Veterinary care can be really expensive – we know that. However, there are lots of things you can do to make it less likely that your pet will need treatment. Our vet blogger Laura explores some health-boosting, money-saving tips…

1. Keep your pet a healthy weight

Ensuring your pet is a healthy weight is really important. Regardless of their breed or size, you should be able to feel their ribs and spine at the end of your finger tips. They should have a nice visible tucked waistline, where the body narrows just behind their ribcage. Overweight pets have a higher risk of developing issues such as diabetes, heart and lung problems and arthritis. Monitor what your pet eats in a day – including any treats or snacks. Your vet practice will be able to help you check your pet’s Body Condition Score alongside their weight to determine if they are within a healthy range.

2. Keep them fit

An important part of owning a dog, is to ensure they get their daily exercise. This is a great way to keep them (and you!) fit and healthy. All dogs should be walked at least once or twice daily. The amount of exercise they will require will depend on their breed and this is something you should consider before getting a dog. For example, a Border Collie will require over 2 hours per day, whilst a smaller breed like a Yorkshire Terrier will need around 30 minutes.

Their age will also determine how much exercise they should have. Puppies don’t need as much exercise as adult dogs; over exercising them can damage their joints and they can tire easily. As a rough guide, 5 minutes per month of age until they are fully grown; for example, 20 minutes for a 4 month old puppy. As well as keeping them fit, regular exercise helps to prevent them from getting overweight (see above!).

3. Keep them safe from road traffic accidents

Accidents can, and unfortunately do happen but there are a number of things we can do as owners to reduce the risk of this. Ensure your dog has a well fitting harness or collar and lead when walking on or near roads. 

Having good recall (where you can quickly get your dog’s attention and have them to return to you) is really important. Particularly with puppies, this can take patience and practice, and you may like to consider training classes to help with this. 

If you’re walking your dog after dark, ensure they can be seen by oncoming traffic by using a hi-vis harness or lead.

4. Feed them a good quality food

Deciding which food to feed your pet can be a bit of a minefield. There is so much choice available these days, but unfortunately not all foods are created equal! We recommend feeding a nutritionally balanced diet with all the right vitamins and minerals. Pet’s requirements will differ between breeds, age and size, so it’s important to feed a diet that is specific to your pet. For example, as you can imagine, an adult Chihuahua and a Great Dane puppy will have hugely different calorific requirements. So it’s important to feed them appropriately. 

You should feed a good quality puppy or junior food up to the age of about 1 year (sometimes longer for large breed dogs – usually to about 15-18 months), then gradually switch to an adult diet, then to a senior food from the age of 8.

What should I look out for?

Take a look at the list of ingredients – the first item on the list should be an animal protein eg chicken or fish. As a general rule, avoid any diets where the kibble is a range of multi colours as this indicates there are likely to be added colourants and additives. They are there to make the food look more appealing to you as the purchaser, as your dog doesn’t care what colour his food is! It’s a good idea to discuss your pet’s needs with your vet or veterinary nurse as they can help you tailor a diet that would work best for your pet.

If you have a large breed dog then you should feed your dog a diet specially formulated for large breeds. This is because joint problems tend to be more common in larger dogs, so these diets contain additional joint supplements to support bone and joint health. Small breed dogs can be more prone to dental disease. So generally diets suited to smaller breed dogs have a smaller kibble size and contain supplements to reduce tartar build up (which can lead to dental disease).

5. Keep their teeth clean

Brushing your pet’s teeth is a fantastic way to help reduce the build up of tartar and is generally the most effective. This should ideally be daily, if this is not possible, then at least twice weekly. It’s a good idea to get your pet used to this from a young age. You’ll need to use a pet specific toothpaste; you must not use human toothpaste as they contain high levels of fluoride. Special pet toothpastes are commercially available at your vet practice or pet shop – often fish or meat flavoured! You can use a finger toothbrush or microfibre finger cloth.

It can be a gradual process getting your pet used to having their teeth brushed. First give them a little bit of toothpaste on your finger, so they get used to the taste. Slowly build up to gently touching their lips at the edges of their mouth and try lifting their lips to see their teeth. Once they’re accepting of this, gently touch the outer surfaces of their teeth; then you can start to introduce a small amount of toothpaste on your finger and eventually build up to using a small toothbrush to brush gently. 

What other options are there?

Prescription dental diets are available and can help reduce the build up of tartar. The hard kibble is formulated to create an abrasive brushing action when chewed. They contain additives which reduce the accumulation of tartar sticking to the teeth. (We don’t generally advise chewing on bone although they can scrape off some tartar. This is because even raw bones can (and do) break teeth, costing a lot more to treat than a Scale & Polish! – Ed.).

There are a variety of dental products available that can be added to your pet’s food or water to help clean your pet’s teeth. This should be discussed with your vet in conjunction with your pet’s age and general health.

If during their health check examination, your vet spots early signs of dental plaque or tartar they may recommend a dental procedure called a Scale & Polish. This is similar to a professional clean you may get at the dentist. Obviously our furry patients require a general anaesthetic for this to be performed properly and to be able to clean and remove bacteria and debris from under the gums. Your pet may require a regular Scale & Polish every 1-2 years to maintain their dental health. This is, however, likely to be cheaper than emergency dental surgery… and much less unpleasant for your pet!