Three Essential Steps for Maintaining Your Dog’s Health

As mentioned in my last blog post, the American Animal Hospital Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association recently teamed up to create Guidelines for Canine and Feline Preventive Healthcare. These guidelines have been distributed to veterinarians throughout the United States with hopes of enhancing their efforts to counsel their clients about disease prevention.

Last week, I provided you with a tour of the preventive guidelines for feline health care. Rather than review the entirety of the guidelines for you dog lovers (I encourage you to do this on your own), from them I’ve selected three that I consider to be most important.

An Annual Physical Examination

In the past, veterinarians have done a remarkably good job using vaccine postcards and emails to remind their clients to schedule visits. The downside is, clients have been inadvertently programmed to believe that vaccinations are the most, if not the only, important part of their dog’s regular visits. Now that adult core vaccinations are required only once every three years (rather than once a year), it’s no surprise that veterinarians have observed a marked decline in annual office visits.

An annual physical examination is a key ingredient for maintaining your pet’s good health. It provides the opportunity for discussion about nutrition, behavioral issues, parasite control, and anything else that warrants veterinary advice. Additionally, an annual physical allows for early disease detection and treatment. It’s a no-brainer that the earlier cancer is detected, the better the outcome. The same holds true for heart disease, kidney disease, periodontal disease, and a myriad of other medical issues that might be detected during a routine physical exam. Here’s the bottom line, get your pet to the vet once a year, no matter what!

Heartworm Prevention

Heartworm disease has now been documented in all 50 of the United States. This parasitic infection is spread from one dog to another by way of mosquitoes. Heartworms set up housekeeping primarily within the heart and the blood vessels within the lungs where they are capable of wreaking havoc. Treatment for this disease isn’t always successful and carries significant potential for negative side effects. To make matters worse, there is a worldwide shortage of Immiticide®, currently the only approved drug to treat heartworm disease. And, while it’s tempting to believe that your dog’s thick haircoat or primarily indoor lifestyle will be protective againt heartworm disease, statistics prove otherwise. There, have I adequately made my case for use of heartworm prevention?

There are a number of safe and effective medications on the market that effectively prevent canine heartworm disease. Talk with your veterinarian about the incidence of heartworm disease in your community to determine if prevention is warranted. If recommended, please use the product exactly as prescribed. Lack of compliance is the number one reason dogs receiving heartworm prevention develop the disease. To learn more about heartworm disease, visit the website of The American Heartworm Society.

Counseling on Behavioral Issues

The number one reason dogs are euthanized or relinquished to shelters is problematic behavior. Separation anxiety, aggression, failed housetraining- these are just a few of the reasons people give up on their pets. I recently worked with a client for the first time whose adorable six-year-old Schnauzer Molly has kidney failure. In an, “Oh, by the way” comment, she told me that she and Molly never, ever spend time apart because of separation anxiety. Left alone, sweet little Molly assumes the role of demolition artist. When I asked Molly’s mom if she’d ever mentioned this problem to her family vet, she sheepishly shook her head. She was unaware that discussion with her veterinarian would result in referral to a “vetted” trainer and a prescription for medication designed specifically for the treatment of canine separation anxiety.

Be sure to talk with your vet about any of your pet’s behavioral issues just as soon as they become apparent. The sooner such problems can be nipped in the bud, the better the outcome will be.

Does your dog receive an annual physical examination? Are you administering heartworm preventive medication? Have you discussed your dog’s behavior issues with your veterinarian? Do tell!

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at,, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

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9 Comments on “Three Essential Steps for Maintaining Your Dog’s Health

  1. The best thing my vet has done is tell me heartworm is a real issue. I had read the now infamous Blog post (different blog) which mocked vets for having diseased hearts on display, and showed an incidence map with very few incidents. My vet explained she was had just seen a new advanced case that day (April in Iowa) and that she does not report them anywhere.

    Most animal welfare groups will ask if a dog is heartworm positive before transferring in the dog, but many do not provide prevention. Our group does buy non US product because we buy enough to make the time required to find legitimate discounts worthwhile. The amount of ivermectin in the monthly prevention probably sells for a dime in the farm store bottles, so it would be nice if Target or another retailer started making their own generic, and priced it like the human generics, at 30 for $4.

    The comment about some people treating their pets like kids is true, I don’t comprehend what people mean when they say they spoil their dogs. 24/7 belly rubs? But the much worse problem is animal abuse, both by pet owners and pet producers / factory pet farmers.

    Working with animal welfare I have much more appreciation for the bizarre behavior veterinarians must endure. People simply do not understand pet health and behavior. The entire pet industry could do a better job, but it is not easy for caring veterinarians to fix a culture which is so out of step.

    Regarding behaviorial issues, the best source for dog behavior I have found is They have free brochures which can be “rebranded” by stores and shelters, etc. on topics such as housetraining.

  2. Number four, not on the list, proper diet?

    So many pets suffer from food allergies, obesity, but we focus on visits instead of human behavioral changes

  3. Hi Jann,

    I encourage you to take a copy of the American Animal Hospital Association Canine Vaccination Guidelines into your veterinarian (referred to in Speaking for Spot as well as in a previous blog post or two). Let him know you found the information on line and that you’d like to discuss the issue. I find myself wondering why you are sticking with this particular veterinarian- there are parts of “old fashioned” that are advantageous. Other parts create unnecessary risks for the patient.

