Know Your Dog's Habits

Other clues to your dog's good health can be found in her everyday actions. Paying attention to how she spends her days, her level of play and exercise, how she greets and interacts with family members, and even when and how often she potties can all help you keep a finger on the pulse of your dog's health. Consider keeping a diary of your dog's days. You'll find it's easier to spot changes in behavior or to see patterns if you can refer to a written record.

Play and Exercise

The amount of exercise dogs need and desire varies by breed and individual. Sporting dogs (the group that comprises retrievers, setters, spaniels, and pointers) tend to enjoy high levels of exercise every day. The same is true of terriers, most herding breeds, and some of the hound breeds. Most other dogs, including some of the toy breeds, usually have a moderate energy level. They enjoy daily walks and playtime, but to use an automotive metaphor, they run on gasoline, not rocket fuel.

Any unusual change in your dog's behavior is something to be aware of and to mention to your veterinarian, especially if it occurs in conjunction with lethargy or a change in appetite.

Lethargy is defined as an unusual lack of energy or vitality. You'll know it when your high-energy dog is feeling lethargic. He won't want to play his favorite games or go for a walk or run, and his eyes may seem dull. Lethargy may be a little less obvious in a dog whose energy levels are moderate or low to begin with. You might attribute his behavior to the heat or just to an off day. Even dogs have off days, after all. Whatever your dog's energy level, don't ignore lethargic behavior for too long. If he's uninterested in his usual favorite activities for more than a day, it's a good idea to take him in for a veterinary exam. Lethargy is a common sign of many different diseases.

Actions and Interactions

Changes in behavior and personality can also signal health problems. If your dog normally greets you happily at the front door when you come home from work, take note if he stops doing this. If your dog normally loves meeting people, be concerned if he suddenly shows no interest in them or even seems aggressive. Pay attention if your Labrador retriever turns away from tennis balls, your beagle stops sniffing anything and everything, your pug's tail loses its curl, or your Cavalier King Charles spaniel stops seeking out a lap.

Potty Behavior

It may not be what you thought you signed up for when you acquired a dog, but paying attention to a dog's urinary output and fecal composition is a big part of dog ownership, especially when it comes to keeping a dog healthy. Knowing your dog's normal patterns of urination and defecation allows you to notice quickly when they change. That's one of the many reasons it's a good idea to take your dog out to potty on leash instead of just sending him out into the back yard by himself to do his business.

What's normal? The average dog will welcome the opportunity to urinate every four to six hours. That's first thing in the morning, around noon, again later in the afternoon, and in the evening before bedtime. If need be, however, most healthy adult dogs can go eight hours between potty trips. Male dogs tend to urinate small amounts in different areas, marking their territory. Females usually empty their bladders all in one go, although it's not unheard of for them to scent mark as well. Dogs normally defecate once or twice a day. Stools should be small and firm.

Signs of possible problems include changes in the frequency of urination, the amount urinated, whether the dog seems to strain to urinate, and whether there appears to be blood in the urine. (Bloody urine is something you might miss unless your dog has an accident in the house and you see a pink tinge on the carpet.)

A constant need to go out, accompanied by straining during urination, could indicate a bladder infection. A big increase in the frequency and amount urinated, accompanied by an increase in water consumption, could indicate diabetes or kidney disease. Loose or liquid stools (diarrhea) can occur after a sudden change in diet or after eating garbage, as a result of certain internal parasites, or as a symptom of a serious infection, such as parvovirus. If he's straining to defecate and producing hard, dry stools, he may be constipated. All of these conditions require veterinary care, so you can see why it's a good idea to keep tabs on your dog's potty habits.

If your perfectly house-trained dog suddenly starts having accidents in the house, don't scold him for breaking training. He may be trying to tell you he doesn't feel well. Take him to the veterinarian to rule out any health problems, such as a urinary tract infection.

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