Category: caring for your dog

Exercise – for a healthy, happy dog

All animals need exercise to be happy and healthy. Exercise improves general fitness levels and helps to prevent obesity. If your dog isn’t able to work off their energy by exercising outside, they may do so inside! Taking regular exercise together will alleviate boredom and also strengthen the bond between you.

The amount of exercise required to satisfy your dog will depend on your dog’s age, breed and health. A puppy needs less exercise than an adult dog and too much exercise in a young puppy may damage the developing joints.

Some breeds need more exercise than others, spaniels, for example, have very high energy levels and can become difficult to manage in the house if they cannot burn off some energy. Toy breeds, bred for companionship, often have much lower energy levels.

Generally, if your dog has very high energy levels, it may need up to 30-60 minutes of exercise 2-4 times a day whereas dogs with low energy levels may be satisfied with only 10-20 minutes 1-2 times daily. Most dogs fall somewhere in between these.

Although regular exercise will help to keep your pet active for longer, inevitably as dogs get older their ability to exercise will decline. Take note if your dog seems unable to complete their usual exercise regime, if they are lagging behind on walks, or seem more out breath than normal. These can be signs of other problems rather than just old age so always visit your vet if you are concerned – there may well be a simple solution to resolve the problems and allow your pet to fully enjoy their walks again.

Exercise should be varied – your dog will enjoy a walk more if the route is varied and if you add some games and challenges. A ball or Frisbee will provide a fun and challenging activity for your dog but avoid throwing sticks as the wood can splinter and sharp pieces of wood can damage the throat or stomach.

Some dogs prefer sharp bursts of exercise, e.g. terriers, and others e.g. pastoral breeds enjoy canine sports. Some breeds of dogs such as pointers need wide open spaces where they can roam in order to burn off energy; others such as retrievers often like to stay closer to their owners but may like to romp and play with other dogs. Contact the Kennel Club – – to find out about your dog’s instinctive exercise preferences.

Dogs should be allowed off leash only in safe areas where regulations permit but make sure that your dog is well-trained and you can be sure it will come back when called.

Young puppies only need a small amount of exercise (a few minutes at a time to start with). Exercise can be built up to adult levels as the puppy matures and this will vary from breed to breed.

Dogs need regular exercise, whatever the weather conditions, and although some dogs may show reluctance to go out if it is cold or raining, once out they will usually enjoy the walk. Some breeds of dog have unsuitable coats for certain weather conditions. Breeds such as whippets and greyhounds do not have particularly warm or weather proof coats and these breeds definitely appreciate being able to wear a waterproof coat in winter. Dogs designed to live in cold climates such as malamutes can find hot weather quite distressing.

If the weather is very hot do not exercise your dog during the middle of the day – try to take them out in the cooler parts of the day and stay in the shade where possible. Avoid giving your dog vigorous exercise (such as running or chasing after a ball) immediately after mealtimes.

Never force your dog to take exercise that leaves it exhausted, struggling to breathe or stiff. If your dog is not fit you should start with a gentle exercise regime and gradually build up the time and speed of the exercise at a rate that your dog can tolerate. Some breeds of dog (particularly those with short faces such as pugs and Pekingese, boxers and bulldogs etc.) may find it difficult to breathe at rest let alone when they are asked to exercise. If your dog has particular medical or physical problems, ask your vet for advice on an appropriate exercise programme.

The benefits of exercise to dogs are similar to those in people. In addition to helping to keep your dog fit and healthy, regular exercise is fun and stimulating for your pet. Exercise can reduce the risk of undesirable behaviours associated with boredom such as digging, excessive barking, chewing and hyperactivity. The shared experience of walking and playing with your dog will help to build confidence and trust between you. After exercise your dog will feel more relaxed and sleepy when at home. Walking with your dog will also make you fitter and gives you a chance to unwind.

Exercising your dog does not have to be all about walking. Some people like to take their dogs with them when they are jogging, roller-skating or cycling. If you jog with your dog on a leash, be careful not to overestimate his abilities and go too far. If your dog is stiff, sore or exhausted for hours after exercise, scale back next time.

If your dog forges ahead, pulls to the side or lags behind, this can result in you constantly pulling on the leash which can damage your dog’s throat so you will need to teach your dog not to pull on the leash.

Some breeds of dog are natural swimmers but it is best not to allow your dog to swim in rivers with strong currents, deep water or areas where it may not be easy for them to climb out. Dogs can be fitted with a canine life vest or you can use a long nylon lead to prevent your dog swimming too far out.

