Our animals don't just make us happier; they also make us healthier, and we do the same for them.
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Build a Bond
Dogs need to play for emotional, mental, and physical stimulation, and it's an excellent way to bond with them. Consider your dog breed's innate traits. For instance, retrievers were bred to run and hunt, so they might like playing fetch or hide-and-seek with their toys. You can also occasionally hand-feed your dog treats to solidify your connection to him as protector, provider, and caretaker.
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Dogs are curious creatures. While that quality often makes us laugh, it can have disastrous consequences. Some household items are dangerous -- or even fatal -- to animals. Accidents can occur no matter how careful you are, so be prepared with contact information for your vet, the nearest animal emergency room, and the 24-hour ASPCA Poison Control Center (888-426-4435).
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Healthy Feeding Habits
A well-balanced diet is the cornerstone to a puppy's good health. When shopping for the right food, make sure whole ingredients like beef and chicken (as opposed to animal by-products and grain) are at the top of the ingredients list. Also check for the requisite American Feed Control Officials stamp. Instead of rewarding with unhealthy table scraps, treat your dog with fresh fruits and vegetables or a chew toy.
Photography: Isabelle Francais/The American Kennel Club, Inc.4 of 16
Start a healthy routine by making time to exercise your dog each day, especially in the early months when puppies have a lot of energy. Take lengthy walks at the beginning and end of each day to expend energy and ensure good sleeping habits. In the warm months, swimming is another good way to keep your puppy active.
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Find the Right Medical Care
It's crucial to the health and well-being of your pet that you choose a good veterinarian, as well as an animal hospital that is conveniently located, clean, and open during off hours. Before obtaining your pet talk to friends, breeders, and neighbors to find a list of potential candidates. Remember that the law requires several vaccinations including routine rabies and distemper inoculations.
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Photography: Jens Mortensen6 of 16
Giving Puppies Pills
Getting a dog to swallow a pill can be difficult, especially if you've got a new, ever-excitable puppy. Ask your vet for flavored tablets or a tasty liquid to make the process easier. If this is not possible, the trick is to get the pill over the base of your dog's tongue. Then quickly hold his mouth closed and gently puff a breath of air into his nostrils to help him swallow reflexively.
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How much cold your dog can tolerate depends on his size and the thickness of his coat, among other factors. Watch your dog for signs of discomfort. Is he shivering? Whining? He's probably cold. Have him fitted for a coat that covers his back and abdomen. Pets lose most of their body heat from the bottoms of their feet, ears, and respiratory tract. And even a well-dressed pup will catch a chill if he stays outside too long.
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Cold-Weather Paw Care
Take care of your pup's paws during the winter. Use dog booties to guard against injury: Snow and ice can cut the pads of dogs' feet, and salt can cause painful stinging. Antifreeze is also a risk; the substance is toxic, and licking it off can harm pets. If you don't outfit her with shoes, wipe her paw pads well when you get home. When de-icing, use a nontoxic, salt-free snow-melter like Safe Paw Ice Melter. Soothe weather-worn paws with natural protective wax like Musher's Secret to prevent salt burn.
Photography: Diane Artist9 of 16
Dog Days of Summer
Dogs have a different cooling system than humans, so it's important to understand how to keep them comfortable when the weather heats up. To release heat, dogs pant and sweat a little through their paw pads. To avoid a risk, play in shaded areas, keep an eye out for excessive panting, and carry a canteen of water during walks. If your dog looks overheated, cool him with water or head to a vet in extreme cases.
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Prevent Kennel Cough
A vaccine is the only way to protect your dog from kennel cough, or bordetella, a highly infectious respiratory illness spread among dogs through sneezes and saliva. The vaccine must be given annually, so keep your dog's shots up to date. Despite its name, it's not likely that your pup will get bordetella at a kennel, as reputable establishments require vaccination. More likely, exposure comes from neighborhood pooches whose vaccination has lapsed. Symptoms -- a persistent, hacking cough and a runny nose -- can take up to two weeks to surface. If you see signs of kennel cough in your pet, limit contact with other dogs and take him to the vet for medicine to ease the symptoms, which last 7 to 10 days.
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When puppies are still young and curious, you never know what kind of trouble they'll get up to. Just in case, keep a doggy first-aid kit stocked and ready with tweezers, plunge syringes, antiseptic wipes, bandages, hydrogen peroxide, and antibacterial ointment, among other items. In case of a garbage raid, feed your pup white bread and butter to pass the ingested material, but if concerned with toxic substance contact, call poison control immediately.
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All dogs need to be brushed to maintain good health. Regular brushing increases your chances of discovering fleas, ticks, or lumps that could endanger your pet's health. Brush long-haired dogs every day and short-haired ones weekly. Always brush in the opposite direction of hair growth, starting at the skin and moving outward. If you're comfortable doing so, trim your dog's toenails. (It's best to have your vet demonstrate the technique first.) Bathe him when you don't like the way he smells, but don't do it so often that his skin gets flaky from too much soap and water.
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Flea season is always a challenge, and choosing the right flea prevention can be too. Some flea-fighting products contain organophosphates (OPs) and carbamate, insecticides linked with health problems in humans. Exposure to even small amounts of these chemicals, over long periods of time, can be particularly damaging to young pets and children. As an alternative, do not use human products. Instead, for a nontoxic approach to fighting fleas, wash your dog with pet-friendly hypoallergenic shampoo and launder his bedding weekly. Use a flea comb daily and kill any fleas that come off your animal's coat by dipping them into soapy water.
Photography: Diane Lewis/The American Kennel Club, Inc.14 of 16
Vets recommend brushing your pet's teeth as often as you can -- every day, if possible -- and start having his or her teeth cleaned professionally at age one. If your dog puts up a lot of resistance when brushing, ease into the process by wrapping your finger in gauze and putting it gently into the dog's mouth, running your finger along its teeth and gums. Some vets recommend a yearly cleaning, but if your pet has good teeth, it may be less frequent.
Check your pet for dental problems by lifting the lip to see if the teeth are discolored or the gums are red and inflamed. Other symptoms may include loss of appetite, favoring one side of the mouth, spitting out food, eating more slowly, and swollen cheeks.
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Get a Healthy Coat
One of the best ways to keep your dog's coat silky and soft is to add flaxseed oil to his or her diet. You'll find it at most health food stores, but you can also make your own. Obtain some flaxseeds and a mortar and pestle (a food processor will also do the job). The amount of flaxseed you should give a dog depends on its weight; 1/2 teaspoon per 10 pounds body weight is a suitable ratio. Put the flaxseed into the mortar and grind thoroughly. Then, add it to your dog's food.
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Photography: Kira Sexton/The American Kennel Club, Inc.16 of 16
How to Tell if Your Pet is Sick
Pay attention to your pet's mucus membranes of the eyes and gums, which should be pale pink. If they're very light in color, it could be an early sign that your pet is suffering from a heart or other circulation problem. To measure your pet's circulation response time (CRT), lift its upper lip and press your thumb against the gum area over the teeth for 5 seconds or until the gum area blanches white. The area should go back to pink in one second after you release your thumb -- any longer may be the sign of a problem.