Puppy and dog health

From registering to microchipping, vaccinating to worming and neutering to grooming – all you need to know to keep your four-legged friend in fine fettle.

Puppies and Dogs Health


In this section we’ll look at:

  • Creating the ideal health care for your puppy or dog
  • Registering your dog with a vet
  • Dog vaccinations
  • Parasites – fleas and worms
  • Dog neutering
  • Neutering (spaying) female dogs
  • Neutering (castrating) male dogs
  • Health care
  • Pet insurance
  • Grooming
  • Microchipping
  • Pedigree Dog Health
  • Research

Creating the ideal health care for your puppy or dog

  • PDSA recommends that dogs are neutered, vaccinated, microchipped and insured. 

  • Do the research and take the appropriate actions in advance – such as health testing – if you wish to breed from your dog.

  • Register your dog with a vet and receive regular, safe and effective preventive treatments for fleas and worms. 

  • Check for signs of ill health every day.

  • Groom and care for their teeth regularly.


Registering your 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.

  • You can register your dog with a PDSA PetAid hospital or practice if you are eligible and live within a PDSA catchment area. 

  • You can apply for PDSA support through a Special Request if you are eligible but live outside a PDSA catchment area. 

  • Find out today if PDSA can help you by visiting our Eligibility page.

Dog vaccinations

Dog vaccinations give protection for your dog and peace of mind for you. They protect your dog against diseases which can cause pain, distress and are often fatal. They also prevent diseases from being passed onto other animals.

How do vaccines protect your dog? Vaccines contain a harmless form of the virus or bacterium that causes a particular disease. They stimulate your dog’s immune system in a safe way. If your dog then comes in to contact with the disease for real, its immune system “remembers” how it dealt with the vaccine, so it can fight the disease.

Your dog should receive a ‘primary’ vaccination course early in life, followed by ‘booster’ vaccinations throughout its 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 as 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?
Very soon. Puppies need to be vaccinated as soon as possible: your vet will advise you how long you then have to wait before it can start to mix with other animals. This socialisation of your puppy is essential for its normal development whilst it’s very young. See our ‘Puppies and Dogs: Behaviour’ section.

Which diseases do vaccines protect against?

  • Canine distemper (‘hard pad’) 

  • Canine parvovirus

  • Infectious canine hepatitis

  • Kennel cough

  • Leptospirosis


Planning to take your dog abroad? You’ll need to arrange additional vaccinations and health checks.

Parasites – fleas and worms

  • Give dogs regular treatments to stop them suffering from worms and fleas. 

  • Help your dog to help you. Protect your dog from worms as they can also harm dog owners.

  • Ask your vet for advice about which products to use and how often to use them.

  • Choose flea and worm treatments from veterinary practices or pharmacies as they are clinically proven to be safer and more effective than ‘over-the-counter’ versions bought from pet shops and supermarkets. 

  • Ask your vet about which products work and which ones don’t.


NEVER use a dog flea treatment on cats – 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. Fleas are also part of a tapeworm’s life cycle. You might see fleas on your dog – although this is quite uncommon. Or you might see small dark flecks – flea “dirt” – in the fur and on the skin. If you see any of these signs, take your dog to see your vet.

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

  • Take your dog to see your vet. 

  • If your dog has fleas it’s important to treat your home, your dog and all your other pets. Ask your vet to recommend safe and effective products to use. 

  • Treat your home with an effective household spray after vacuuming. This helps kill flea larvae and eggs which can carry on living in places like carpets and rugs. 

  • Pay particular attention to areas where your dog spends time, as well as warm areas such as near to radiators. 


Don’t forget: as well as thinking about fleas, it is important that your dog follows the worming regime recommended by your vet.

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’.

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

Neutering can help your dog to live longer and enjoy a better quality of life. It also reduces the risk of pets developing some serious diseases – see below.

Neutering (spaying) female dogs

  • Spaying stops your female dog from having unwanted puppies and reduces her chances of developing breast cancer. 

  • It prevents her from developing a potentially life-threatening condition called pyometra (a serious infection of the uterus).

  • Female 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.


Will neutering (spaying) cause my female dog to gain weight?
Spaying causes a dog’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)?
This doesn’t benefit your dog. By delaying getting her spayed, you increase her risk of getting breast cancer.

