beautiful closeup of greyhound dog being pet by his owner

How to take care of a dog

Are you thinking about getting a dog? There are many things to consider before making this decision, and it can feel overwhelming. Here are a few pointers to help new owners make the right choice for them, their family and, ultimately, the new family member: 

  1. Learn about life with a dog. A dog will need your time and attention to care for him or her, especially during their early years. From regular bathing, grooming, to everyday walks and regular visits to the veterinarian, caring for a dog can be a big responsibility. Bringing a pet into your home is a major decision, but if you’re ready, the long-term benefits can be rewarding for both you and your new companion. 

  2. Would a dog fit your current lifestyle? Make sure you're financially ready to care for your dog. This includes veterinary visits, food and care essentials. Is your living space safe for a dog? Will they be spending a lot of time alone during the day? 

  3. What’s the right breed and age for you? Think about which pet personality quirks are best suited to your family’s lifestyle and home.

Adopting responsibly during the pandemic

Finding a dog that's the right breed and age for you

A Chihuahua or a German Shepherd?  You can use the IAMS™ breed selector to see what breed is best for you and your family.  

Remember that different dog breeds have different needs: some are more active than others, some may cope better with being alone than others, and some may have specific nutritional needs.   

Adopting a dog that’s the right age for you is also important. Puppies have unique nutritional and activity needs. They require training, and generally more attention and veterinary care as they build up their confidence and become used to their environment, which includes other pets and people.  

Puppies’ activity levels vary dramatically from activity later in life even within a specific breed, according to data from the Pet Insight Project. For example, German Shepherd puppies are three times more active than senior German Shepherds, while Jack Russell Terrier puppies aren’t that much more energetic than their senior counterparts.   

But adopting a mutt or a mixed-breed dog can make perfectly good pets, too! In fact, our data shows that mixed breed dogs have become more popular over the last three years (2015-2019). 

What data can tell us about mutts

Adopting from an animal shelter

Many new owners may prefer healthy, happy puppies but adult or senior dogs can make great companions, too. A good rescue center will prepare a newly adopted dog for their new home and take time to spot and solve any behaviour problems. They will take time to help you find the right match, ask you detailed questions and schedule a home visit and may even help you train your dog. They may also schedule visits following the adoption to ensure the dog is being looked after and thriving in their new home. If you’re looking for references, ask your veterinarian and any local animal charities.  

Buying a puppy from a breeder

Choosing to adopt from a responsible breeder is key to puppies’ healthy development. 

Unfortunately, many breeders disregard the welfare of puppies and their parents. Often known as ‘puppy mills’ or ‘puppy farms’, these breeding facilities produce tens of thousands of puppies that are usually sold in pet shops or online. Poor health and welfare conditions can cause stress and impact on puppies’ development and behaviour, leading to ill health and even life-threatening situations. Here is a step-by-step guide to buying a puppy.  

Welcoming a dog home

Meeting the basic needs of dogs helps ensure good behaviour, good health, and good quality of life. These needs involve pets’ surroundings and interactions with people and other animals in your home. Providing a familiar, predictable, and comfortable home where a pet has some control over his or her environment and interactions can help reduce stress. 

Dogs are naturally curious and may get hurt if left alone. Make sure to keep them away from open windows and balconies and always store medications, vitamins and supplements, and substances that are toxic to animals— including garden chemicals, poisonous plants, and even some human foods like chocolate and chewing gum— away from pets. Make sure your pets have access to areas with temperature control and ventilation. Dogs are particularly sensitive to heat and while some may love laying by a warm fireplace, it’s important that they can access a cooler place if they need to. 

