We all love our pets. Over one-third of homeowners have a dog. Chances are if you’re in that third, you’d do just about anything to keep your canine companion healthy and happy. The challenge to doing so is realizing not all dog breeds are alike. Your big love muffin doesn’t have the same care needs as your neighbor’s chihuahua. From finding a veterinarian for large animals whom you trust to proper nutrition and training, here are the five most important things you can do for your large or giant dog:
- Proper nutrition
Good health begins with proper nutrition. For big dogs, this is particularly important. Large dog breeds have specific nutrition requirements and not meeting those requirements can mean severe health problems both now and later. From a puppy, your dog’s health relies on his getting the right ratio of protein, calcium, and fat. If puppies are overfed they can grow too fast, leading to joint problems later on. One strategy can be to switch to adult dog food earlier on for larger breeds, but it’s best to consult a veterinarian for large animals first. You can also ask your veterinarian for pet food suggestions for your dog.
- Stay active but not too active
Just as overfeeding can lead to too rapid of growth, it can also cause your pup to become overweight, which can cause similar health issues as rapid growth. Excessive weight puts unnecessary strain on already sensitive bones and joints. Keeping your big boy active from an early age will help prevent weight gain and the subsequent bone and joint problems. An active lifestyle also comes with the added bonus of lower energy levels when at home.
There is a caveat to leading an active lifestyle with your large or giant dog: Don’t push too hard in the first six months to one year. With that rapid growth we’ve been talking about, comes not only growing pains but also clumsiness. Exercising your puppy too strenuously during these critical growth months can cause her to injure herself. Remember those joints and ligaments are at their most vulnerable in the early months; protect them by avoiding high-impact activities on hard surfaces and roughhousing where there’s a strong chance of paws slipping.
- Don’t skip puppy kindergarten
You probably already know training is vital for large and giant dog breeds. When your pet weighs nearly as much as you do, tug of war matches seldom go your way. Same with who’s going to hug grandma and Little Tommy first. Starting training early is key for large and giant dogs. You want to ingrain your commands and the fact that you are master, no matter who weighs more, in your puppy’s head before he passes you on the weight scale. Keeping your puppy active will help with training, too, as nothing creates a delinquent faster than too much energy.
- Have regular pet wellness exams/strong>
Just like you should see your doctor for regular checkups, so should your gentle giant. Dogs can develop many of the health problems humans can, from toothaches to arthritis to life-threatening heart problems. The best veterinary care is preventative care. For dogs under 10 years of age, it’s recommended that the visit a veterinary care center at least once a year. Dogs older than 10 years should be seen by a veterinarian every six months. Trips to the veterinarian aren’t always fun (your pet’s veterinarian is essentially a doctor crossed with a dentist, after all), but they’re essential to preventing health problems later on. Find a veterinarian for large animals in your area who can provide the healthcare and advice your big guy deserves.
- Know the warning signs
Even among large dog breeds, each breed is different and comes with its own susceptibilities. Depending on your dog’s breed, she may be prone to certain health-related issues. From hip dysplasia (the abnormal formation of the hip socket) to hypertrophic osteodystrophy (a bone disease common in large and giant dog breeds), knowing what health risks your dog is most susceptible to will give you a leg up later. A veterinarian for large animals can help you learn about the health issues your big girl may face and how to spot the signs before an issue becomes severe.