Neutering (castrating) male dogs

  • Castration stops your male dog from developing testicular cancer.

  • It reduces the risk of developing prostatic disease (disease of the prostate gland). 

  • It prevents him from fathering unwanted puppies.

  • It 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. 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.

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 – either up or down – 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


Be alert to any change in your dog’s behaviour as this could point to the possibility of illness.

If you are worried about the health of your dog, always contact your local veterinary practice.

Pet Insurance

At PDSA we recommend you take out pet insurance to save thousands of pounds should the worst happen.

While most dog owners will have considered routine costs, such as vaccinations and worming, it is the out-of-the-ordinary expenses that can catch you out.

You could spend thousands of pounds on treatment for a road accident. So taking out pet insurance helps you budget for the unexpected. Third-party insurance is included in most policies. This is essential to avoid large payments should your dog cause an accident.

Shop around for the best policy for you. There are plenty of organisations whose pet insurance has built-in third party insurance – including PDSA's own Pet Insurance.

Grooming

  • All dogs need regular grooming. 

  • Long-haired dogs need more coat care than short-haired dogs.

  • Comb and brush a long-haired dog once a day.

  • Brush a short-haired dog twice a week. 

  • Buy a brush and comb that are suited to your dog’s hair type.


Microchipping

PDSA vets strongly recommend microchipping. If your dog becomes lost, microchipping greatly increases both the chances and speed of you being reunited.

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

Dogs will need to be microchipped, by law. Microchipping for dogs is already compulsory in Northern Ireland and will soon be compulsory by the following dates:

  • Wales – microchipping is currently under consultation

  • England – 6th April 2016

  • Scotland – microchipping is currently under consultation

Pedigree Dog Health

Owners are, understandably, upset when their dog develops a health problem linked to its breed. Often they wish they had known what problems the breed was prone to have. Some medical conditions are very common in certain breeds, causing pain and distress for a large number of dogs.

At PDSA we know that there are risks with all dogs. PDSA vets advise that with the following breeds, there is a risk that they will develop one or more of these common medical conditions. By knowing the information, it will help you decide which types of dogs are right for you.

Boxer
Cancer
Boxers are very prone to several different kinds of cancer. This reduces their life expectancy.

Heart disease
Many boxers develop a heart condition called dilated cardiomyopathy. When this begins to affect the dog, they require lifelong medication.

Brachycephalic airway syndrome
“Brachycephalic” means “short face”. Because of their short face, many Boxers struggle to breathe properly. Many get short of breath quickly and some will collapse through lack of oxygen.


British Bulldog
Brachycephalic airway syndrome
“Brachycephalic” means “short face”. Because of their short face, Bulldogs struggle to breathe properly. Many get short of breath quickly and some will collapse through lack of oxygen.

Hip dysplasia
An abnormality of the hip joints. It causes lameness in the hind legs and can make walking difficult.

Elbow dysplasia
An abnormality of the elbow joints. It causes swollen painful elbows and lameness in the front legs.

Lip fold dermatitis
Skin folds around a Bulldog’s face create a warm and humid atmosphere for bacteria and yeasts, so irritant skin infections are common.

Difficulty giving birth
Because of their size and shape Bulldogs are virtually unable to give birth naturally. Most require a Caesarean operation.



English Bull Terrier
Atopic dermatitis (atopy)
This condition causes chronic itchiness. Scratching causes skin damage, which can then cause skin infections.

Dry eye (keratoconjunctivitis sicca)
Caused by inadequate tear production. The eyes become dry and irritated and can then develop painful eye ulcers. Eye infections are common because tears aren’t protecting the eyes. This condition often requires eye drops to be applied several times a day to keep the eyes lubricated.



Cocker Spaniel
Otitis externa
This disease causes chronic severe inflammation of the external ear canal and an ear discharge. The pain and irritation often causes dogs to shake their heads or rub their ears on the ground.

Glaucoma
An increase in pressure inside the eye causes eye pain. If untreated, this can cause loss of the eye.


Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Dry eye (keratoconjunctivitis sicca)
Caused by inadequate tear production. The eyes become dry and irritated and can then develop painful eye ulcers. Eye infections are common because tears aren’t protecting the eyes. This condition often requires eye drops to be applied several times a day to keep the eyes lubricated.

Heart valve disease
Heart disease is extremely common in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. It progresses to cause coughing, breathlessness, reduced ability to exercise, fainting and other signs associated with poor heart function. Lifelong treatment is required when signs like these develop.

Syringomyelia
This is a deformity of the spinal cord, which becomes squashed near the base of the skull. The condition often causes persistent scratching of the neck, earache and extreme pain when the head is moved.


Dachshund
Intervertebral disc disease (“slipped disc”)
The long shape of Dachshunds makes them very prone to disc disease in their back. The disc ruptures, causing the spinal cord to become compressed. This causes pain and the hind limbs are often paralysed.


Doberman Pinscher
Dilated cardiomyopathy (heart disease)
This can cause fainting, tiredness and other signs of heart disease.

Wobbler syndrome
A deformity of the spinal cord causes the head to become unstable and the rest of the body to shake. This can progress to paralysis.


Dalmatian
Dilated cardiomyopathy (heart disease)
This can cause fainting, tiredness and other signs of heart disease .

Congenital deafness
Puppies are born deaf.

Bladder stones
Many Dalmatians have an abnormality that causes them to produce a certain kind of stone in their bladder. These cause pain and usually require an operation to be removed. Often dogs then require a special diet for the rest of their life to try and prevent stones reforming.

Atopic dermatitis (atopy)
This condition causes chronic itchiness. Scratching causes skin damage, which can then cause skin infections.



German Shepherd Dog
Hip dysplasia
An abnormality of the hip joints. It causes lameness in the hind legs and can make walking difficult.

Elbow dysplasia
An abnormality of the elbow joints. It causes swollen painful elbows and lameness in the front legs.

Dilated cardiomyopathy (heart disease)
This can cause fainting, tiredness and other signs of heart disease
Cancer
German Shepherd Dogs are prone to certain types of tumours (especially haemangioma and haemangiosarcoma)

Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI)
The pancreas doesn’t produce enough enzymes needed for digestion, causing weight loss and diarrhoea.

Pyoderma
Recurrent deep skin infections which can be painful and require long courses of treatment



Golden Retriever
Hip dysplasia
An abnormality of the hip joints. It causes lameness in the hind legs and can make walking difficult.

Elbow dysplasia
An abnormality of the elbow joints. It causes swollen painful elbows and lameness in the front legs.

Osteochondrosis dissecans (OCD) of the shoulder
Shoulder pain and lameness.

Atopic dermatitis (atopy)
This condition causes chronic itchiness. Scratching causes skin damage, which can then cause skin infections.


Great Dane
Elbow dysplasia
An abnormality of the elbow joints. It causes swollen painful elbows and lameness in the front legs.

Dilated cardiomyopathy (heart disease)
This can cause fainting, tiredness and other signs of heart disease.

Osteochondrosis dissecans (OCD) of the shoulder
Shoulder pain and lameness.

Gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV)
Swelling and twisting of the stomach. This leads to a swollen and painful abdomen, vomiting and shock. The condition can be life threatening.

Wobbler syndrome
A deformity of the spinal cord causes the head to become instable and the rest of the body to shake. This can progress to paralysis.

Osteosarcoma
Cancer of the bone which causes pain and early death.

Labrador retriever
Hip dysplasia
An abnormality of the hip joints. It causes lameness in the hind legs and can make walking difficult.

Atopic dermatitis (atopy)
This condition causes chronic itchiness. Scratching causes skin damage, which can then cause skin infections.

Elbow dysplasia
An abnormality of the elbow joints. It causes swollen painful elbows and lameness in the front legs.

Osteochondrosis dissecans (OCD) of the shoulder
Shoulder pain and lameness.



Newfoundland
Dilated cardiomyopathy (heart disease)
This can cause fainting, tiredness and other signs of heart disease.

Elbow dysplasia
An abnormality of the elbow joints. It causes swollen painful elbows and lameness in the front legs.

Hip dysplasia
An abnormality of the hip joints. It causes lameness in the hind legs and can make walking difficult.

Osteosarcoma
Cancer of the bone which causes pain and early death.