Canine sports such as agility, flyball etc. can bring a whole new world of fun exercise and competition for you and your dog. To find out more about the various activities that you and your dog can take part in, visit

Owning a dog is a big commitment in so many ways, but with the huge variety of dog types to choose from there is no excuse for not finding a pet that suits your lifestyle. Before getting a puppy consider what its exercise needs will be and whether you are able to fulfil these for a lifetime. The Kennel Club and dog breeders are ideally placed to advise you on the exercise requirements of your chosen breed.

Complementary therapies

Some forms of alternative or complementary medicine such as osteopathy and physiotherapy are widely used in veterinary medicine alongside conventional treatment. However, owners of dogs and other small animals are increasingly looking at other alternative therapies such as acupuncture, herbal medicine and homeopathy to help with a wide variety of common complaints.

Acupuncture is an ancient system of healing, likely to have originated in Tibet or India but developed extensively by the Chinese. It is one of the oldest therapies in the world and is essentially the stimulation of specific points on the surface of the body, either by using needles, laser or local pressure (acupressure).

The Chinese recognise that these points have a direct relationship to some of the main internal organs and with the muscles, nerves and skeleton. These points lie on specific energy channels called meridians which link all the points associated with a particular organ together. Stimulation of the points results in physiological changes which can help resolve illness, relieve symptoms and change body energy, allowing it to flow more freely, in effect re-balancing the body. Acupuncture is also used to diagnose and prevent disease, as well as treat symptoms.

Conditions in small animals that respond well to acupuncture include back and neck pain (including disc prolapse), muscle spasm, arthritis (DJD), lameness issues, injuries in general, nerve paralysis and nerve injuries, urinary incontinence, weakened immune system, lick granuloma as well as support for all the major organs of the body.

In the UK, only vets can perform acupuncture treatment on animals as the use of needles is an invasive procedure which, by law, only a vet is permitted to perform. If anyone other than a vet gives an animal acupuncture treatment they are committing a criminal act. Vets who perform acupuncture are properly trained and, ideally, should be members of the Association of British Veterinary Acupuncture (ABVA).

Useful website:

  • Association of British Veterinary Acupuncturists –

Herbal medicine is essentially the art of using plants to heal. It is not a new form of therapy; in fact it is an ancient system of healing which is undergoing somewhat of a revival in the light of modern analytical methods and new-found knowledge and understanding of exactly how plants work.

Practical knowledge of herbal remedies was once ingrained in folklore and backed up by scant evidence of efficacy, but now many plant based medicines can be prescribed backed up by a sound knowledge of plant chemistry and botanical therapeutics, which can explain how plants are able to interact with the body allowing it to heal. We now know that plants are complex mixtures of compounds which support and augment each other in helping to resolve a particular health problem.

Herbal medicine has a worldwide presence, not only as represented by the use of healing plants in Western culture, but as being an integral part of Indian Ayurvedic medicine and combined with acupuncture as part of Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM. In recognition of the growing importance of this type of treatment, herbal medicine is more often referred to by a much more appropriate term – phytotherapy.

Herbal remedies for domestic animals are widely available commercially and sold as nutritional or food supplements. However, an increasing number of vets are undertaking training, and using herbal remedies within their practices. So, for more complex health issues, or where a customised or individual prescription is needed, owners are urged to seek qualified veterinary advice.

Useful websites:

Homeopathy is a form of natural medicine that has been in regular use worldwide for over 200 years. Based on a principle that was discovered by the Greeks, and developed by the German physician Samuel Hahnemann in the late 18th century, it is based on the principle of “like cures like”.

Using infinitely diluted medicines it seeks to address the patient as a whole on a constitutional, historical or pathological basis. By carefully matching the presenting signs and symptoms to a remedy, homeopathy aims to gently ease or cure signs of illness by working energetically through the body’s own healing mechanisms.

Currently the mechanism by which homeopathy works is not understood, although ongoing research suggests that it is linked with quantum physics and the ability of water molecules to remember or store energetic vibrational imprints.

Homeopathy can be used for a wide range of conditions in small animals, including arthritis and lameness, skin problems such eczema, dermatitis and allergies, recurrent ear infections, epilepsy, behavioural problems, digestive problems such as diarrhoea and colitis, liver, bladder and kidney disease as well as chronic conditions affecting many other areas of the body.

In the UK, vets who practice homeopathy are registered with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and must retain their professional membership of this body in order to practice. Ideally, they should also be registered with the Faculty of Homeopathy and have undergone suitable training. It is illegal for anyone to treat animals homeopathically if they are not a qualified vet.

