People ask me all the time what are the most important things they can do for their dogs to keep them happy and healthy. I could go on and on and on for days on this topic but when it all boils down to it there are a bunch of specific categories that everything falls under.

I thought it might make for a good “Top Ten” list so here goes:

1. Pick the Right Dog for You

One of the biggest issues I hear from dog owners is that their dog is too “nuts” for them to handle. There are many reasons for this but one thing I see a LOT is a dog and an owner being mismatched. Choosing a dog MUST be more than picking the cutest one.

All dogs are a major commitment; however, some dogs require WAY more exercise. Some dogs come with inherent health issues and will most likely require WAY more vet expenses that should be expected down the line. Some dogs shouldn’t be kept in a 500 sqft. condo, etc.

There are a lot of resources online that can help you choose the right dogs for you. While looking up traits of specific breeds can be helpful, there are many websites dedicated solely to matching types of dogs with your needs. Also, rescue shelters can provide a TON of information on the dog but you MUST tell them about your lifestyle. For example: How many hours do you work/day? How many minutes/hours do you intend to commit to exercise daily? How many people live in your household that are able to care for the dog? Do you intend on providing a healthy exercise regimen for your dog (ie. dog walking, dog daycare, etc.)

2. Spaying / Neutering & Vaccinating

I am going to focus in on city dogs when I speak on this topic. Spaying and Neutering has become such an important part of pet ownership. The most obvious reason, it prevents unwanted pregnancy/accidental puppies. The other big issue with having an unfixed dog in the city is where they can go to socialize.

This is OF COURSE every dog owner’s decision and should be made by you and nobody else, but remember that if you choose not to fix your dog you will need to ensure to take the necessary precautions when going to any off leash dog park or dog care company (who likely will not allow your dog to socialize off leash with other dogs – or if they do cannot cover you by their pet sitting insurance as this is a big no no).

Vaccinating is another topic that is up to each dog’s owner but the mandatory ones really should be given. These are Distemper, Hepatitis, Parvo and Parainfluenza (The DHPP booster) and Rabies. You can speak with your vet about frequency as I am aware that this topic is being hotly debated amongst health care professionals right now. Another recommended one for dogs who go off leash with other dogs in any capacity (dog park, dog walking, dog daycare, etc.) is the Bordetella (Kennel Cough) Vaccine. It is important to note, however, that dogs who receive this vaccination can still get the illness, the same way humans can get the flu after getting the flu shot.

3. ID Your Dog Properly

This is one that you may not think is that important UNTIL you lose your dog (or someone else does). There are a few different ways to ID your dog:

– City ID Tag (Every city has a pet registry that requires all cats/dogs to be tagged.)
– Personal ID Tag (You can put the dog’s name and a contact phone number going straight to your cell phone)
– Microchip (Vets/Shelters can scan your dog’s chip and find all your information immediately)

The other thing that I STRONGLY recommend is setting up a profile on Helping Lost Pets. This site is INVALUABLE if you ever lose your pet. They will blast out all the info, a pic (which you would pre-upload) and even create flyers to pass out. They have volunteers who I can personally say are the most amazing people I have met – they work tirelessly, literally all night long, looking for people’s lost pets.

Also, save Toronto Animal Services phone number in your phone – that is the one call you will want to make before posting to Helping Lost Pets because they will be the ones who contact you if your dog gets brought into a shelter. Their number for reporting a lost pet is 416-338-PAWS (7297).

4. Upkeep Additional Medical Needs (Parasites, Dental, etc.)

Make sure to give your dog the proper treatments for things like Ticks, Fleas, Heartworm, etc. These are all very attainable treatments – they are available at all vets and should be maintained.

Dental health is another area that can often be overlooked in dogs. They can suffer from tooth decay, gum disease, and pain just like you and me. Regular brushing at home, or providing teeth cleaning toys/chews/treats are a good way to maintain their oral health, which they will thank you for!

5. Maintain Your Dog’s Diet / Ideal Weight

Choosing the right food for your dog (raw, wet, dry, cooked, etc.) is the first important step here. This is a whole other can of worms that requires its own blog post on it’s own. There is SOOOOO much contention over which is the best. I won’t get into all of that here.

Choosing a food that is well balanced, has real animal proteins, vegetables and essential nutrients is the most important bottom line. Avoiding ingredients like “chicken MEAL” and “animal by-products” is one thing, and then looking at the first 4-5 ingredients and ensuring that they aren’t wheat/flour/grains/fillers.

Next it comes down to your portions. All foods come with a feeding guide and if they don’t ASK YOUR VET. I have had dog owners who want us to feed their dog 6-8 cups of dry kibble per day when their dog is wider than they are tall. NO WAY! Then there are others who switch their dog’s food from one unhealthy brand to another, to another, to another, and wonder why their pet’s hair is falling out and they are thin and malnourished.

6. Provide a Healthy Lifestyle / Environment

Dogs need a life too! They are great cuddlers and are awesome house mates but they need to get outside! They need to socialize with other dogs. They need to exercise and play.

Not all dogs move at the same pace but large or small, they are all DOGS! For instance, a Chihuahua doesn’t hate playing with other dogs by nature – most of them learn this by not being socialized early on or being picked up every time a larger dog tries to play with them.

Rescue dogs who may have issues with other dogs off leash should still be taken out for leash walks and given an opportunity to run. They may never be a social butterfly, but they need to stretch their legs all the same!

A good rule of thumb is to try to provide at least 90 minutes of activity per day for your dog. This doesn’t all have to be full tilt running; you can combine running around, walking, playing on the floor, playing with kongs/games/activities, human engagement/play, etc. It might feel nice to stay home and veg on the couch and watch TV all day long when you’re sick, but imagine how you’d feel after a week, a month, a year of that. You’d be bored, glum, have stiff joints, gain weight, etc. and so will your dog!

7. Use Precautions Where it Counts

This one comes down to common sense. For example:

– When you’re bringing your dog out into the city to play go to fenced in areas if you’re going off leash.
– If you go somewhere unfenced you must have complete control of your dog (Come, Sit, Stay, Heel).
– NEVER walk your dog on a city street without a leash. Use a restraint in your vehicle if you are driving with your dog (doggy seat belt, harness strap, etc.)
– If you ever use non-prescribed medications for your dog (ie. Benadryl, Immodium, etc.) consult a vet / confirm proper dosage before doing so.

There are a million more things that I can think of but you get the picture. So many injuries/illness (and even death) occurs because of silly choices made by dog owners that were 100% preventable. Just think twice and err on the side of caution when it comes to your dog’s health and safety.