Keeping Your Dog Healthy

One of the most important choices you can make to keep your dog healthy is to provide preventive care.  Your veterinarian can help in many ways, beginning with a thorough physical examination.  A relatively young, healthy dog should be seen at least once annually; an older dog or one with chronic problems will need to be examined more frequently.  Although recent advances in veterinary medicine offer your pet the highest quality health care ever, the best advice is to prevent disease from occurring in the first place.


During your pet’s examination, the doctor will check for common conditions such as internal or external parasites, skin disorders, disorders of the eyes, ears, or teeth, and heart conditions.  Your doctor will advise you on care for any detected problems in your pet, and counsel you on vaccinations, surgical alteration, and behavioral issues.  Take this time to ask any questions you may have about your pet’s health care.




Your dog will need vaccinations to prevent and to ensure proper long-term protection against various viral illnesses.  The following is our recommendation of vaccines for your dog:


DAP-CPV:  Commonly known as the “distemper” vaccination, this vaccine is actually a 4-way vaccination against canine distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza, and canine parvovirus.  This vaccine is begun at 6-8 weeks of age for puppies and given every 3-4 weeks until the puppy is around 20 weeks old.  The vaccine is then boostered annually.

  • Canine distemper: Contrary to popular belief, distemper has nothing to do with a dog’s “temper” and the vaccine will not change your dog’s “temperament” - it is a widespread and contagious virus.  Signs include diarrhea, fever, lethargy, respiratory infection, and often death.  The incidence of distemper has been greatly reduced through vaccination programs but is still occasionally seen in exposed puppies.  Limiting your dog’s exposure to unfamiliar dogs until his vaccination series is complete is advised.
  • Canine adenovirus is the causative agent in either adenovirus-1 hepatitis or adenovirus-2 respiratory infection.  Both infections may be serious in young puppies.
  • Parainfluenza virus, along with adenovirus-2 and Bordetella, is responsible for canine upper respiratory infection complex.  It is highly contagious and may cause signs of tracheobronchitis or even lead to pneumonia in young dogs.
  • Canine parvovirus is the most important fatal disease of puppies today.  It is a widespread and highly contagious virus that causes vomiting, depression, bloody diarrhea, dehydration and death.  It may rarely strike susceptible adult dogs but is most often seen in puppies.  Vaccination at appropriate intervals is very protective.  There is no specific treatment for this virus, only supportive care, so early prevention is imperative.


Leptospirosis:  Does your dog like to drink out of puddles? Most dogs do! This bacterium is responsible for infections of the liver and kidneys. Infection is primarily caused by drinking water contaminated by animal carriers (other dogs, wildlife).  Infection with Leptospira is frequently fatal, as detection is rarely early in the course of the disease.  This disease is also zoonotic, meaning that it can infect people also.  Vaccinations are recommended in a 2-shot series after the age of 12 weeks, and a booster is given annually.


Bordetella:   This bacterium is one of the principle causative agents in canine upper respiratory infection complex, and the main agent in infectious tracheobronchitis.  Any dog that is frequently exposed to unfamiliar dogs should be vaccinated.  Most kennels require this vaccine to be eligible for boarding, as do many groomers, dog trainers and dog parks.


Canine Influenza:  Just like human flu, canine influenza is a respiratory disease that can have severe impacts on elderly and immune-compromised pets. Even healthy pets can develop signficant respiratory symptoms if they are infected with influenza. We recommend vaccination for dogs who are routinely around other dogs, for example at boarding kennels, dog parks, training classes, and groomers. Some boarding kennels in the area require all boarding dogs to be vaccinated for canine influenza. 

Lyme Disease: Lyme disease (actually a bacterium named Borrellia burdorferi) is spread by ticks. In recent years, more and more cases have been diagnosed in southwest Michigan. Infected dogs may show symptoms such as fever, joint pain, lethargy, and sometimes even impaired kidney function. If your dog enjoys outdoor adventures, we recommend using a reliable tick prevention and vaccinating for Lyme disease. 