Useful websites:

This evidence-based discipline is used to deal with the assessment and treatment of a wide range of musculoskeletal disorders. It can also be applied to the rehabilitation of animals after surgery or injury as well as in a preventive role.

Physiotherapy can help animals suffering from a wide range of conditions, including back pain, sprains and strains, injuries, gait abnormalities, reduced performance and a number of other conditions, such as changes in behaviour that can be linked with these problems. It can be used to improve the biomechanics of the musculoskeletal system and in rehabilitation after surgery.

Techniques employed using manual therapies include manipulation, massage and mobilization, as well as machine based treatments such as laser therapy, ultrasound, pulse magnets, H-wave, shockwave, spa treatment and hydrotherapy.

In the UK, a veterinary physiotherapist will have undergone several years of training with a recognised school of physiotherapy to become a ‘chartered physiotherapist’. Animal physiotherapists must see practice with veterinary practices and become a member of either the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Animal Therapy (ACPAT), or the National Association of Veterinary Physiotherapists (NAVP), to be able to treat animals.

A code of professional conduct for animal physiotherapists has been agreed between the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists, and they are bound by the Veterinary Act. However, non-chartered physiotherapists, i.e. people that have no formal training, are still allowed to use the title ‘physiotherapist’, so be sure to check the qualifications of any therapist you intend to use.

Useful websites:

  • Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Animal Therapy –
  • National Association of Veterinary Physiotherapists –
  • Institute of Registered Veterinary and Animal Physiotherapists –
  • Chartered Society of Physiotherapy –

Osteopathy is an established science and system of healing using manual techniques, in order to remove tension and restriction and encourage structural and physiological harmony. Treatment is aimed at improving mobility and reducing inflammation using gentle, manual osteopathic techniques on the musculoskeletal system, i.e. joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments.

Osteopathy is useful for a number of problems, including loss of mobility, joint, neck and back pain, muscle stiffness and to help recovery from injuries. Veterinary osteopaths are trained to recognise and treat many causes of pain with their hands, using a variety of different techniques, including soft massage, stretches, and various joint movements.

By law, an osteopath will need to get permission from your vet to undertake any treatment, and you should always consult your vet before having your animal treated. It is an offence for anyone to treat your pet without referral from a vet first. Many insurance companies will cover osteopathic treatment but only if the animal has been referred by a vet.

Always make sure that the osteopath you are going to use is a qualified therapist and has the appropriate insurance to allow them to practice.

Useful website:

Chiropractic is a healthcare discipline using manual techniques that emphasise diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system, in particular the spine. It focuses specifically on the biomechanical dysfunction of the skeleton, muscles, tendons and ligaments and its effects on the nervous system and general well-being of the whole body.

Chiropractic is useful for treating chronic musculoskeletal disorders, e.g. lameness, tension and stiffness, and pain in general; it is also used in a preventive role to maintain fitness and soundness, and to enhance general well-being.

Currently, it is only possible for vets and human chiropractors to become qualified veterinary chiropractors. You should always check that a practitioner has recognised qualifications before you allow them to treat your animal.

Useful websites:

Anal sac disease

Anal sac problems are very common in pet dogs and something frequently seen by veterinary surgeons. In most cases, the conditions are easily treated, though they can sometimes recur. This factsheet provides information on the location and function of anal sacs as well as discussing common conditions and their treatment.

Anal sacs (sometimes referred to by vets as anal glands) are two small pockets located on either side of the dog’s bottom with openings to the surface at about the 4 and 8 o’clock positions. They produce a strongly scented substance that is deposited on the faeces and contributes to scent and territorial marking in dogs. The passage of faeces usually results in emptying of the glands in healthy dogs. The strong scent, designed to last a long time in the environment, is part of the way dogs communicate with one another.

Anal sacs may also occasionally be emptied in times of distress or panic e.g. a dog fight or a road traffic accident, resulting in a strong smell coming from the injured dog. The secretion usually has an unusual fishy odour, unpleasant to the human nose.

In this very common condition, the anal sacs fail to empty, possibly because the ducts leading to the surface are too narrow, or because the consistency of the dog’s faeces is too loose. Many dogs have anal sacs that do not empty normally. When they get very full, they can cause discomfort, usually showing as:

  • Licking the anal area excessively.
  • Sitting down abruptly and clamping the tail.
  • Dragging the bottom along the ground (‘scooting’) – often misunderstood by owners as a symptom of worms.
  • General irritability and restlessness.

