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Top Tips For Keeping Your Dog Healthy & Happy

Updated on September 24, 2009
My dog, Dragon.
My dog, Dragon.

Top Tips For Keeping Your Dog Healthy & Happy

1. Love your dog like he/she is an extension of your own soul! That is how they love you.

2. Never, ever strike your dog. We all get angry at times -- but just like with children, the second you hit them, they will forever lose that secure and trusting feeling of "You would never hurt me." And they may start to cower the next time you yell, or even get scared when you approach them to pet them. You should be firm and assertive when their behavior requires it [such as pinning a violent dog on his side until he calms down (showing that you are in control, and not him...which will make him listen to you), or gently tapping a dog's side with your foot to regain his attention when he is growling at another dog], but avoid actually hitting them. Think, "What would a dog pack leader do? Would he hit another dog? Or just snap at it to put the misbehaving dog back in its place?" Answer: He would probably just "snap" at it for quick behavioral correction.

And always keep in mind whether your dog is actually misbehaving, or NOT. For example, my dog gets really freaked out during July 4th fireworks. She cowers, tail tucked between her legs, and then attempts to climb up my face as if to get on top of my head! (And she's a big dog!) It's not her fault, I know, so I do not punish her. I just calm her down with peaceful attention and snuggles, but I don't let her climb on my face! There are ways to constructively train your dog to overcome such behaviors (as mentioned below in Tip # 14).

3. Avoid getting angry around your dog. (Ideally, avoid getting angry - ever!) Dogs get stressed out, just like people do. Fighting or yelling around your dog can make them scared and nervous, and they can suffer breakdowns and stress disorders just like we do. Think of how upset children get when they hear or see their parents fighting and screaming in the other room. Dogs are like our children.

4. Feed your dog as healthy as possible. Ideally, you should feed your dog protein and vegetables (such as chicken or lamb stew with carrots, apples, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, fennel seed, garlic, oregano, and celtic sea salt). Healthy food makes healthy pets! If you can afford organic, that's even better! Dried food is high in carbohydrates, and can therefore lead to obesity if your pet does not get enough exercise. Canned food is much better than dried, and has a higher water content good for body hydration; unfortunately, it is more expensive. I feed my dog Nutro Ultra Holistic Superfood Senior canned food, which is $1.78 a can -- two cans a day. I switch it up whenever feasible by feeding chicken (or lamb) and veggie stew instead, or combined: a can of Nutro Ultra Holistic for breakfast, and stew for dinner.

If you must use dried or canned, always read the ingredients list. Look for meat "meal" as the first ingredient (such as chicken meal); the "meal" means the chicken was cooked down first, prior to including it in the order of ingredients. If just plain "chicken" is the first ingredient, then that doesn't mean chicken is actually the first ingredient because if the manufacturer counted raw chicken as the main ingredient, then it won't be the main ingredient anymore after it is cooked down, because meat shrinks when it cooks. Also check for artificial junk, additives, sugar, and the like -- things you don't want your doggy to eat. (Things YOU shouldn't eat!)

Keep in mind that if dogs lived in the wild (as they used to), they would not be eating canned or dried manufactured food in nature. What would they eat? My dog loves raw apples (sliced and peeled), raw cucumber slices, and steamed carrots, broccoli, butternut squash, sweet potato, and green beans! But be careful to research before you feed your dog a fruit or vegetable -- some can be harmful. Grapes and onions, for examples, are NOT good for dogs!

5. Comb/brush your dog daily. Mats and tangles can become very painful, lead to "chew spots," and even worse -- failing to comb your dog daily can allow fleas and ticks to infest your pooch...and your home. My dog has very long hair, and I am able to use a fine flea comb on her (also known as a grooming comb). It keeps fleas at bay, and keeps her nicely groomed.

6. Brush your dog's teeth daily. You don't have to use a toothbrush -- in fact, I've always personally found them difficult to use on my dogs. Instead, try a moist washcloth or gauze pad! (This works decent on human teeth, too -- ever forget your toothbrush?) Simply rub the moist washcloth or gauze pads on the dog's teeth using your finger. And your finger is usually much easier to use than a bulky toothbrush. My dog seems to like the personal touch better. You can use just water, but a good dog toothpaste is always more effective for cleaning the teeth and neutralizing bacteria.

If you let your dog's teeth go bad, your poor dog may lose teeth later in life, or suffer from gum and/or tooth rot, which makes feeding time painful and difficult. Some owners have put their dogs to sleep because the dog couldn't eat dog food anymore. [NOTE: If this ever happens to you, don't forget about the blender or food processor! You can simply blend canned food, or make chicken and veggie "mush" for your dog. Just like humans, dogs don't necessarily need teeth to eat!]

