Dr Paul Manktelow
Dr Paul Manktelow is a leading veterinary surgeon with 20 years’ experience. In his role as Principal Vet at PDSA he has worked on the front line of some of the UK’s busiest veterinary hospitals. Paul is also a TV and radio presenter, writer, public speaker and podcast producer, educating dog owners all across the UK.
Here are my top tips to help care for your super dog!
1. Healthy Balanced Diet
What you feed your dog can have a huge impact on how they feel, how they look and even how they behave. A high quality and balanced diet can help manage your dog’s weight, maintain a strong immune system and can help to keep joints and muscles healthy. Like people however, all dogs are different, and have different nutritional needs especially when you consider different breeds, different age groups and different activity levels. It can be really confusing as an owner when faced with all the different types of diets, that often have conflicting information on how effective they are. My advice is to use evidence, and what better proof of a good diet than by looking at your dog. Are they interactive with you? Have good skin and a healthy coat? Pass formed poops? And are they energetic during exercise and well rested when at home? If the answer to all this is yes then the chances are you are getting it right!
2. Keep Your Dog Smiling!
Dental health is extremely important for dogs and if dental hygiene is not maintained throughout your dog's life, it can result in plaque, tartar, gum issues and in some serious cases, diseases throughout the whole body. Vets will usually look in your dog's mouth at their annual check ups and be able to assess any changes around the gums and teeth, however, inspecting these areas yourself at home can help to alert you to any problems early. Simply hold your dog's mouth with one hand under their chin, then with the other other hand lift up their upper lip at each side so you can visualise the teeth and gums on each side. As dogs age you will inevitably get some light brown staining on the teeth but excessive tartar or red inflamed gums are signs that problems are developing. Thankfully there are a number of ways you can care for your dog's mouth at home and prevention is always preferable to invasive and costly dental procedures at the vets.
One of the most effective ways of maintaining oral health is to brush your dog's teeth regularly using a good pet friendly toothpaste. Gradually build up their tolerance with this using gentle praise and treats until it becomes a regular daily habit. In addition there are a number of products and new technologies that dog owners are using to keep dental issues at bay. Dental chews, food supplements, oral rinses and even ultrasonic toothbrushes are now all available for your dog.
3. Appropriate Exercise
Every dog is different and the amount of exercise they require can vary depending on their breed, age and general activity levels. Despite these differences, some form of regular exercise can benefit all dogs in a number of different ways.
When planning how much exercise to give your dog it’s important to consider two things, how much your dog wants to do, and how much they are able to do. Young, active and physically fit dogs may require high levels of physical and mental stimulation and a short walk around the block may not cut the mustard. In general terms your dog should be energetic and stimulated during their walk and restful at home, so if you return and they are tearing round the place and destroying things then chances are you need to do more with them outside. Of course sometimes the weather can be prohibitive and in this situation you should ensure they are stimulated with indoor activities such as play or training exercises.
A dog's ability to exercise can be limited by its age, physical breed characteristics and concurrent diseases. Very old dogs and very young puppies only require short periods of mental and physical stimulation between lengthy restful periods so it’s important not to overdo it with these guys. Similarly breed characteristics like the flat face of brachycephalic dogs, or the long spines of the daschund means that extreme physical exertion can come with additional risks and extra care should be taken.
Of course disease has impacts on the body’s physical abilities but it can also affect a dogs mental desire to exercise, interact or play. If your dog has a specific condition then it’s probably best to speak to your vet about any limitations on physical activity that you should be aware of.
4. Prepare for the Seasons
The one thing predictable about the UK weather is that it is completely unpredictable! As a dog owner you should prepare for all the seasonal challenges to keep your dogs safe and healthy on their walks.
In the hot summer weather you should only exercise in the cooler parts of the day, namely dawn and dusk avoiding those dangerous high temperatures, but also those high pollen counts which is better for dogs with seasonal allergies. You should always carry fresh water on a walk and for sunny days make sure you pack sunscreen for ear tips and noses.
On the other extreme we have those wet and wild winters. Whilst dogs have their own coats, you might need an additional outer layer for those that have very short, fine or poorly insulated hair. Beware of salt on the roads in icy conditions as you may need to rinse paws to prevent dogs ingesting excessive amounts, and of course make sure they are nice and visible in the darker conditions by using reflective or LED accessories.
5. Home Health Checks
I’m a great advocate of owners performing regular nose to tail checks at home in order to assess their dogs general health. A weekly check that looks at all body systems is a great way to understand what’s normal and what isn’t. Any unusual findings can be reported to your vet, which can lead to early diagnosis of issues and in many cases reduced treatment costs.