The anal sacs can become infected, possibly as a result of chronic blockage (see above). If an abscess develops, the symptoms can be severe. All the signs of anal sac blockage may be present and the affected dog may be very uncomfortable and even aggressive if the hind quarters are approached or touched. The abscess may burst out to the surface, producing a foul smelling or bloody discharge. Symptoms usually ease off at this point as pressure is released and pain decreases.

In the case of straightforward blockage, periodic emptying by the veterinary surgeon is required. Some dogs need this done every 4-8 weeks; in others it is a much less frequent occurrence. Occasionally, it may be possible for an owner to learn how to perform this task, though many prefer to leave it to their vet.

Sometimes changing the composition of the diet may help. Adding more fibre to promote a bulkier stool is often recommended. It has to be said that this does not always work but is certainly worth trying.

If infection is present, a course of antibiotics may be needed. The anal sacs may also be flushed with saline or dilute antiseptic solutions under sedation or anaesthesia to help eliminate the problem. Abscesses may require surgery to aid drainage and resolution of the infection, together with a course of antibiotics and, often, painkillers.

Persistent anal sac problems may be treated by surgical removal of the anal sacs. This tends to be reserved for dogs experiencing frequent, moderate to severe problems with early recurrence after the above treatments. Removal of the anal sacs carries a small risk of incontinence due to the proximity of important nerves in the area. This may be temporary or permanent.

Much less common are tumours affecting the anal sacs. Symptoms might initially resemble full or infected anal sacs. Tumours are identified by biopsy; treatment by surgery or other means may be possible. Unfortunately, tumours in this area may prove to be malignant and ultimately life-threatening.

Anal sac problems may also be associated with another condition called anal furunculosis. As part of the treatment for that condition, removal of the anal sacs may be recommended.

How often should my dog’s anal glans be emptied?

Some dogs never need them emptied. If your dog exhibits any of the signs described above, then a check up should be arranged, but if no signs are present then the anal sacs should be left alone.

My dog seems to have a bad smell. Is it the anal sacs?

It could be, but other common conditions can also result in a bad smell e.g. ear infections, mouth infections and skin conditions. Your vet will check for these and advise on treatment.

Do anal sac problems cause constipation?

Some dogs may appear to strain, though they may not be constipated as such but just responding to irritation around their bottom area. Note that full anal sacs may occur after a bout of diarrhoea. The very loose faeces means that the sacs are not emptied as usual.

Amputee dog care

There are a number of reasons which may necessitate the removal of an animal’s leg. The two most common of these are severe trauma, for example after a road traffic accident, or as management of a leg cancer. As a general rule, dogs cope far better with amputation than people imagine they will. Humans of course only have two legs, so losing one leg means a reduction to only one. Dogs have four legs so losing one still leaves them with three.

Owners often assume that dogs experience the same emotions as we do, this may not be true. However, we do know that dogs are supremely good at adapting to new situations. Vets with the most experience of managing dogs who have undergone amputation consistently report that these animals do not show any signs of an emotional disturbance. Most dogs that have a leg amputated do so for relief of a severe, often life-threatening, illness. Almost invariably these patients have an extremely painful condition affecting the leg that is to be removed. In many cases the patient is immediately happier and more relaxed after amputation.

It is extraordinary how quickly most animals become mobile after amputation of a leg. Patients that have no other mobility issues, for example osteoarthritis, should be able to go for a lead walk within 24 hours of the operation. Young dogs, dogs of slim build and dogs with a weeks-long history of lameness affecting the amputated limb can be expected to start walking on three legs after only 12 hours.

Following amputation dogs will usually stay in the hospital for a few days after surgery. The veterinary team will need to examine the patient regularly to ensure the wound is healing properly and to provide appropriate pain relief. During this time the patient will make their early adjustments to being three-legged. Within three days of surgery most dogs would be able to jog for 5-10 metres.

For two weeks after surgery the dog’s exercise will need to be significantly restricted to allow the surgical wound to heal. During this time, patients should be allowed to potter about a garden or have lead exercise for a maximum of 5-10 minutes at a time for toilet purposes. The dog will begin to adjust and to train their muscles for moving in a different way.

Once your dog returns home after amputation they will have a large shaved area with a line, or lines of stitches or staples where the operation was performed. Often there is substantial bruising under the skin where blood may have trickled during surgery. This is not painful, like a normal bruise.

