The basics of canine health are proper feeding, adequate exercise, yearly vaccinations and your own awareness of your pet's behavior. Sudden behavior changes are usually a sign that your dog should visit the veterinarian. Remember: you know your puppy better than anyone else: if you think something's wrong, chances are good you're right.
You don't need to know every variety of canine health problems: that's why you have a veterinarian. Knowing the signs of common illnesses, however, will help you spot health difficulties in their early stages.
Puppy shots are necessary if you want to protect your puppy against a number of lethal diseases. Unvaccinated puppies who contract parvovirus or canine distemper have high mortality rates. Your veterinarian will administer a number of vaccinations during the first four months of your dog's life: expect to make about four trips to the clinic or pet hospital during this time.
Puppies bought from reputable breeders have usually had at least their first round of vaccinations. Don't assume this is the case, however. Always ask if the dog you want to buy has had any puppy shots.
Parasites: Ear Mites and Tapeworms
Puppies can suffer from a number of parasites. Ear mites are common unwanted guests: tiny white mites nearly invisible to the naked eye. If you find thick black wax or crust in your pup's ears, chances are good he has ear mites. An infected dog may shake his head, or scratch his ears constantly. Your veterinarian can provide special eardrops that will kill the mites and help remove the built-up wax.
Tapeworms are intestinal parasites that often afflict puppies, especially young dogs that have had flea infestations. Fleas eat tape worm eggs. When the dog grooms, she ingests fleas, and anything in the flea's body. Once in the canine intestines, the tapeworms hatch. The worms are flat and segmented. Each segment contains eggs. Segments and egg cases can be seen in an infected dog's stool: they resemble uncooked grains of rice or sesame seeds. Tapeworm medication comes in tablet form or an injection from your veterinarian.
Heart worms are destructive parasites who can kill otherwise healthy dogs. The worms are transmitted to canines through mosquito bites. The worms can grow up to twelve inches in length, have thousands of babies a day, and infect the right side of the heart. The most common symptom of infestation is a soft cough (often ignored by pet owners). The dog become tired easily, loses weight, and lacks energy. In some cases, blood may be coughed up.
Heart worms are detected through a blood test. If caught early enough, medication is available to kill the worms. Preventative medications can be used to prevent infestation or reinfestation.
Ringworm is not actually a worm at all: it is a fungus that can infect your puppy's skin. Young animals are more susceptible to ringworm than adults. Your pet may experience hair loss in affected areas, and scaly, circular patches will develop on the skin. These patches are often red around the circle's edges. Ringworm is treated with a variety of disinfecting shampoos or topical applications.
Distemper is a common killer of unvaccinated puppies. The virus is often spread through the air, but is also present in body excretions. Symptoms include diarrhea, coughing, runny nose, fever, a loss of appetite and eye inflammation. Vaccination is the best defense against this killer disease.
Parvovirus affects young dogs with immature immune systems more often than adults. Related to feline distemper, parvovirus is a tenacious virus that can survive for months in the environment. Warning signs include diarrhea, blood in the stools, and depression. Left untreated, the disease has a high death rate. Fortunately, puppy shots help protect against this virus.
The only protection against rabies is through a rabies vaccine and some measure of foresight. Whenever possible, minimize your dog's contact with wild animals, who often carry the disease. Rabies is transmitted by salvia in bites, and once infected, death is usually certain. Watch for depression, partial paralysis, lethargy or attacking other animals or self-inflicted biting. Remember, rabies can be passed to humans.