6 Ways to Keep Your Dog Healthy in 2012

By Elijah Merrill

6 Ways to Keep Your Dog Healthy in 2012

With the turn of every year, countless people resolve to improve their health by losing weight, exercising and more. The vast majority breaks those promises and ends up feeling disappointed. So rather than subject yourself to another year of self-defeat, why not resolve to improve the health of your dog instead? Below are a handful of both timely and timeless ideas to choose from.

1. Assess your choice of dog food. As your dog ages, its nutritional needs will change. “Aging brings with it physiological changes. Some are obvious, others are not,” says Dr. Amy Dicke, a technical services veterinarian for Iams. “Skin and hair coat changes may be obvious, while lean muscle mass loss and digestive or immune system failure may be less evident or hidden.” The science behind today’s dog food has gotten specific enough that there are different blends for almost any situation. Talk to your vet about whether your dog is due for a change.

2. Upgrade your dog’s ID tag. The classic bone-shaped metal collar charm may help your dog get returned if it wanders away, but technology allows for so much more. Dr. Patricia Joyce of New York City Veterinary Specialists says, if possible, to use a GPS tracker that allows you to find your dog wherever it is. Another option is a QR code tag, like those offered by PetQRTag.com. The tags are the same size as a regular ID tag but are not as constrained by space. They point a person to a Web page that can hold as much information as you’d like to give, from contact info to special medical issues your dog has. As your dog ages and your contact information changes, the tag never needs to be replaced.

3. Hop on the social media bandwagon. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter can help you diagnose and work through potential health problems. A standout is PetPop.com, where pet owners create profiles and link up. In the PetPop Healthy section, a panel of veterinary experts fields questions from site members and provides advice.

4. Train your puppy. What do socialization skills have to do with health? “Euthanasia for behavior problems is still a leading cause of death for dogs in the U.S.,” says Lisa Mullinax, a dog trainer for 4Paws University Inc. in Sacramento, Calif. “More people are beginning to realize proper socialization prior to the age of 14 weeks is an important step in preventing behavior problems, but few truly understand how to do so safely and positively.” She also stresses the importance of training a dog to always come when called -- a great accident-prevention skill.

5. Don’t ignore dental health. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, periodontal disease is the most diagnosed problem in dogs. But it doesn’t have to be that way. “Dental disease is one of the most preventable conditions in veterinary medicine,” says Dr. Katy Johnson Nelson, a veterinarian in Arlington, Va., who is also a member of the Iams Wellness Council. Schedule an appointment with your dog’s doctor for a teeth cleaning, and brush on your own as well.

6. Get pet health insurance. Sometimes even the best prevention can’t stop disease or an accident, and veterinary bills can add up quickly. It can put pet owners in the most difficult of positions: You either set yourself up for extreme financial hardship, or consent to putting your dog down. Health insurance allows an alternative. Thanks to more modest monthly premium payments, decisions to undergo costly procedures are easier to make.

So this New Year’s, let yourself off the hook and make a resolution for your dog. Whether you opt for the tried-and-true or the timely and trendy, following through with just a few of these tips can make a world of difference.

Elijah Merrill is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to The Dog Daily. His work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine and Discover.

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