Surgery of course would be painful if appropriate pain-relief was not administered. Your vet will probably prescribe strong pain-killers, such as morphine, in combination with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pain-killers. These drugs will normally be given before surgery to stop pain developing and then are continued after surgery. Typically the strong pain-killer is given for one to three days while the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pain-killer is given for one to two weeks and therefore is continued at home once the patient has been discharged from the hospital. In some institutions additional pain relief is also provided using a local anaesthetic in the surgery site before surgery and for one to three days afterwards. This adds even further to the comfort for the patient.

Patients whose pain relief strategy is well thought-out and well-managed are very comfortable throughout.

Phantom limb pain is a debilitating condition affecting some human amputees. They experience an extremely uncomfortable pain, which their brain tells them affects the leg or arm that is no longer present. Importantly phantom leg pain has never been reported in animals. Clearly we could not rely on animals telling us that they are experiencing phantom leg pain for a diagnosis to be made, but if dogs were in pain after the operation they would show some signs of this.

Owners should not expect to have to perform any significant wound management. You should check the wound every day to look for signs of inflammation or soreness. These include redness, swelling, heat, discharge and pain. This is because there is a risk of post-operative bleeding or infection with any operation and prompt recognition of the signs of either of these can mean that the consequences for the patient can be minimised.

If you are concerned about the appearance of your dog’s wound you should make contact with your veterinary team. It is better to ask and to find that there was nothing to worry about than to leave something and then learn you should have acted sooner.

As dogs adapt to life as an amputee they become more able to cope with slipping or stumbling. However, in order to make matters easier for them in the early days, it would be wise to make the flooring as grippy as possible. Laminate and tiled floors are problematic in the first few weeks after surgery. It is beneficial for patients to have rugs or mats placed in the areas where they are most likely to turn or stand up from rest.

Some dogs can be allowed unrestricted activity as early as two weeks after surgery. This decision is really governed by the normal activity level of the dog. For more active dogs, owners will have to take a greater responsibility to ensure that dogs do not over-exercise. For dogs with greater athletic expectations, adequate time must be allowed for muscles and tendons to adjust.

For a greyhound who would be used to sprinting at exercise, an additional four weeks of gradually increasing lead-controlled exercise would be advisable before allowing unrestricted periods off lead. For a dog with greater stamina such as a border collie, who lives to chase balls and who could run without stopping for 45 minutes or more before amputation, it would be fine to allow periods of unrestricted off-lead exercise six weeks after surgery. However it is advisable to limit the duration of these periods off lead at first.

In the first week of off-lead exercise, limit the time off lead to five minutes at a time. These periods can be increased in five minute increments each week for approximately eight weeks. This way, three months after surgery, the dog would be galloping as normal at exercise with the least risk of self-injury during the recovery period.

There is no doubt that once a patient has undergone amputation, the remaining limb on the other side of the body has to do the work of two. Your dog will adjust the way it stands and moves and this does result in a degree of redistribution of weight-bearing. Muscle or tendon injuries are exceptionally rare in amputees, so long as there is not another complicating disease process which makes them happen.

There are some patients who are simply not good candidates for amputation. There is no official statement establishing which breeds of dog do well and which do not but it is generally accepted by specialist surgeons and oncologists that very short-legged breeds and very broad-chested breeds of dog do not cope well with life as an amputee.

Osteoarthritis is frequently listed as a reason for not performing amputation but there are exceptionally good medications for arthritis and in the view of this author, arthritis alone does not constitute a valid reason for choosing not to perform amputation, particularly since the conditions we are treating by amputation are typically intractably painful and this pain can be cured by a single surgical procedure.

In order for a dog to cope well after amputation they do need to be able to adapt to life on three legs. Dogs with spinal problems are usually unable to do this. If affected patients undergo limb amputation, it can precipitate a worsening of the neck or back problems resulting in a failure to ever really thrive after amputation.

Other people may influence your decision on whether to choose amputation for your pet. Sadly, there are some people in the world who share their opinions without considering that they may be unwelcome. Some owners of amputees can feel that there is a social stigma associated with keeping an amputee dog. Clearly if you know that your dog is happy, you can rest confident in the knowledge that the individual in question has an uninformed opinion and that their sharing it with you is simply rude. However, this can affect different people in different ways and it is a point that might seem a little abstract but that is worth giving some consideration to before deciding to definitely proceed with an amputation procedure.

It is sadly true that cancer is one of the primary reasons for considering amputation. Many cancers of the limb bones do spread (metastasis) prior to the diagnosis of the lameness in the first place. This means that even with a certain cure of the primary cancer in the leg, there is a very high likelihood of cancer still developing at other sites, most frequently the lungs. Surgery must not therefore be regarded as a cancer cure.