As a vet I spend a fair part of my day advising on how to maintain good health. I have come to identify four main lifestyle choices that everyone who cares for a dog has to make on their dog's behalf. The four areas that you will need to consider are:
- Neutering (to leave intact or to neuter, and if so, at what age)
- Diet (home made meals, processed factory food or a raw meat diet)
- Parasite control (routine preventative treatments or regular testing)
- Vaccination (when, how often and against what diseases)
There is no getting away from the responsibility that comes with caring for a pet. How, then, do we make these decisions? Maybe you never gave it much thought. After all, you may reasonably expect to care for your new dog the way you have always cared for your dogs, right? Wrong.
Over the last 5-10 years a wealth of new research has provided evidence to change the way we approach all the above four areas. And our dogs will ultimately be much healthier for it.
Chances are that some of the current advice may surprise you. The way we do things has changed so much in the last few years as a vast amount of new research has emerged, that what you did for your last puppy will invariably be outdated and today may even be considered harmful.
Let me give you a concrete example. Remember annual boosters?
Did you know that since 2010 routine vaccine boosters for dogs are not in line with expert recommendations? In their stead, we today apply an individual approach with the result that many dogs remain fully protected with as little as one single well-timed shot providing life long protection.
The new tool that has made this possible is the in-practice titer test. A decade ago, it was not practically possible to know how long-lasting the protection derived from a vaccine would be. As a consequence, we blindly carpet-bombed our dogs and their immune systems with repeated vaccinations year after year to ensure protection. Today, your up-to-date veterinarian will simply draw a single drop of blood and check for the presence of antibodies. If your dog is still protected, no new vaccine is called for. As this is becoming standard practice and evidence is mounting, it has become clear that almost all dogs are covered for life on the basis of the puppy vaccine alone.
My best advice to you? Use only vets who use in-house titer testing. And never agree to have your adult dog vaccinated without first insisting on a titer test.
It is a very exciting time for veterinarians and everyone else with a passion for dogs. The current rapid developments in small animal care mean that unfounded practices of the past are being abandoned. The shift in vaccination practices started in earnest eight years ago, the health implications of neutering are just being uncovered. Help spread the word. Talk to your veterinarian, your dog-trainer and your friends. Help raise awareness so we can move on. I am absolutely not advocating jumping on the latest fad but simply that we make sure to make our decisions based on evidence and scientific fact. The ways we always did things are no longer appropriate whether it relates to disease prevention, diet or neutering. Times change. We live and learn.