Another good reason to clean your dog's teeth daily is: If you don't, you may need to take your dog for annual dental cleanings and tooth extractions. And these cost big bucks! At my vet, dental cleanings cost up to $600 if you need a tooth extracted. So keep those teeth plaque-free! Clean teeth and healthy gums = cheaper annual dental ($300).

7. Bathe your dog regularly. I wash mine once a week using warm water and a gentle, natural oatmeal shampoo. I was her outside by hauling large pots of warm water from the kitchen (it takes about six trips) and, using a large cup, pouring water all over her. When I'm short on time, I use the garden hose; but warm water is essential to ensure the shampoo gets completely rinsed off. My current favorite shampoo is Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day Oatmeal Pet Shampoo (smells like chamomile), and Earth Bath also makes a good variety of natural environmentally-friendly shampoos that work and smell great, like Orange Peel Oil, Mango Tango, and Oatmeal and Aloe. When buying shampoos, make sure to read the ingredients list to check for harmful chemicals (ideally, only buy natural products). And even with natural shampoo, avoid getting soap in the eyes! It will burn and irritate them.

Conditioner of some sort is a good idea. Personally, I don't use bottled conditioner -- instead, I mix a few drops of eucalyptus oil with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, put a little in my hands and lightly massage through my dog's coat. (Go easy on the oil, though! Start with only a little, or the fur will get too oily.) Olive oil is great because if you put it on immediately after the bath while the fur is still slightly wet, it will absorb in the fur nicely (and is great for dry skin). Eucalyptus oil is a natural repellent for fleas and ticks. But you must mix it with a gentle oil base (like olive oil, or jojoba oil) because straight eucalyptus oil is too strong and will irritate the skin. Eucalyptus oil can be found at any natural health food store.

8. Help keep your pet free of pesky fleas and ticks. As mentioned above, regular combing, bathing, and eucalyptus oil rubs can help. But another great natural tip is found! Garlic and oregano can help. Brewer's yeast is supposed to be another great holistic choice, though I haven't personally tried it yet. You can simply add these items to the dog's food. Whenever I make a pot of chicken/veggie stew for my dog (makes 4 servings), I always add 2 large cloves (or 4 small cloves) of finely chopped fresh garlic, and about 2 teaspoons of dried oregano.

Another fun option is to make a fabric "necklace" stuffed with dried oregano and rosemary (both are known holistic flea repellents). While this "necklace" alone is not 100% effective, it helps in conjunction with the other methods, and it smells great! Simply sew a 1" thick tube of any style fabric (such as cotton, or an old T-shirt or pillowcase), stuff the tube with dried oregano and rosemary, sew the ends shut, and fasten around your dog's neck using a baby-safe safety pin, sewing a button and loop on, velcro, button snap, or even sewing both ends together with a small piece of elastic between them (I use the elastic method, so I can stretch it over her head). You can use fresh rosemary for the necklace, since rosemary is naturally "woody" anyway. Just chop it up a bit so it doesn't poke your dog through the fabric.

As a last resort, if you still have fleas after all of this -- buy the monthly toxic stuff from your vet (e.g., Advantix), and make sure you apply it where your dog cannot lick it (on the back of his/her neck).

9. Groom your dog's nails regularly. Ideally, do this every time you bathe your dog. When a dog's nails are allowed to get really long, the quick (the inner cuticle that bleeds when you cut the nail too short) grows long with the nail. If you keep the nails constantly short, the quick will stay short, too.

Don't EVER cut the nail too short intentionally! (Too short = you made the nail bleed.) This is extremely painful for the dog, it will bleed everywhere, and it will make them NOT like nail-trim time! I used to be less-than-careful with nail-trim time, and a few times I cut my dog's nails too short. For the next few YEARS she would RUN and HIDE when she saw the nail trimmers. It took a long time to regain the trust. I learned from a dog groomer that you don't have to cut the entire end off at one time -- instead, you can trim a little off the tip, a little off the right side, a little off the left side...and if you still can't see the quick, then you can cut a little tiny bit more off the tip, side, side, and so on.

How do you know if you can cut more? Well, not all dog's nails are the same. But in my experience, I know I can cut more if my dog's nails are dry and crumbly at the bottom. When they start to look solid, flat, and shiny at the bottom, then I stop. On my dog (who has black nails), the quick looks like a shiny black ball in the center of the nail shaft. It's often trial-and-error with your own dog, but the most important thing I learned is: Only take a LITTLE BIT off at a time.

Also, if you're not sure if you're "too close" to the quick, you can always bust out the nail file! In fact, a buffing block is wonderful for dog's nails because it smooths away the roughness, sharpness, and unevenness that dog nail cutters can leave behind. Think of a drummel tool, or that fancy new dog nail grinder advertised on TV. Now, imagine simply doing it by hand with a buffing block or file. Much cheaper, and just as good.

Note: If you do cut a nail too short and make it bleed, then apply firm pressure to the tip until it stops bleeding.