Separation anxiety in dogs

As many of us have been spending more time with our dogs, there is a risk that they develop separation anxiety as soon as their routine is disrupted again. For example, as soon as we start returning to our workplaces. Here are a few ways we can reduce this risk and help dogs gradually cope with our absence: 

  • Keep a consistent, predictable routine and spend some time apart
  • Use training & enrichment activities
  • Keep an eye on their anxiety and adapt your approach
  • Keep your dog active
  • Ask your veterinarian for advice and help

 

More on dogs and separation anxiety

Dog nutrition

A nutritional diet will keep a pet happy and healthy through every stage of life. Whether you’ve got a Golden Retriever, a Pug, a mixed breed or a rescue dog, a complete and balanced diet is crucial for their overall health. Dogs have different nutritional needs compared to people and other animals, and dog diets can ensure they get all the nutrients they need without getting too chunky. This approach can also help reduce the risk of some health issues. 

Pets must always have access to water. Pets on a wet diet (usually canned or pouched food) tend to drink less water than those on a dry diet (biscuits or kibbles). 

The nutritional needs of dogs change over time. You should consider your pets’ lifestyle to ensure their pets get enough food to fuel their exercise requirements. The wrong diet can seriously harm an active dog's health, leading to unhealthy weight loss. Too much food, on the other hand, will cause excess weight gain, which can shorten a dog's lifespan by 2.5 years, depending on the breed. Pet obesity is now affecting more than half of all dogs and cats in the US and UK , having reached epidemic levels. 

Healthy dog nutrition: the complete guide

Puppy nutrition

Puppies have different nutritional needs compared to adult dogs. These needs depend on the dog breed, their age, and if the animal is neutered. All puppies, no matter their size, grow very quickly in the first few months, and they need to be fed a complete and balanced puppy diet until they reach adulthood. This is because puppies need the right balance of specific nutrients: amino acids, proteins, minerals, fat and vitamins. Switching to an adult diet too early can slow their development and have long-term effects that carry on into adulthood. 

Understanding what your puppy's ideal adult weight will be and using it as a reference will help you monitor your puppy's healthy growth. Based on data gathered from tens of thousands of healthy pups, the WALTHAM Puppy Growth Charts can help you understand if your puppy's growth is on track . Has your puppy put on the right amount of weight since your last visit to the vet? Have that conversation with your veterinarian, check the charts and don’t shy away from asking all your questions. 

The time it takes for a puppy to reach adulthood depends on their expected adult size. Toy and small dogs will reach adulthood by around 12 months of age, whereas large and giant breeds mature more slowly and are not considered fully grown until 18 to 24 months of age. Since larger breeds generally reach maturity later than smaller breeds, they require the appropriate nutrition to support their growth for longer.

Puppy nutrition: the complete guide Puppy Growth Charts Why puppy growth charts work

Making dog treats part of a healthy dog diet

Dog treats can strengthen the bond between owner and pet. They keep their mind active, help with training, and some may even provide health benefits, such as oral care or joint wellness. However, they must be appropriate for the dog's age and shouldn't exceed 10% of their daily food portion. And no matter how much they beg, you shouldn’t give in and share your pets table scraps or human food snacks. Human food tends to be lower in nutritional value than treats designed for pets, can lead to rapid weight gain, and could even be harmful or toxic.

Keeping your dog at a healthy weight

With pet obesity on the rise, it's important to remember that by ensuring your dog stays at a healthy weight you are esentially giving them a good chance at a healthy, happy life. In simple terms, excess body weight is caused by a dog getting more calories than needed. Dogs store these excess calories as fat. However, there are a number of factors that can influence a dog's ability to maintain a healthy weight. Some of these are inherited and others are determined by the pet’s environment. 

First things first: start weighing the food. Look up the recommended daily feeding amount on the food pack and weigh it on a digital scale. You may need to slightly adjust the amount depending on your pet's weight, which is why it's important to weigh your pet regularly. 

Feeding table scrabs, titbits and treats can make a pet more likely to gain weight, and some human food ingredients are toxic for dogs. Ensure everyone in your household is aware of the dog's feeding schedule and amount, to avoid overfeeding or overtreating. Studies have shown that dogs prefer high-fat diets and because they have evolved an opportunistic eating behaviour, they will overeat if given too much food. If you need food for training your dog, make sure you reduce the meals as needed.

