How to Keep Your Dog Healthy

Vaccines prevent many viral and bacterial diseases that are difficult to treat in dogs. You must also protect your dog from a variety of parasites, from fleas to heartworms. Here's what you need to know.
Vaccinate Against Disease
Vaccines help keep your
dog healthy and strong.

Vaccination schedules vary, as do the combination of vaccines that can be administered at the same time. "Puppies should be vaccinated starting somewhere between 6 and 8 weeks of age. By that time, the mother's antibodies are starting to wear off," explains veterinarian Robert Culver of the Heartland Animal Hospital in Des Moines.

As long as your dog has all her vaccines by 16 weeks, she should be well-protected. Until the immunizations have been given, minimize your puppy's contact with other dogs (except those that you know have had their shots).

Annual booster vaccinations will help your dog stay disease-free. Boosters are especially important for pets who will be interacting with other dogs -- such as at a dog run, kennel, or "doggie day care" facility. Even if your puppy will be walked with other dogs, or possibly come in contact with other dogs in your neighborhood, be sure to keep her vaccinations up-to-date.

These are the main diseases that dogs are vaccinated against:

  • Rabies is a viral disease of the central nervous system that can be passed from wild animals to pets and is fatal to humans and animals. Rabies vaccines for dogs are required by law in most states. Symptoms of rabies include excess salivation, seizures, unexplained aggression, and difficulty swallowing.

  • Distemper is a highly-contagious viral disease that attacks a dog's nervous system. Puppies are the most common victims of distemper, but it can affect dogs of all ages. Distemper can cause fever, lethargy, discharge from the eyes and nose, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, and death. The death rate is very high (75 percent) and patients that recover may suffer permanent damage to vision, teeth, and the nervous system.

  • Hepatitis generally affects dogs under a year old and causes damage to the liver, kidneys, eyes, and major organs. Hepatitis can be fatal. (Canine hepatitis is not the same as the human form of the disease, nor can dogs pass hepatitis to humans.)

  • Bordatella is an airborne, contagious, bacteria that is the most common cause of severe parainfluenza. The distinctive symptom of bordatella is a deep cough.

  • Parainfluenza is a viral infectious bronchitis, commonly known as kennel cough.

  • Parvovirus is a highly contagious intestinal virus that causes bloody diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, acute abdominal pain, high fever, and possibly death. Without proper sanitation, kennels can be breeding grounds for parvovirus since it spreads through exposure to fecal matter, can remain active for months, and is easily transmitted on shoes, clothing, and other objects.

  • Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that affects the liver, kidneys, and other major organs. If the kidneys are affected, leptospirosis can be fatal. Dogs that are exposed to rat urine (dogs on farms, for example) are at the greatest risk for leptospirosis.

  • Corona is a viral, intestinal disease that causes diarrhea, fever, and weakness. It can be fatal in very young puppies.

  • Lyme disease is a progressively debilitating bacterial disease carried by ticks, primarily deer ticks. Both humans and dogs are susceptible to Lyme disease. Early symptoms are difficult to spot and can range from nothing to lameness. If not diagnosed early, irreversible damage can occur to joints. While this vaccine reduces the risk of your dog's contracting Lyme disease, it's not 100 percent effective. See the "Parasites" page for more information about ticks and avoiding Lyme disease.

Continued on page 2:  Parasites