10. Keep your dog's ears clean! Imagine if your own ears were so dirty and gunky that they constantly itched, got infected and swollen, and even infested with mites because you never cleaned them! Gross. Now imagine how our dogs would feel, especially since they cannot clean their own ears. Simply buy some ear cleaning solution that is self-drying, squirt in the dog's ears (ideally, before a bath), massage the base of the ear for a minute to help loosen gunk, and allow the dog to shake his/her head out (this will carry the gunk out of the ear canal). Repeat a few more times, if necessary. Most vets don't recommend sticking a Q-tip in the dog's ear (it's not very safe, as dog's will quickly tilt their heads toward the Q-tip because it feels good). You don't want to puncture the eardrum! So better to use several cottonballs to wipe the gunk out. If you must, use a Q-tip for "detail" cleaning in crevices and skin folds. But avoid sticking it deep in the dog's ear.

Your vet should carry a good quality ear solution (I use Oticlean); however, hydrogen peroxide is also very effective at cleaning ear gunk (for humans, too!). But if you use peroxide, 1) be careful not to bleach black fur, and 2) do not pour it in the ear -- instead, soak a cottonball and swap it around the inside of the ear. Depending on how dirty the ear is will depend on how many cottonballs are used! And hopefully, you never allow the ears to get that dirty.

11. Massage your dog frequently. Especially if you dog appears to be in pain, give her/him a nice body massage! Back of the head/neck, legs, hips, lower back, spine, even the feet! After my dog was struck with vestibular syndrome for three weeks, I pampered her with some doggy accupuncture at my vet. The accupuncturist told us that dogs very much enjoy and appreciate massage, and it helps with pain (just like with humans).

Additionally, regular massage can help you discover tumors, growths, ticks, rashes, or other health concerns that may require medical attention.

12. Exercise your dog daily. Just like humans, dogs need exercise. Whether it's a nice long walk morning and evening, or a 30-minute romp with fellow puppies at the dog park, get that pooch some exercise! Even old dogs need a walk (if you allow them to be lazy all the time, they will eventually lose their ability to get up and go potty by themselves). Well, even the best of pups may need potty assistance when they get old. But let's ensure that it is not our fault for neglecting their exercise, eh? We need to provide for our doggies the best we can. If we can't provide what they need to be happy and healthy, then we should not have a dog.

13. Reward your dog every day for being a good girl/boy. You don't always have to do this with treats (in fact, you shouldn't -- or they'll get fat!). You can simply reward them with a big snuggy hug, or a good head rub, belly rub, back rub, under-the-chin rub, etc. Dogs LOVE your attention and affection! Give them plenty of it when they are acting good, and they will know they are doing something right. And most of all, they will know that you love them, too.

If you like to give your dog lots of treats (like I do!), then try to stick with healthy treats (like apple slices, or cooked chicken pieces). Avoid doggy "junk food," which you can easily figure out by reading the ingredients. If the ingredients list is way too long to read, and you don't know half the words on the list, then it's probably not good for your dog. My favorite dog treats are Newman's Own Organic Chicken Treats, and raw apple slices.

14. Show your dog you care by watching videos that will help you provide the best training and influence for your dog, such as Cesar Milan's The Dog Whisperer (I believe this on the National Geographic channel, but you can also find videos online). I know there are many options out there, and even several "Dog Whisperers," so check around and see who/what resonates with you. For us, we enjoy Cesar because we've learned SO much, and our relationship with our dog has improved drastically. She behaves so much better because we now know HOW to be better "pack leaders." Basically, any behavioral problem your dog exhibits is very likely a direct result of something YOU are doing wrong as the owner without even knowing it (such as condoning a bad behavior because you think it's cute or funny). And therefore, the cure is simple -- because you are in control of changing it. Watch, and you will see. Such shows can also help you cure your dog of phobias, panic attacks, self-confidence issues, over-excitability issues, attacking others, and so on.

15. Again: Love your dog like he/she is an extension of your own soul! That is how they love you.


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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Hey you can't feed a dog garlic or onions. They're toxic.


    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Thanks for the wonderful tips I will definitely follow this for my doggies.


      Pawsh Accessories

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      this is the best thing,and the sadest thing iv ever read.............its making me think thet im herting my dog more than i think i am...........i thought i was just teaching her/he a leson to learn

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      What an informative, inspirational read. Thank u

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Very helpfull

    • suziecat7 profile image


      9 years ago from Asheville, NC

      Great Hub for we animal lovers. Thanks.

    • Wildlifelover profile image


      9 years ago

      I agree that was a good read, I rated it up.

    • frogdropping profile image


      9 years ago

      Wow - what an incredibly detailed hub! Top marks for effort! I see you've got a few hubs under your belt now ... been bitten by the bug have you?! It get's easier as you learn the ropes and if you enjoy writing, as you appear to do, it's more of a pleasure than a chore. Great hub and rated up :)


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