How can you tell if your pet is overweight?

It's important that you know what your dog's ideal body weight is, so you can adjust their calorie intake if needed and avoid any excess weight gain. Weigh your dog once a month and use this body condition score guide to determine if your pet is overweight, underweight or at the ideal weight.

INFOGRAPHIC: Keeping pets active and happy at home

Pet obesity: the factors to watch out for

Activity

Regular physical exercise is a key factor in the prevention of obesity. Build up slowly, especially if your dog is overweight or old. Take safe throwing toys for your dog to chase to encourage more, swimming in dog safe areas. 

According to the Pet Insight Project, the dogs involved in the study found that the adult dogs that were averaging over 60 mins of daily activity were less than half as likely to be overweight. What's more, those averaging over 80 minutes daily were 40% less likely to become overweight in the future.

Don’t increase the food as you start increasing exercise. However, you should reduce food slightly if for any reason you reduce your dog's exercise. 

Puppies' exercise levels should be carefully monitored until they are fully grown, as excessive levels can lead to joint problems in the future. 

During the coronavirus pandemic, you can take advantage of the extra time you're spending with your dog at home by keeping them active while indoors. 

Genetics 

Pet obesity is a complex disease - genetic factors may be involved in determining whether an animal becomes overweight, with a certain number of genes playing a role. Studies have found that Labradors are an obesity-prone breed. Owners of Beagles or Bernese Mountain dogs need to keep a closer eye on what they're feeding and make sure to reduce food and increase exercise if they're noticing weight gain. 

Age 

As pets age and become less active, their likelihood of becoming overweight increases. Neutered dogs also tend to be less active, especially in the weeks following the neutering, and their hormonal changes also make them more prone to gaining excess weight. 

Dog dental care

Dental gum disease one of the most common illnesses veterinarians see in both cats and dogs. Small dogs, especially toy breeds like miniature schnauzers, are more prone to gum disease than larger breeds. Good oral care includes a vet exam. Consult your veterinarian for advice on just how often your pet needs oral cleaning. Early prevention can reduce chances of disease later in life, and introducing puppies to regular oral care at home will train them to accept and even enjoy it. Start a daily dental care routine from an early age and build it into the puppy's daily routine. 

The gums should be pale pink and watch out for any redness, which indicates inflammation -a sign of disease. Also check the buildup of tartar (a discolored deposit), and share these details with your vet. 

Brush your dog’s teeth at least once a day in a quiet place without distractions, and be patient.The bacteria causing dental disease in pets are not so similar to human bacteria, so it’s essential to get special oral care products for pets. 

Support your home dental care routine with a veterinary dental care plan that includes an oral checkup every six months and professional dental cleaning at least once a year. 

Provide dental chews, dry food designed to clean teeth, and safe toys. Dogs shouldn’t chew on hard or abrasive objects that can damage teeth and gums (e.g., bones, hard nylon chew toys, or tennis balls). Don’t use hard or heavy toys during play and watch your pets around dental chews to make sure they don’t choke. 

Brushing your dog's teeth: a how-to guide

Dog chews

It’s easy to think your dog’s teeth are indestructible. Dogs use their mouths to explore the world and chewing is a dog’s natural instinct as it helps  keep them active and relieve stress. But dogs’ teeth are more fragile than you might think. Their enamel is up to six times thinner than in humans and nerves are closer to the surface. Dogs can break their teeth by chewing on things that are simply too hard. 

Try to keep an eye on what your dog chews beyond what you carefully select to give them. Sometimes they’ll chomp on stones and hard tree roots out of curiosity. Discourage this behaviour to decrease the risk of broken teeth.  

But chips and fractures can be hard to spot and are sometimes missed by pet owners. By their very nature, as pack animals, dogs will hide their pain to avoid displaying any weakness. If you think your dog might have a fractured tooth, speak to your vet.

Choosing the right dog chews