy food examples:

Supplements

Your puppy should not need any necessary supplements if they are on a well-balanced puppy diet. Giving additional vitamins and minerals during bone development may create joint and muscle problems.

If your puppy has diarrhea after weaning, you can add a probiotic supplement to their puppy food to help with feces formation.

Medical Needs

General health care guidelines for medium-sized puppies mirror those of smaller or larger puppies.

Vet Care

A veterinarian should examine your puppy as soon as possible once you adopt them to determine their health status and whether they have any developmental or hereditary conditions. This is a great time for you to ask any questions you might have about your puppy and their health.

During your puppy’s vet visits, it is customary for your veterinarian to perform fecal testing for parasites and to administer deworming medication, vaccinations, and preventative medication as recommended.

Vaccines

A series of vaccinations should begin at 6-8 weeks of age and repeat every three to four weeks until 16 weeks of age.

The initial vaccines consist of a combination of distemper virus, adenovirus (hepatitis), parainfluenza virus, and parvovirus, also called the DHPP or DAPP vaccine. They are given in two or three doses separated by three or four weeks, depending on what age they begin.

Another required vaccination is for the rabies virus. Only one dose is initially given at this time, and it is usually required by law.

Optional vaccinations will depend on your puppy’s lifestyle and potential exposure. These may include leptospirosis, Bordetella (kennel cough), and Lyme disease, usually given as two initial doses three or four weeks apart.

Dental Care

Teething occurs for the first six months of life until your puppy’s adult teeth have broken through their gums. Proper teething toys that are made for puppies can help ease your puppy’s pain and spare your things from being chewed up.

You should establish a good dental routine that includes brushing your puppy’s teeth to delay tartar buildup and prevent future dental disease.

Here are some products you can try:

Spay/Neuter

The earliest recommendation on when to spay or neuter medium-sized dogs is after their adult teeth have erupted, which is around 6 months of age. There are also benefits to waiting until after they have finished growing, or around 8 months to 1 year of age.

Parasite Prevention

Flea and tick preventative medication can be started after your puppy’s first vaccination visit. This is a good time to begin heartworm prevention as well. Some products are combined for convenience of administration. Each product has a minimum age requirement, which could be from 4 weeks up to 6 months, so ask your veterinarian which is best for your puppy.

Mental and Physical Stimulation

Taking your puppy for regular walks outside will help provide exercise and mental stimulation and will help with successful potty training. Puppies should be socialized early with their siblings, then with other animals and people as they are removed from the mother dog and their litter.

You can also start training your puppy as early as 8 weeks of age, teaching them how to follow simple cues and how to walk on a leash. Make sure your puppy gets plenty of playtime with puzzle toys and games of fetch.

Here are some toys to try that are safe for puppies:

Adult Medium-Sized Dogs: 12 months – 8 years

The general health of medium-sized adult dogs is straightforward once routines are established. Here are some guidelines for your dog’s adult stage of life.

Nutritional Needs

By the time they reach 1 year of age, medium-sized dogs will no longer be growing, and they are considered to be adult dogs.

This means they no longer need a puppy diet and should be gradually transitioned to an adult diet. Mix a little of the adult dog food with the puppy food daily, increasing the amount each day until it is completely replaced within a week.

The adult dog diet should continue until your medium-sized dog reaches 7-8 years of age. Then you will gradually transition your dog to a senior diet.

Here are some adult dog food diets:

Supplements

Supplements that may help during your medium dog’s adult life stage will depend on their individual needs:

  • A glucosamine/chondroitin supplement is helpful for medium dog breeds with degenerative joint problems.

  • An omega-3 fatty acid/fish oil supplement will help with dry or itchy skin.

  • A dog probiotic supplement will help regulate digestion and fecal consistency.

Here are some recommendations for supplements:

Medical Needs

Your dog will still need regular vet visits to check for health issues, keep up with preventative care, and get certain vaccinations.

Veterinary Care

You should take your adult dog to the vet annually. Veterinary exams will include vaccines and a fecal exam. A heartworm test should be performed annually to semi-annually, depending on the risk of exposure and whether the medication has been given consistently.

Tell your vet about any changes you’ve noticed in your dog’s health or behavior so they can be evaluated to find the underlying cause.

Common ailments in adult dogs include urinary tract infections, ear infections, allergies, skin infections, bladder stones, growths, and various eye problems.

Vaccines

Vaccinations are initially repeated one year after the final puppy vaccines. Then the DHPP and the rabies vaccines are repeated every three years. The optional leptospirosis, Lyme disease, and Bordetella (kennel cough) vaccines may be repeated on an annual or semi-annual basis.

Dental Care

The first professional dental cleaning under anesthesia is usually needed when you can see tartar or smell bad breath. Most adult dogs are ready by the time they are 6 years of age. Breeds with longer fur on their muzzles may need a dental cleaning earlier.

Regular preventative care that’s begun early in your dog’s life or before tartar buildup occurs can delay the need for dental cleanings. Brush your dog’s teeth with a soft-bristled dog toothbrush or gauze wrapped around your finger plus an enzymatic toothpaste or plain water. Doing this two to three times weekly on the upper, outer teeth surfaces is sufficient to delay plaque from turning into tartar.

Here are a few dental care products to try:

Spay/Neuter

Since spaying and neutering is an elective procedure, dogs that remain intact into adulthood will experience the hormonal effects of their reproductive organs.