Rabies:  An inevitably fatal zoonotic disease affecting the central nervous system, this disease is seen infrequently now due to required vaccination.  It is, however, still present endemically in the wildlife population and is therefore a very important public health concern.  Transmission is from any contact with a wild animal (bats, skunks, raccoons, foxes are the primary carriers) but especially from bites or scratches.  Any person receiving a bite or scratch from a wild animal or unfamiliar dog or cat should immediately clean the area with soap and water and report the wound to a physician and local animal control office. The vaccination is given when your puppy is at least 12 weeks of age, and a booster is given yearly or every three years.




Your dog is required by law to be licensed in the State of Michigan by the age of 4 months.  Proof of rabies vaccination must be shown to purchase this annual license.  Typically, a license can be purchased at your township hall or government building prior to March 1st.  After March 1st the license must be purchased at the Kalamazoo County Animal Services office.  A spayed/neutered dog license is somewhat less expensive than a license for a non-neutered dog.



Internal and external parasites can be more than just an annoyance for you and your pet.

In certain instances, they can lead to serious illness and even death.  Prevention again plays an important role where parasites are concerned.


Intestinal parasites:  Among the most common problems a dog may face, intestinal parasites are particularly prevalent in puppies.  Adult dogs may be infected also.  Common parasites include roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, tapeworms, and several protozoa.   Signs may include diarrhea, weight loss, lethargy, a distended or bloated abdomen, a generally poor hair coat, and even death.  It is estimated that up to 85% of all puppies have intestinal worms.  Transmission is from eating off contaminated ground, eating wildlife or uncooked meat, or migration through the skin from infected soil.  Your veterinarian can identify parasite eggs in your pet’s feces.  A fresh stool sample (less than 12-24 hours old) should be provided to check for parasites.  Many over-the-counter medications are less effective and even dangerous to your pet, so your veterinarian should prescribe an appropriate medication.


Heartworm disease:  Canine heartworm disease is a serious threat in nearly every state, southwest Michigan being no exception.  Briefly stated, mosquitoes transmit the larvae to your dog, which then mature into adult worms that live in the heart.  Severely infected dogs may die from heartworm disease.  Cats and people have been infected, as well.   Some facts about heartworm disease:

  • Since mosquitoes transmit heartworms, dogs are at risk throughout the mosquito season.
  • Signs of heartworm disease include coughing, weight loss, lethargy, labored breathing, collapse, and death.
  • Easily prevented with a monthly flavored tablet. Some products also contain flea prevention medication.  There are also topical (applied to the skin) products available.
  • Treatment is less dangerous today but costly, and does not reverse the damage already done to the heart and lungs.
  • A simple blood test is done each year before renewing the heartworm prevention prescription.  Administration of heartworm prevention to a heartworm positive dog can be very dangerous, even fatal.
  • Heartworm prevention given year round will also effectively prevent some intestinal parasites.


External parasites:  Common to dogs and cats are a number of external parasites that are not only bothersome to you and your pet, but can transmit sometimes fatal diseases.


            Fleas:  These brown insects live on the surface of your pet’s skin and feed on 

            blood.  They excrete dried-blood feces often identified on your pet as “flea dirt.”

            Here are some facts about fleas:

  • Since fleas feed on blood from your pet, severe flea infestation can cause anemia that can reach life-threatening severity.
  • Each flea lays approximately 50 eggs per day that fall off wherever your pet goes.  A flea infestation by 50-100 fleas is not uncommon.
  • Fleas can transmit other diseases, including blood parasites and tapeworms.
  • Flea bites can sensitize your dog to a severe flea allergy, resulting in skin sores and infection.
  • Fleas are now easily treated or prevented with a once-a-month topical medication.  Over-the-counter products are NOT as effective.


Ticks:  These blood-sucking arthropods attach themselves to your dog’s skin and engorge themselves with blood, which is used to nourish their eggs.  They may carry a number of infectious blood-borne diseases including Lyme disease.  A tick should be removed by pulling it out near the attachment point on the skin.  Using tweezers is advised.  They should not be burned or squeezed while attached to your dog’s skin.  A very effective topical once-a-month prevention is available to prevent both flea and tick infestation.


