Preventive Care for Dogs

Understanding Preventive Care: Essential Vaccinations and Check-ups for Dogs

Preventive Care for Dogs

The old saying “An gram of prevention is worth a pound of cure” applies directly to dog therapy. Preventing a disease is always better than curing it, and although it cannot be prevented, early intervention is always better than curing it. Because dogs age faster than humans, annual pet checkups are similar to the visits people make to the doctor every four to five years. The rapid aging process in dogs makes preventive care even more important.

What are Preventive Medicine Procedures?

The AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association) and AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) have collected medical information from various professional groups, some of them the American Heartworm Association, and the American Cat Association, to standardize veterinary care for dogs and cats. Practitioners and Veterinary Parasite Committee and Canine Preventive Health Guidelines (CPHG) developed



Discussing your dog’s life at home will give your vet a complete picture of his health. Your dog’s behavior can change so slowly that you don’t realize it until you ask specific questions. Is your dog in good health and breathing? Does it hurt when urinating? is he lame?
Does he wake up slowly while sleeping? Have you had shortness of breath, coughing or sneezing? Does it itch? Does he drink a lot of water? Your answers will be recorded at each visit so your vet can identify routine changes that are hard to see.


Even healthy dogs should be examined by a veterinarian at least once a year, preferably twice a year. More frequent vet visits are needed if your dog is older or has medical issues. Physical examination may reveal a heart murmur or skip, enlarged lymph nodes, skin and/or abdominal pain, and enlarged kidneys or lungs, liver or spleen, which may indicate a disease. Looking into the eyes can determine your dog’s eyesight. An orthopedic exam can show if your dog has arthritis and needs medication.
Skin and hair examination will determine if flea and tick control is necessary or to check for skin infections (bacterial, fungal or parasitic). Hair loss may indicate an underlying disease or hormonal imbalance.


Heart disease is more common in warmer climates where mosquitoes breed, while dogs are infected in all provinces and parts of Canada. Even dogs that live in cold environments can develop heartworms, which is why the Heartworm Society of America recommends annual blood tests for heartworms. Intestinal infections can affect both dogs and humans, so stool should be checked at least once (and preferably twice) a year. To detect organ failure at an early stage, blood tests (complete blood count, biochemical tests, and thyroid tests) and urine tests should be performed every year. If problems are detected, they should be tested more often.
For dogs in tick areas, testing for diseases such as Lyme disease or ehrlichiosis may be recommended.

Dental Care

Oral health is known to affect a dog’s overall health. In short, dogs with clean mouths live longer. Diseases associated with periodontal disease are not limited to the mouth. These bacteria can enter the bloodstream and go to important organs such as the kidney, liver, and heart, where they can cause serious problems. Dogs will need a dental cleaning every one to two years, but this frequency does not include preventive care and routine maintenance (eg.
e.g. daily brushing). Dental radiographs (x-rays) will help identify oral disease. Regular brushing will keep your dog’s mouth healthy.

Parasite Prevention

In endemic areas, dogs should be vaccinated annually to prevent heart disease. Many heartworm medications also prevent or treat intestinal infections, and some also treat fleas and ticks. Your vet can prescribe these medications and treat the parasite for your dog.


Vaccines are divided into two groups: essential vaccines and non-essential vaccines (optional). All dogs considered stable and healthy should be vaccinated against rabies, distemper, canine parvovirus, and canine adenovirus 2 (hepatitis) (usually DAP vaccine in combination). Vaccines for kennel cough, Lyme disease, leptospirosis, and canine flu may be recommended for dogs at risk of exposure to these diseases. See the “Dog Vaccines” document for more information.

Weight Maintenance

Studies have shown that leaner dogs live longer and have fewer health problems. Your vet will give your dog a body score and provide dietary and exercise recommendations to help your dog achieve a healthy score. See the “Canine Obesity” guide to learn more about the importance of body health scores and how to prevent obesity in your dog.


There are many health or behavioral benefits of spaying or neutering. This surgery can prevent disease and some cancers. Your vet will discuss these benefits and the timing of the procedure for your dog. In the meantime, see the “Dog Neutering” and “Dog Neutering” articles to learn more about these procedures and how they affect your dog.

Diagnosing Canine Illness

Dogs have a survival instinct that allows them to hide pain and well-being (so it doesn’t happen to animals). Because the vet can’t ask your dog how he’s feeling or see what’s going on in his body, a thorough physical examination includes tests such as blood work and laboratory tests. Urine can help your vet determine if your dog has an infection. however, it can be prevented or diagnosed and treated early if the condition is already present.

Preventive Care for Dogs

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