8 Tips for a Healthy Dog

Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP
By Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP on Sep. 28, 2023
A tricolor Australian Shepherd smiles with an autumn backdrop.

You’ve just adopted a dog, and you’re looking for as many doggie tips as you can.

You want to avoid any issues, and you’re excited to keep your dog happy and comfortable in their new home.

You’re ready to provide your new friend with the best life possible.

If you’re looking for information on nutrition for dogs, joint health, and dental care, you’ve come to the right place.

1. Make a Nutrition Plan for Your Dog

One of the most common problems veterinarians diagnose is malnutrition in dogs. Malnutrition means that your dog isn’t eating what they should be. It’s important to understand what food is best for your pup—and there are many choices to pick from.

Discuss potential dog foods with your veterinarian.

They may recommend over-the-counter food, or they may suggest a prescription diet for your dog if they have certain dietary or health needs. This often depends on the age, breed, and overall health of your dog.

Typically, a healthy dog won’t need supplements if you’re feeding them the correct diet. However, if your pup does have health problems such as joint issues, heart, or kidney disease, your vet may recommend supplements to your dog’s prescribed diet.

2. Keep Your Pup at a Healthy Weight

A key factor in the long-term health of your dog is whether they are the right weight for their breed and body. This is determined by body condition scoring (BCS), which evaluates the fat and muscles of your pet.

For example, when you gently run your hands down your dog when they’re standing, can you feel their ribs without pressing in?

If so, this is typically considered normal. If you must press your fingers in, chances are good your pup is carrying some extra weight. If you can feel the bumps between each of your dog’s ribs, this probably means that they’re too skinny.

Ask your veterinarian at your next visit what the BCS for your pup is, and how that compares to the standard. Knowing your dog’s BCS is important.

If your dog has extra weight, it can lead to damage to their joints and organs over time, making them prone to arthritis, lameness, heart diseases, diabetes, and many other health problems.

3. How to Maintain General Health

It’s important to catch health issues early. Here are a few steps you can take to help your pup maintain good health and stay in shape between their regular checkups.

Dental Health

Dental health is important, but can often be overlooked.

Cleaning your dog’s gums and tissue around the teeth is a critical part of having a happy pup.

Bacteria in the mouth can get into the bloodstream and cause diseases in other organs, such as the heart or kidneys.

Brushing your dog’s teeth daily is key to keeping their body healthy. Ask your vet for advice and tips on how to most effectively brush your pup’s teeth.

Joint Health

As dogs get older, the wear and tear on their joints can become obvious.

You may notice that your pup is exhibiting stiffness, lameness while walking or after exercise, or just generally slowing down.

Keeping your dog at an ideal weight as a pup and as they age can be critical in maintaining joint health.

Even if your dog is starting to show signs of joint problems, exercise is important to keep the muscles strong and the joints lubricated.

Instead of a long walk, it might mean a short one instead. If there are stairs in and out of the house, you may need to switch to a ramp.

Many older dogs can benefit from swimming during the summer months to avoid impact on their joints while still building muscle. There are also many helpful joint supplements that can help maximize your dog’s joint life.

Flea and Tick Prevention

Fleas and ticks are a problem throughout the U.S., both seasonally and year-round.

These little parasites carry several diseases that can result in long-term illness. Not only do these diseases impact our four-legged friends, but they can also harm us.

It’s important to implement flea and tick control and prevention for your entire family. 

Your vet will be able to help you select a product that is optimal for the part of the country you live in and the lifestyle of your pet.

Using these products as directed is a very simple and straightforward way to take a big step to keep your dog—and family—healthy.

Heartworm Prevention

Heartworm is another parasite of concern. This tiny roundworm is transmitted by mosquitoes. Both indoor and outdoor pets can be affected by this parasite.

Thankfully, several medications are available that are effective in heartworm prevention for both dogs and cats. Heartworm is a problem that is much easier to prevent than to treat.


It’s strongly recommended that pet parents should spay/neuter their furry companions for several reasons.

Females that go through heat are vulnerable to infection of the uterus, also called a pyometra.  These infections are often severe, and most of the time the only effective treatment is emergency surgery, which is expensive and risky.

Unneutered males are prone to developing testicular and prostatic diseases and cancers.

Additionally, both sexes can have unwanted changes in behavior, such as peeing in the house, roaming, reactivity, and antisocial tendencies.

Speak to your vet about spaying/neutering and at what age your dog can safely have the procedure.

4. Keep Their Coat Clean

Frequent grooming is important for all dogs. It helps maintain a healthy coat and can also help you to identify health problems early.

When you brush your pup’s coat regularly (at least a few times per week) you help to avoid mats, remove loose hair before it’s swallowed (or winds up on the sofa), and can look for lumps, bumps, sores, redness, and parasites like fleas and ticks.

As part of their overall grooming and good hygiene, remember to trim your dog’s nails weekly.

Use a cleaner approved by your vet to clean your pooch’s ears and check for any signs of ear infection.

These grooming sessions can be fun and enjoyable for you and your pup—and can help you find any hidden problems before they surface.

5. Stay Up to Date on Vaccines

Vaccines are an important part of keeping your pup happy and healthy, but not every dog needs every vaccination. 

At your annual wellness visit, your vet will want to understand your dog’s vaccine history and their current lifestyle.

There are core vaccines as well as elective vaccines, which are only recommended for some pups. Discussing the risks and benefits of these vaccines with your vet can help you determine the best choices for your pet. 

Dogs that are out and about—visiting dog parks, kennels, training classes, and play groups—will need more vaccines than dogs that never leave the yard. But all dogs need their core vaccines.

Speak with your vet about your dog’s vaccine needs at their next visit.

6. Mental and Physical Exercise is The Key

Exercise is important for our canine companions. It’s good for them physically, and it also helps to provide mental stimulation and gives them something to look forward to.

 Activities like trips to the dog park, the beach, or a favorite hiking trail are great ways to bond and exercise with your fur baby. Don’t forget those rainy days, too!

There are plenty of games and puzzles available to keep your dog engaged while everyone stays safe and dry!

7. Schedule Routine Check-Ups with Your Veterinarian

Establish a good relationship with your pup’s vet and make sure to schedule their annual visits. Depending on age and any health conditions, they may need to visit the vet more than once a year. Before heading to your next appointment:

  • Be sure to bring in a list of your questions and concerns to your vet. This helps to identify problems early.

  • Bring photos to go along with your questions so you can remember exactly which brand of food you are giving your dog, what supplements they’re using, and any over-the-counter products you might have questions about. Most vet staff appreciate having details to work with to be sure that they’re making the best recommendations for your pet.

  • Go over all the routine preventative care for your dog, including vaccines, parasite control, diet, and nutrition. This strategy will help your pup live a long, healthy, happy life.

8. When to Call Your Vet

If you have a gut feeling that there’s something wrong with your dog, speak with your vet. Animals are often good at hiding signs of illness.

If your fur baby is feeling off, not eating like they normally do, or you notice something strange on them, like a certain smell, it’s better to be proactive.

Often, your vet can give basic advice over the phone as to whether something needs to be checked immediately or can be monitored over time.  

Take note of the location and phone number of your nearest vet emergency clinic and the hours it is open, so you know who to call in an emergency.

Additionally, keep a first aid kit in your home and in your car. Being a proactive pet parent will help your pup throughout all stages of their life.  

Featured Image: Stock.adobe.com/Jess Wealleans

Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP


Sandra C. Mitchell, DVM, DABVP


Sandra Mitchell is a 1995 graduate of the New York State College of Veterinary Medicine. Since graduation, she has worked in many fields...

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