Pekingese
Brachycephalic airway syndrome
“Brachycephalic” means “short face”. Because of their short face, Pekingese dogs struggle to breathe properly. Many get short of breath quickly and some will collapse through lack of oxygen.

Corneal ulcers
Painful ulceration of the front of the eye.

Intervertebral disc disease (“slipped disc”)
A disc between the bones of the backbone becomes damaged and ruptures, causing the spinal cord to become compressed. This causes pain and the hind limbs are frequently paralysed.



Rottweiler
Elbow dysplasia
An abnormality of the elbow joints. It causes swollen painful elbows and lameness in the front legs.

Hip dysplasia
An abnormality of the hip joints. It causes lameness in the hind legs and can make walking difficult.

Osteochondrosis dissecans (OCD) of the shoulder
Shoulder pain and lameness.

Cancer
Rottweilers are prone to several different kinds of cancer. This reduces their life expectancy



Shar Pei
Entropion (ingrowing eyelashes)
The shape of the eyelids causes the eyelashes to grow inwards and scrape the surface of the eye. This is painful and causes eye ulcers. Many shar peis need an operation to correct their folded eyelids when they are young.

Chronic skin infections
A shar pei’s many skin folds provide a hot and humid environment for bacteria and yeasts. Consequently, shar pei’s suffer from repeated skin infections throughout their life, each causing irritation and distress to the dogs.

Elbow dysplasia
An abnormality of the elbow joints. It causes swollen painful elbows and lameness in the front legs.

Hip dysplasia
An abnormality of the hip joints. It causes lameness in the hind legs and can make walking difficult.

Atopic dermatitis (atopy)
This condition causes chronic itchiness. Scratching causes skin damage, which can then cause skin infections.



St Bernard
Dilated cardiomyopathy (heart disease)
This can cause fainting, tiredness and other signs of heart disease.

Elbow dysplasia
An abnormality of the elbow joints. It causes swollen painful elbows and lameness in the front legs.

Hip dysplasia
An abnormality of the hip joints. It causes lameness in the hind legs and can make walking difficult.

Osteosarcoma
Cancer of the bone which causes pain and early death.



West Highland White Terrier
Atopic dermatitis (atopy)
This condition causes chronic itchiness. Scratching causes skin damage, which can then cause skin infections.

Seborrhoea
Flaky, greasy and inflamed skin, often with secondary skin infections.

Dry eye (keratoconjunctivitis sicca)
Caused by inadequate tear production. The eyes become dry and irritated and can then develop painful eye ulcers. Eye infections are common because tears aren’t protecting the eyes. This condition often requires eye drops to be applied several times a day to keep the eyes lubricated.



Yorkshire Terrier
Dry eye (keratoconjunctivitis sicca)
Caused by inadequate tear production. The eyes become dry and irritated and can then develop painful eye ulcers. Eye infections are common because tears aren’t protecting the eyes. This condition often requires eye drops to be applied several times a day to keep the eyes lubricated.

Tracheal collapse
The wind pipe collapses, so it becomes narrow. This can cause a chronic cough and difficulty breathing.

Research

PDSA reveals the state of our pet nation each year in a comprehensive measure of animal wellbeing in the UK – The PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report.

Since 2011, over 21,000 pet owners, veterinary professionals and children have been surveyed to find out how dogs, cats and rabbits are cared for. Here are the findings for dogs and their health care:


Overview

  • Owners score fairly well when it comes to meeting their dog’s health needs. But there is still more to do. There are 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. It also has important health benefits: e.g. it 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 from our most recent report: 

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

  • There has been an increase in the number of dog owners who have not registered their pet with a vet believing they don’t feel there is a need to since they can “just turn up” (48%, up from 35% in 2011).

  • A common factor for pets not having had preventive treatments include the dog being “too old”, or a belief that it is “not necessary” – particularly regarding vaccinations (47% in 2013, up from 13% in 2010).

  • While microchipping levels have broadly increased, a higher proportion of people currently don’t feel it is necessary (47%) because their pet does not go out unsupervised (up from 32% in 2010). Microchipping of dogs is compulsory in Northern Ireland and will soon also be in Wales and England.


“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.

Environment
Behaviour