Mites:  These parasites are found on the skin or in the ears of both dogs and cats.  Several types of mites can be found.  Infestation of the skin is called mange and may cause mild or intense itching, hair loss, and skin lesions.  Your veterinarian will advise you on the proper treatment depending upon the type of mite found.  Ear mites can be seen in puppies and are relatively easy to treat. 




Surgical sterilization or neutering of your dog is a responsible decision for any dog owner.  It is important to reduce the soaring pet population, reduce the number of homeless pets, and protect your pet’s health.  Male dogs are surgically castrated, while female dogs are surgically spayed (ovariohysterectomy).  Consider the following facts:


  • Neutering reduces the risk of cancer in older pets.  Spaying female dogs prior to a heat cycle or pregnancy virtually eliminates the risk of breast cancer which, left untreated, can be fatal in up to 50% of cases.  It also eliminates ovarian or uterine cancer.  Castration of male dogs greatly reduces or eliminates prostate cancer and testicular cancer.
  • Spaying eliminates life-threatening uterine infections.
  • Spaying eliminates future heat cycles that attracts male dogs or may cause your dog to roam.
  • Castration of your male dog markedly reduces his tendency to roam thereby reducing his chance of injury from cars or other dogs.
  • Castration at a young age decreases certain behavioral problems such as territorial urine marking, aggression, and hyperactivity.


Don’t let the myths about neutering your dog dissuade you from this important decision.  The procedure will not lead to obesity or laziness.  Those conditions are brought on by consumption of too many calories and having too little exercise.  There is no benefit to allowing your dog to have a first heat cycle or pregnancy before neutering.  In fact, it is medically beneficial (see above) to spay your dog prior to a heat cycle or mating.


We recommend neutering be done in the age range of 4-6 months.  This provides the optimum size and age for a safe and easy procedure and rapid recovery. 


Microchipping your dog


A microchip is an implantable medical device that safely and permanently identifies your pet.  The device, which is injected under your dog’s skin, has a unique identification number which can be read with a scanner. Most shelters and veterinary offices have scanners, and routinely check stray cats and dogs for the presence of a chip. The ideal time to have a microchip implanted is when your pet is spayed or neutered, and is under anesthesia.  It is also possible to place the chip when your pet is awake.


 Nutrition and Exercise

 A well balanced diet is essential to good health and growth, and is an important preventive measure itself in the health of your dog.  Table food, cat food, and generic diets are unacceptable diets for your dog, as they are not properly balanced for your dog’s nutritional needs and may lead to metabolic or nutritional deficiencies. Poor hair coat, poor weight gain, excess weight gain (obesity), susceptibility to disease, and general weakness are all symptoms of a poor diet.  Premium brand foods are those whose ingredients are of higher quality.  Typically, the higher quality foods have nutrition more readily available to your dog because of higher digestibility and uptake than lesser quality foods have, though the guaranteed analysis may appear very similar on the label.    

Physical exercise is integral to the developing strength and overall health of your dog.  As with people, too little activity may lead to general weakness and obesity. 

Dental health

Pets have teeth, too.  That may seem obvious, but approximately 80% of adult dogs have neglected dental problems that may include dental tartar, gingivitis, periodontal disease, loose or infected teeth, cavities, and pain!  Bad breath is a common sign of dental disease that should prompt a dental examination by your veterinarian.  Prevention of dental disease, just like other diseases, is the key to preserving your dog’s dental health, as advanced dental disease may necessitate extraction of teeth.  Advanced dental disease may lead to infection of the bloodstream, heart, kidneys, and liver and can shorten your dog’s life.  A proper diet, dental cleansing treats, tooth brushing, and periodic cleaning by your veterinarian are all good preventive measures to ensure good dental health.   A dental cleaning procedure can be scheduled, during which your dog’s teeth are ultrasonically cleaned and polished under anesthesia.


Human medications

 Just a quick word about human medications:  while some medications may be safe to give a dog, just as many are potentially very dangerous.  Dosage recommendations may differ dramatically for dogs.  It is best to consult your veterinarian before giving any medications at home.


Please call our office at 269-381-1570 if there are any questions you have regarding your pet’s care.