  4. How do I raise the topic of every-3-year vaccines with my old fashioned vet? He goes on giving everything every year without even mentioning there’s an alternative. You’re right that he’s probably afraid we wouldn’t show up if our guys didn’t need their “shots”, but how do I call him on it?

  5. Dr. Nancy,

    Thanks again for bringing awareness that communication and regular visits to our vet is an important part of a healthy dog’s life. Over the years I am seeing more veterinarian referrals to me for training and am so appreciative of their care and concern knowing that everyones life will be better if all the dogs issues are attended to. People are safer and the dogs are happier. What could be better.

    aka shewhisperer dog trainer helping people and dogs in the Los Angeles area.

  6. People who spend all day at home with their dogs do exist, and funny thing is, sometimes they have the *most* behavior issues! I know this b/c I have many clients whose companies have them working from home. Some say that in history, lifestyle really changed for dogs because we no longer have a homestead where there’s a housewife there all day or a farmer who works from home. We can go on saying how sad it is that dogs nowadays are left at home and in apartments, etc. But really, even back then, the dog was *not* always the center of attention- they still used runs, kennels, backyards, tie outs, etc. so the dog was not always underfoot. The point I’d like to make here is that the domestic dog evolves WITH US, and to lose the excuses. I have worked with many dogs with separation anxiety, and I feel I’ve had enough success to speak about it. Loving pet owners actually promote separation anxiety in how they live with their dogs. The dog in our society is no longer a utilitarian working dog, they have quite moved up- going from 1) our faithful servants, to 2) our best friend, to now 3) our “child” and that is the issue– anthropomorphism, and yes, spoiling them (for lack for a better word). Owners are failing to provide structure from the get-go, and failing to teach the dog to work for what they get. Love is there, but not discipline. A dog with SA is not a happy dog, they are truly suffering from the stress, and we know stress affects health. In a very typical evaluation here for a behavior consult for SA, I may see a nervous, maybe whining, restless dog with no real obedience that they have glued next to them and are continuing to pet, for no particular reason. Why are you petting your dog? “I don’t know…” Exactly. Put your dog on a down-stay on this mat and then come 15 feet away to talk with me. Dog won’t stay, no ob. They try to crate or confine them when they *leave* (with stressful & disastrous results) but never when they are home. So the dog is not learning to accept it, not learning to comply with being crated and ignored for periods of time, and dogs develop a feeling of “THIS is how life IS,” dogs do not like routines to change. I always say, dogs are not born with impulse control and self-discipline, this has to be taught. And the day you bring your dog home, weather puppy or adult rescue dog, from that first day you are teaching him “This is how life is.” Not “Welcome to your new home, freedom, it’s all yours including me!” First thing I’ll do is crate the dog, in a zip-tied reinforced crate. Crates nowadays also reinforce bad behaviors of destruction, because they are so flimsy and cheap the dog breaks right out of them (years ago crates were metal and strong, but this is too expensive for today’s consumer), and once an animal learns an escape they will always try the next time to find that weak point. The new dog will be crated for an hour or so, he might have a nice knuckle bone to chew- these delicious bones, bully sticks, antlers, or filled Kongs he will ONLY get inside his crate (I pick it up and put it away when he comes out). Then come out for a few hours to train, hang out, exercise, then when he’s tired he will be crated again for down-time– while I’m home. Many dogs, like children, need enforced down-time because they are very high stimulation. If not given the “mental workout” through ob training, they will find some other way as an outlet, and it’s never good (destruction, barking at windows, ocd behaviors, etc). People think the dog needs exercise, and yes they do, but mental exercise is neglected in almost all cases I see. Trust me, you can run your dog for 5 miles or play fetch for 2 hours and you’ll still see the same SA behaviors afterwards- somehow they muster up the energy to panic. You need to change the dogs life. I leave like it’s no big deal, and when I return I do not reinforce frantic behavior. I have effectively “cured” SA in many dogs, and taught the owners how to keep it up at home, with great results even in 8 year old dogs. I also sometimes recommend they go to their vet and get started on fluoxetine (Prozac). I was pretty annoyed to see the poor info on SA that the internet is populated with, including a website that said obedience training has no effect. Obedience training is the KEY to changing SA! With more people adopting rescue dogs who didn’t get a proper start in life, we have some challenges, but we need to be disciplined ourselves to provide structure for our dogs and start training right away, and not give in to just wanting to cuddle with them all day in the name of bonding. Also, it’s sad dogs get given up for housebreaking when it’s so easy to access info on housetraining a dog, if they just call a trainer I can tell them over the phone how to do it, very sad they give up. Had a Rottie in for training w/housebreaking issues and I noticed she peed in small amounts outside, I told them take her to the vet, she had a UTI.

  7. Many “behavioral” issues are just symptoms of a physical problem, and should always be discussed with a vet! In addition to my 4 dogs, I foster 5-10 dogs a year for my rescue organization. Having taken a few dogs through treatment for heartworm and seeing how they suffer, I give my dogs preventative year-round. I also have 2 cats who do not go outdoors; I also keep them on HW preventative year-round; as one of my vets said: do you ever get a mosquito in your house? It is a small price to pay in contrast to the expensive, painful, and frustrating months of being kept quiet while they recover!

  8. JD gets semi-annual physical examination. Jasmine? Well, she’s still at the vet’s almost every month … couple time it was longer than that and it kept me all nervous LOL

    (the captcha is killing me though!)

  9. Pets that are relinquished because of housetraining issues may have Cushings or another condition that makes it hard for them to “hold it” so imho it’s worth discussing those things in case they have a medical origin.