Keeping your service dog healthy is crucial to ensure they can perform their job and lead a long, healthy, happy life. At Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs, we keep our dogs as healthy as possible and teach our recipients to do the same. We’ve put together our top tips for keeping your service dog healthy and happy.
Keep Them at a Healthy Weight
Overweight dogs are a major issue in the U.S. When your dog is overweight, they are at a higher risk for conditions such as heart issues and cancer, while also putting extra stress on their joints which can lead to arthritis and other mobility complications.
To check if your service dog is at a healthy weight, he/she should have a visible waistline. When you touch your dog’s ribs, you should be able to feel their ribs rather than a layer of fat. If you are unable to feel their ribs, your dog is probably overweight. Another way to check is to look down over their back and look for an indentation between the hips and ribs – their waistline. If you see that this area goes straight back with no indent or if it balloons out, your dog is overweight. Be sure you are feeding them the correct portions for their activity level and avoid overfeeding them treats. Dog food labels give feeding instructions that ensure the dog never starves, however, the dog’s activity level must be taken into consideration making the label suggestions inappropriate in most cases.
Feed Them a Scientific vs Cost Formulation Dog Food
When it comes to dog food, there’s something called a cost formulation and a scientific formulation. The less expensive dog foods typically fall under
the cost formulation. All they are required to do is meet the percentage analysis that you see on the labeling; it doesn’t specify where those products come from that make up that analysis. Sadly, they could be using shoe leather and feathers to meet those criteria. Yikes, this is definitely not what we want to feed our dogs to maximize their health and nutrition! This is why we always recommend a scientific formulation. These companies guarantee their sources of ingredients that make up the analysis. The cheaper foods do not guarantee you what these sources are because they are buying whatever is the cheapest. With a scientific formulation of dog food, you are getting a higher quality ingredient.
With so many dog foods on the market, it’s really important to do your homework. Our veterinarian, Dr. Rogers, and our founder, Carol Borden, have done a great deal of research on diets because we absolutely want to give our dogs the finest foundation possible at an affordable price for our recipients.
What was particularly important to Carol was not only the type of product that was being sourced to meet those percentages, but where it was being sourced from. We know that many of the dog treats coming from China have killed a lot of dogs in our country. We know that some of the raw hides and chew toys are cured in formaldehyde. We would never give our dogs anything like that.
When Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs did all the research as to what dog food we should feed our dogs, we ended up choosing a dog food that was predominantly sourced in the U.S. with ingredients that are grown here on farms in the U.S. In addition, there are a few ingredients that are sourced from safe places, such as salmon from Norway or lamb from New Zealand.
In your research, you will see that there is a lot of concern for heavy metals and naturally occurring toxins in dog foods. Unfortunately, over 50% of dogs in the U.S. die of cancer each year. We have to question if that may be caused in part by a dog’s diet.
Do Not Feed Your Service Dog People Food
At Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs, we do not feed our service dogs people food at all. Our service dogs have public access rights which means they can go into food venues such as restaurants and grocery stores. We never want them to be begging for human food or being “hoovers” on the floor at a restaurant. Another reason is not all people food is good for dogs. If you give an overabundance of people food, it can upset the balance of what they should be receiving in their diet. It also adds to the dog’s risk of obesity, and could even cause a GI upset with diarrhea.
Take Care of Your Dog’s Dental Health
Dental health care is important for your dog. If your service dog doesn’t like to chew on bones such as Nyla bones, which help clean the teeth, you will need to get a toothbrush or dental wipes so you can help keep their teeth clean. There are a variety of dog-specific dental products on the market that you can use and get your dog used to. This is far better and less expensive than having to put your dog under anesthesia to have a dental cleaning.
Ensure Your Service Dog Gets Regular Exercise
Another great way to keep your service dog at a healthy weight is to make sure they are getting regular exercise and mental enrichment. Activities you can do with your dog include playing catch, taking a walk, practice your obedience drills, and more!
We recommend that you avoid throwing the ball or toy up in the air to prevent injuries such as a tear to the CCL (the same as the ACL in a human). You also do not want to encourage your dog to lunge for a treat or toy either. Bigger dogs playing this way could even result in you getting knocked over and injured.
At Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs, we build confidence courses that include platforms, steps, tunnels, sway bridges, wobble tables, and tires. These courses should be built only a foot or two off the ground to prevent accidents. Dogs should be introduced to confidence courses slowly and with positive reinforcement to ensure they find their comfort zone.
Schedule Regular Veterinary Visits
Be sure to take your service dog to the veterinarian for their annual checkup to get their vaccines along with stool sample testing, and an overall wellness check. Once your dog reaches about seven years of age, you should start adding a geriatric profile to their annual wellness exams so you know what’s going on within your dog. This is an excellent way to stay ahead of a potential problem that could be addressed early. These annual visits will help you identify dietary issues or other problems that may need to be addressed with supplements or other changes for their well-being.
Additionally, it’s important to observe a geriatric dog as he ages. If you observe that he is slowing down, there may be supportive care that you could provide him/her with early such as for an arthritic condition which is very common. This condition is not going to show up in the blood work, but the veterinarian will certainly make the appropriate suggestions in talking with the client and examining the dog. By adding the appropriate supportive veterinary medications, your dog will not only be more comfortable, but it may also extend their working life.
Use Preventatives as Needed
Regardless of where you live, heartworms can become an issue for your dog. It is crucial to keep up with your dog’s heartworm preventative. Without this preventive, heartworms will kill the dog over time. Flea and tick preventatives are necessary depending on where you live. Even if you keep your home clean and free of parasites, sometimes wild animals can carry them in. In other cases, your neighbors may not keep up with fleas and ticks as well you do, which can transfer over to your home.
Have Questions About Service Dog Care? Contact us Today!
If you have any questions about caring for your service dog, please reach out to Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs today to learn more!
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