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Essential dog care information from RSPCA Pet Insurance

Housing

Your dog needs a clean, comfortable and safe environment to live in that meets your dog’s behavioural and physiological needs. Make sure the area provides shelter from heat, cold, rain and wind etc.

Nutrition

Offer a high quality premium commercial food appropriate for your dog’s life stage (e.g. adult, puppy etc) and health status. You can also offer some natural foods occasionally for variety. Natural foods include fresh raw meat (e.g. raw lamb), raw meaty bones and vegetables. Choose human-grade raw meat and raw meaty bones because pet meat/pet mince/pet rolls and bone products can contain preservatives that can be detrimental to the dog’s health (e.g. sulphite preservative induced thiamine deficiency which can be acute and fatal).

Raw meaty bones such as raw lamb ribs (not lamb chops though), raw lamb flaps, raw lamb tail bones, and raw chicken wings help to keep teeth and gums healthy. Too many raw bones may lead to constipation. Generally 1–2 raw bones may be offered per week with a few days in between each serving. The bone must be large enough so that the dog cannot fit the whole bone in its mouth or swallow the bone whole. Never feed cooked bones as these can splinter and cause internal damage or become an intestinal obstruction. Always supervise dogs when they are eating raw bones. Dogs ‘like’ bones very much and sometimes become protective. Do take care and discourage young children and others from approaching dogs that are eating. Please check with your vet that raw meaty bones are suitable for your particular dog. Avoid large marrow bones (these have very thick outer rims), T-bones, ‘chop’ bones e.g. lamb cutlets, large knuckle bones and bones sawn lengthwise (as done by some butchers) as dogs may crack their teeth on these.

Avoid feeding too much raw meat off the bone while the pup is growing. This is important to avoid certain dog nutritional deficiencies during growth.

The amount of food required will depend on the dog’s size, breed, age and level of exercise, but take care not to overfeed or underfeed. Your vet will be able to weigh your dog, assess your dog’s body condition score and provide advice. Adult dogs should be fed at least twice a day to help avoid bloat which can be fatal. Also, dogs should not be exercised immediately before or after eating, to avoid bloat, particularly deep-chested dogs.

Clean fresh water must be available at all times.

For more about feeding, see the RSPCA Australia knowledge base.

Training

Puppies and dogs need adequate and appropriate training and socialisation. Puppies have a critical socialisation period between three and 17 weeks of age. A great way to provide socialisation is by taking your dog to puppy school classes, which are usually organised through veterinary clinics. You can also introduce your puppy to other puppies or dogs owned by friends or family members, either at your house or theirs. Of course, make sure the other dogs are friendly, healthy and up-to-date with their vaccinations.

Training gives your dog mental stimulation, positively enhances the owner-dog relationship bond, burns off energy and helps to prevent unwanted behaviours. The RSPCA recommends reward-based dog training which revolves around positive reinforcement and is enjoyable for the dog.

Exercise and play

Dogs need regular daily exercise, at least once a day in the form of walks or off-leash runs such as in council designated dog parks. Exercising also provides opportunities for socialisation with other dogs and humans. Dogs also need regular opportunities to play.

Make sure that you supervise your dog when out and about keeping your dog within calling distance. As the owner, you’re responsible for keeping your dog under control, either by a lead or through verbal commands.

Bathing and grooming

Basic dog grooming consists of regularly brushing and combing your dog, which is essential to removing dirt, dead skin, loose hairs, grass seeds and tangles from its coat. It’s particularly important in autumn and spring when most dogs moult. You should also make time for bathing your dog when required, using a dog shampoo and conditioner, and then rinsing it thoroughly with water.

Boarding

If you are away for holidays or work, you may need to arrange for your dog to be cared for at a boarding kennel.

Before choosing a boarding kennel, we recommend that you visit the site first and check it has:

  • Enough staffing to make sure your dog gets personalised attention.
  • Adequate security to prevent your dog from escaping.
  • A clean, hygienic environment.
  • Dry, clean and roomy accommodation, with good ventilation and temperature control.
  • A safe, secure area for daily exercise and play.
  • Friendly and competent staff.

A good boarding kennel will only accept dogs that have been properly vaccinated and will ask you for proof of vaccination.

Signs of health

A healthy dog should display the following signs:

  • A bright, alert and responsive demeanour.
  • Moves easily, without lameness.
  • Eating and drinking normally.
  • A clean, glossy coat in good condition, free from parasites and skin disease.
  • Urinating and defecating normally.
  • Ears that are alert, without discharge or irritation.
  • Clear eyes with no discharge or inflammation.
  • No sneezing or abnormal discharge from the nose.
  • Breathing normally, without coughing.
  • No vomitting.

If you notice any changes in your dog’s eating, drinking, urinating, defecating, breathing, demeanour, movement or activity levels, or if you see any other abnormalities please contact your vet immediately.

Health care

Vaccination

Dog vaccinations exist to fight against canine distemper, canine infectious hepatitis canine parvovirus and kennel cough. Please talk to your vet to about vaccinations.

Intestinal worms

Dogs can get roundworms, hookworms, whipworms and tapeworms. As some of these worms can be transmitted to humans, it’s a very good idea to give your dog worming treatments. You should also practice commonsense personal hygiene with your dog at all times.

Your vet will be able to prescribe the right intestinal worming products for your dog.

Heartworm

Heartworm infection is a serious condition in dogs. Talk to your vet for advice about heartworm prevention. For dog safety reasons you should never start heartworm treatment without checking with your vet first.

Fleas

Dog Fleas are a common parasite. They can cause severe itching and inflamed skin, leading to dermatitis. Fleas are also the host for the tapeworm most common in dogs. Ask your vet to recommend a suitable flea product for your dog.

Desexing

Desexing effectively prevents unwanted pregnancies. In addition, desexed dogs:

  • are better protected from certain illnesses and diseases,
  • are generally less aggressive towards other dogs,
  • tend to be more affectionate,
  • are less inclined to roam or mark their territory, and
  • are less inclined to display mating behaviours such as mounting.

The RSPCA practises early age dog desexing from the age of eight weeks when the surgery is simple and recovery is rapid. If your puppy was not desexed prior to sale, they should be desexed before they are able to produce any unintended litters of puppies. There is absolutely no benefit in letting females have one litter before they are desexed.

Microchipping

It is vitally important to register and permanently identify your dog by microchipping. Please ensure you contact the microchip database register if you change address or contact details so that if your dog becomes lost, you can be found and reunited with your pet.

Pet Insurance

RSPCA Pet Insurance can help you cover the costs of taking care of your dog.

Get a free pet insurance information pack sent to you today.

Want to know more?

For more about dog care, go to the RSPCA Australia knowledge base.