Males may become more territorial and aggressive with a desire to wander, looking for females to breed with. As they advance in age, they may experience the urinary effects of an enlarged prostate gland.

Females will come into heat every six months unless fixed or bred. Most will have a noticeable swelling of the vulva followed by a bloody vaginal discharge. Any contact with an intact male may result in pregnancy.

Toward the end of pregnancy, the mammary glands will develop in preparation for nursing. As female dogs get older, they run the risk of developing an infected uterus, known as pyometra, after a heat cycle. Some older female dogs can develop cancerous growths on their mammary glands as they age.

Parasite Prevention

You should continue preventative flea, tick, and heartworm medication all year to prevent parasite problems.

Mental and Physical Stimulation

You need to continue to provide mental and physical stimulation through your medium-sized dog’s adult stage. Take your dog for daily walks outside and give them treat-dispensing toys for a lasting diversion.

Breeds that have high energy or high intelligence may need more activity. You could try simple games of fetch or more advanced activities like agility courses, tracking, or dock-diving.

Here are some toys to try with your adult dog:

Senior Medium-Sized Dogs: 8 – 16 years

Recognizing your medium-sized dog’s senior needs will help them thrive in their later years.

The gradual transition to becoming a senior dog may go unnoticed, but here are a few telltale signs that indicate the changes:

  • The coat color on their muzzle or face may have turned gray/white.

  • Their eyes may have a cloudiness inside their pupils.

  • They may not hear as well as they used to, and you may see them startle to wake when they feel vibrations rather than hear sounds.

  • A reduction in energy or activity will be observed, with less endurance for activity and reduced playfulness.

  • They may be slow to rise or have difficulty jumping or climbing. Their mobility may be affected as degenerative joint conditions develop. An orthopedic bed or ramp to the bed or couch will help them find a comfortable location to sleep.

  • With advancing dental disease, their teeth may fall out or become sensitive, making eating more difficult.

  • They often need more frequent potty breaks and can develop incontinence.

  • They may have lack of concentration, demonstrated by staring at walls, aimless barking, or interrupted sleep.

  • Some senior dogs develop changes in thirst or appetite as kidney or liver function fades.

  • Others develop hormonal imbalances like Cushing’s disease, Addison’s disease, or diabetes mellitus.

Nutritional Needs

Your senior dog’s nutritional needs include slightly fewer calories, increased fiber, and a moderate amount of protein. These are usually accomplished by a gradual transition to a senior life-stage diet.

Here are some senior dog formulas:

Supplements

Supplements that would benefit senior medium-sized dogs include glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin for joint health and mobility, as well as essential fatty acids, especially omega-3s, for skin and joint health.

Here are some recommended supplement options:

Medical Needs

Veterinary Care

At minimum, your senior dog needs annual veterinary visits, though some vets prefer to examine senior dogs semi-annually.

A comprehensive blood cell count and chemistry analysis should be performed annually with a heartworm test and fecal exam. Some vets prefer to recheck any abnormal blood results as well as the heartworm and fecal tests semi-annually.

Vaccines

The vaccines that adult dogs need are the same as the vaccines given to younger dogs. Distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza, and parvovirus (DHPP) are given as one vaccination as a booster every three years.

The rabies vaccine is also given every three years. Depending on their risk of exposure through common dog areas, the Bordetella vaccine for kennel cough or the canine influenza vaccines may be boostered annually or semi-annually.

Leptospirosis and Lyme vaccines are given optionally as annual boosters depending on the dog’s risk of exposure.

Dental Care

Dental cleanings should be performed when the tartar buildup is pronounced on the teeth, and the gums appear reddened. This is usually accompanied by bad breath.

Any sensitivity in your dog’s teeth might be evident if your dog is dropping food from their mouth or refusing to eat dry food. This may indicate that a dental cleaning with possible extractions is needed.

Parasite Prevention

Flea and tick medication should be continued if there are no side effects. These could include local skin reactions to topical medications or seizures, or changes in blood tests if your dog takes tablets or chews.

Mental and Physical Stimulation

Mental and physical stimulation remains important in your senior medium-sized dog’s life.

Regular walks outside will help keep muscles toned and can help compensate for painful joints. Swimming is another great exercise that does not put a strain on joints. And treat-dispensing toys can keep your senior dog entertained and mentally sharp.

Making sure that your dog has social interaction with people or other pets will keep them mentally sharp as they age.

Try these treat-dispensing toys for senior dogs:

End of Life Care

Despite our best efforts to care for aging dogs, there may come a time when their quality of life declines.

This is a confusing time, since senior dogs will have good days mixed with the bad days, even after medical intervention. They may be a result of advancing arthritis, cognitive decline, progressing organ failure, or terminal cancer, among other conditions.

One way to clear the confusion is to track the days on a calendar with a smiley face or thumbs up for good days, and the opposite for bad days. If the trend is showing more bad days than good days, it might be time to consider euthanasia. This is a peaceful way to help a declining or terminally ill pet end their suffering.

The quality of life scale may also help to determine whether the time to say goodbye is approaching. The minimum quality of life requirements are that your dog can eat and drink to sustain themselves, and can get up out of their excrement if they are incontinent.

Beyond this, your veterinarian can help you with this decision and help you determine objectively when it is time based on what is best for your pet.

Featured Image: iStock.com/bernardbodo

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