Start at the head and do a thorough exam of eyes, ears and mouth looking for any areas of unusual colouration, discharge or inflammation. Work your way across the whole body checking skin, hair, nails, muscles and bones.
As well as finding new things, this is a great way of monitoring things like lump and bumps and you can record the size, shape and appearance of any abnormalities and report these findings to your vet.
Your dog will soon get the hang of this, especially when their check is rewarded with a nice treat at the end!
6. Create a Safe Space
Dogs are social and interactive animals and they love being part of the family, however like us they often need a bit of quiet time and a safe space to relax. Creating a den in a space that is designated exclusively as theirs will give them the opportunity to retreat when they feel the need to. An ideal area would be one that is covered and comfortable, like a crate or a bed under a table for example.
Blankets, toys and anything with a familiar smell will make this their home from home, and can be particularly useful during any stressful or noisy events such as building works for fireworks season. It’s important that the whole family respect this personal space and dogs aren’t disturbed when they retreat to this area.
7. Coat Care
Dog coats come in as many varieties as the dogs themselves with a range of lengths, textures and grooming needs. All dogs should be comfortable with regular brushing but it’s important that you gradually build up the time and intensity of grooming sessions to make sure it’s a pleasant experience for all.
When done correctly, brushing will improve coat quality by removing dead hair, dirt and untangling knots. It also helps massage the underlying skin which can improve blood flow and circulation. Regular attention to the coat will also alert owners to the presence of fleas and other parasites although I’d recommend you treat your dog for these regularly anyway.
Regardless of the dog's coat, there are some general principles that indicate good coat condition. It should be clean, glossy, and free from tangled or matted areas. The underlying skin should be calm, not itchy or inflamed, and free from sore, scabbed or discharging areas. Any abnormalities should be reported to your vet for investigation and treatment as necessary.
8. Play Time
Play time with your dog has many physical and psychological benefits, as well as giving you a great opportunity to bond. Engaging in gentle play or training sessions are a great way to mentally stimulate your dog, tire them out and allow them to have fulfilled rest periods. Dogs love to chew, so it’s important to give them an outlet for chewing the right things, otherwise they can direct their attention into destructive behaviours.
All dogs are different and it’s important to try out different interactive toys to understand what they love doing. Whether the toys stimulate tugging, chewing or retrieving, they are a great way of reducing anxiety related behaviours especially when you have to leave your dog alone for parts of the day.
A safety note: If the toy or treat is destructible then don’t leave your dog alone with it for any period of time as small pieces can quickly become choking hazards.
9. Vitamins And Supplements
No dog is the same, and like people, they can have quite different nutritional needs especially when you consider life stage, activity levels and different health conditions. Whilst many commercial pet foods claim to be balanced, it is difficult to believe that they can be balanced for every dog in every situation. Vitamins and supplements when fed appropriately can be a great way to give owners the peace of mind that their dog is receiving the important vitamins and minerals they need, as a kind of nutritional insurance policy to support their health.
Like many people, I take supplements to help with specific areas of my health, but as humans we can directly assess whether we think supplements work based on our personal experience before and after taking them. Since our dogs don’t talk they can’t tell us whether they notice a difference with a particular supplement; however, if you observe your dog across a number of health areas you should be able to objectively assess whether those dietary additions are having a positive effect.
Look for changes in skin and coat quality, energy levels, behaviour, mobility and digestive function. If you notice a difference in any of these areas after giving a dietary supplement then the chances are it’s having an effect. Remember that the experience your dog has may be different from others which is another reason that assessing them as individuals is important.
Dr Paul Manktelow has been a vet for 20 years in some of the busiest veterinary hospitals in the UK. Paul is passionate about pets and people and in his work in the charity sector as PDSA’s Principal of Vet Services he has led 15 large hospital teams that treat tens of thousands of pets in need every year.
As a strong advocate for pet health and welfare, Paul regularly appears in the UK media speaking on a number of key welfare topics. In his TV career he’s featured on a number of prime time shows such as C4’s ‘Crufts’, ITV’s ‘This Morning’, CBBCs ‘Junior Vets’ and C4’s ‘Animal Madhouse’. He is also the presenter and producer of the podcast ‘The Consult Room’.
Whilst Dr Paul’s work takes him all across the UK, his home is in London which he shares with his little terrier crossbreed Rodney!
DISCLAIMER: The content above is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinary surgeon or other qualified health professional regarding any medical condition for your dog.