PDSA's Care Advice

The ideal health care for your puppy or dog

PDSA recommends that dogs are neutered, vaccinated, micro chipped, and insured. Owners who wish to breed from their pet should research and take appropriate actions (such as health testing) in advance. Furthermore, the pet should be registered with a vet and receive regular, safe and effective preventive treatments for fleas and worms. Regular grooming and dental care are important and a dog must be checked daily for signs of ill health.

Registering your dog with a vet

Do I need to register my dog with a vet?

When you get a new dog, you should register with a local veterinary practice straight away. Make an appointment as soon as you can for a check-up. Your vet can then devise a care programme for your dog. Write a list of the questions you want to ask, so everything can be covered.

Puppies and Dogs Vaccinations

Dog vaccinations

Should I get my dog vaccinated?

Yes. Dog vaccination protects your dog against various diseases which can cause pain, distress and are often fatal.
By vaccinating your dog you have peace of mind, knowing that you have provided protection. As well as safeguarding your own pet, it also prevents diseases from being passed onto other animals.

What are vaccines?

Vaccines contain a harmless form of the virus or bacterium that causes a particular disease. They work by stimulating the body’s immune system in a safe way. If the dog then comes in to contact with the disease for real, the immune system “remembers” what it did to deal with the vaccine, so can fight the disease. This protects the dog.

When should I get my puppy or dog vaccinated?

Pets should receive a ‘primary’ vaccination course early in life, followed by ‘booster’ vaccinations throughout their life.

The primary vaccination course for dogs varies with the type of vaccine used. The first vaccine can sometimes be given as young as six weeks of age, with the second usually given two to four weeks later.

Booster vaccinations are needed because the body’s immune response gradually fades over time. They are often given every year, depending on the vaccine.

Ask your vet when it is best to vaccinate your puppy or dog.

When can my puppy start to meet other animals?

Puppies should be vaccinated before they mix with other animals. It is essential for their normal development that they are allowed to socialise with other animals while they are very young, so you should get them vaccinated as soon as possible. Ask your vet when they can start meeting other animals and begin to socialise them as soon as it’s safe to do so.

Which diseases do vaccines protect against?

  • canine distemper (‘hard pad’) 
  • canine parvovirus
  • infectious canine hepatitis
  • kennel cough
  • leptospirosis

If you are planning to take your dog abroad you will need to arrange additional vaccinations and health checks. Why not download your own copy of our Vaccinations leaflet.

Parasites – fleas and worms

Do I need to treat my dog regularly for fleas and worms?

Yes. Dogs should be given regular treatments to prevent them from suffering from worms and fleas. Worms can also be harmful to dog owners, which is another reason why it’s important to prevent them. Ask your vet for advice about which products to use and how often to use them.

Should I use flea and worm treatments bought from the pet shop?

‘Over-the-counter’ flea and worm treatments bought from pet shops and supermarkets may not be as safe or effective as those from veterinary practices. Your vet will be able to advise you about which products work and which ones don’t.

NEVER use a dog flea treatment on cats, as this can be fatal.

How do I know if my dog’s got fleas?

Fleas can cause itching, chewing and licking. The skin may become red and inflamed. You might see fleas on your dog (though this is quite uncommon), or you might see small dark flecks (flea “dirt”) in the fur and on the skin. If you notice any of these signs, take your dog to see your vet. As well as causing severe skin irritation, fleas play a vital part in the tapeworm’s life cycle.

I think my dog’s got fleas – what should I do?

You should take your dog to see your vet. If your dog has fleas it’s important to treat the house, your dog and all other pets in the household. Your vet can recommend safe and effective products to use. The house should be treated with an effective household spray after vacuuming, because flea larvae and eggs live off the animal, in places like carpets and rugs. Particular attention should be paid to areas where your dog spends time, as well as warm areas such as near to radiators.
As well as thinking about fleas, it is important to follow the worming regime recommended by your vet.

You can also download your own copy of our Fleas leaflet.

Dog neutering

What is dog neutering?

Neutering is an operation carried out by a vet. In male animals, the testicles are removed – this is called ‘castration’. In female animals, the ovaries and the uterus (womb) are removed – this is called ‘spaying’.

What are the benefits of dog neutering?

There are hundreds of thousands of unwanted animals in need of homes. Neutering stops animals from adding to this problem by having unwanted litters.

It also reduces the risk of our pets developing some serious diseases. This can help them live longer and enjoy a better quality of life.

Neutering (spaying) female dogs

Should I get my female dog neutered (spayed)?

Spaying stops your bitch from having unwanted puppies and reduces her chances of developing breast cancer. It also prevents her from developing a potentially life-threatening condition called pyometra (a serious infection of the uterus).

When is the best time to get my female dog neutered (spayed)?

Bitches often benefit most by having the operation when they are under one year old. Ask your vet when the right time is for your bitch.

Will neutering (spaying) cause my female dog to gain weight?

Spaying causes a bitch’s metabolism to slow down, meaning that she burns energy less quickly. By making sure you feed the right amount and exercise her enough, she won’t gain weight.

Should my female dog have a litter before she’s neutered (spayed)?

There’s no benefit to your bitch, and by delaying getting her spayed you increase her risk of getting breast cancer.

Neutering (castrating) male dogs

Should I get my male dog neutered (castrated)?

Castration stops your male dog from developing testicular cancer and reduces the risk of developing prostatic disease (disease of the prostate gland). It also prevents him from fathering unwanted puppies and can help to reduce some types of aggression.

Will neutering (castration) cause my dog to be less aggressive?

Castration can help with some types of aggression, but not others. You should always ask your vet for advice if your dog is behaving aggressively.

When is the best time to get my male dog neutered (castrated)?

Dogs often benefit most by having the operation when they are under one year old. Ask your vet when the right time is for your dog.
You can also download your own copy of our Neutering leaflet.

Dog being examined by a pdsa vet

Health care

How do I know if my dog is ill?

You should check your dog each day for any signs of illness. These might include the following:

  • Sickness or diarrhoea
  • Significant weight change (in either direction) over a short period
  • Loss of appetite
  • Drinking much more or less than normal
  • Lack of energy/sleeping more than usual
  • Unusual swellings
  • Skin conditions
  • Limping
  • Coughing
  • Unusual bleeding
  • Signs of pain, such as sensitivity to touch
  • Runny eyes or nose

There could be other signs of illness, not on this list, and any change in your dog’s behaviour should alert you to the possibility of illness.

What should I do if I think my dog is ill?

If you are worried about the health of your dog it is always best to contact your local veterinary practice.

Pet Insurance

Should I take out pet insurance?

While most dog owners will have considered routine costs, such as vaccinations and worming, it is the out-of-the-ordinary expenses that you may not be prepared for. The treatment associated with a road accident can run into thousands of pounds. Many dog owners now take out pet insurance, which helps you budget for the unexpected. There are plenty of organisations around that offer this, including PDSA's own Pet Insurance, so shop around for the best policy for you. Third-party insurance is included in most policies, and this is essential to avoid large payments should your dog cause an accident.


Do I need to groom my dog?

All dogs need regular grooming, but long-haired dogs need more coat care than short-haired dogs.

How often should I groom my dog?

A long-haired dog should be combed and brushed once a day while a dog with short hair will usually only need brushing twice a week. Get a brush and comb that are suited to the hair type of your dog.


Should I get my dog microchipped?

PDSA vets strongly recommend microchipping, which increases the chances of a dog being reunited with their owner, should they become separated.

What is a microchip and how does it reunite dogs with their owners?

A microchip is a tiny radio chip, about the size of a grain of rice, injected under the skin between the shoulder blades. If found, dogs can be scanned and the chip can be read. It contains a unique identification number, logged on a national database and which can be matched against your contact details. The chip is made of non-reactive material so doesn’t cause any problems sitting beneath the skin throughout your dog’s life.

Download your own copy of our Microchipping leaflet

PDSA's Findings

PDSA has produced the first ever comprehensive measure of animal wellbeing in the UK, revealing the state of our pet nation - The PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report

Over 11,000 pet owners were surveyed to find out how dogs, cats and rabbits are cared for - below are the findings for dogs and their health care.

Graph showing that millions of dogs are not getting the preventive care they need


While owners score fairly well when it comes to meeting the health needs of their dogs, there are still millions of dogs that are not neutered, vaccinated, or protected against parasites such as fleas and worms.

Neutering dogs is key to reducing the number of unwanted litters in the UK, as well as having important health benefits. For example, neutering a dog prevents potentially fatal womb Infections and reduces the risk of certain types of cancer.

Failure to vaccinate puppies leaves them exposed to serious diseases such as parvovirus; vets still see many cases of this life-threatening disease every year.

Flea infestations can cause severe irritation and distress in dogs and are entirely preventable.

Key Findings

Millions of dogs are not getting the preventive care they need.

  • 36% of owners never clean their dogs’ teeth. Only 11% clean their dogs’ teeth daily despite this being the most effective way of achieving good dental health.
  • When it comes to the purchasing habits of flea and worm treatments, 55% and 63% respectively buy their products from a vet and 22% say the cost is more than they were expecting.
  • The older an owner the more likely they are to score higher points when it comes to preventive care and their pets’ health. The 55-and-over age group score 72 which is notably higher than the 66 score achieved by 18 to 24-year-olds.

“This is a timely and welcome report, not least because many dog owners do not fully understand the implications of the Animal Welfare Act and the duty of care it imposes. Questioning owners about the welfare needs of their dog provides valuable information about the animal’s wellbeing, as well as improving the owner’s knowledge and understanding of these important matters.”
Professor Sheila Crispin.


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