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1. Read ingredients lists.
"Good diet is the foundation of a healthy life," says Forbes. He says the top thing to look for in a healthy dog food is a protein as the first ingredient. "When you have a first ingredient that's corn or filler—something the dog can't digest—that's not healthy." It's true, you might pay a bit more for a premium food—though Forbes says there are now much less expensive options found in the grocery store—but feeding your dog quality food now is likely to mitigate the biggest pet ownership cost: vet bills later in life.
2. Incorporate a bit of variety.
Your dog doesn't need to eat a whole smorgasbord—his food is specially formulated to include a balance of nutrients—but it is a good idea to switch the protein he's eating once in a while. Forbes says he puts his dogs on a chicken-based formula for about three months at a time, then switches to fish and so on to ensure that his furry friends are getting the benefits of many protein types.
3. Transition to new foods slowly.
Whenever you're changing your dog's food—even for the better—he's likely to get sick if the change comes too suddenly. "You can't go from a middle-of-the-road food to a super premium food in one day or even two days and not have an upset stomach," says Forbes. "You're changing the bacteria in the gut too quickly. It has to be done over a seven- to 10-day period."
4. Make dental hygiene a habit.
Brushing a dog's teeth isn't a walk in the park for you or the dog, but it's worth it. Some studies suggest that regularly cleaning a dog's teeth can add 20 to 30 percent to his lifespan, says Forbes. Work with your pet to find the best brushing option. There are toothbrushes for dogs and cleaning apparatuses that fit on your fingers, or if you just can't make it work at home, take your pooch to the vet where a pro can use dental tools to give him a proper cleaning under mild sedation. As for dog treats that say they clean your dog's teeth? They're OK, but they don't replace a true cleaning.
5. Keep food from the fridge off-limits.
It's best to keep your dinner and your dog's completely separate. Even if the "people food" you're sneaking your dog under the table is fresh, healthy food, it can be hard to judge portion sizes and balance nutrients when you're feeding them at random. Plus, this habit can lead to behavioural issues, says Forbes. "You don't want them pushing on people in the lower chain of command in the house." (Read: Your kids.) "It can open up a whole can of worms."
6. Test those portion sizes.
Your dog food likely has some portion guidelines on the bag, and you should refer to them, but only as a starting point. "Within each breed and depending on what stage they're at in life, their metabolism can be different," says Forbes. Every two to three weeks, stand over your dog and look for a waist. "If you can't see a slight curvature below the rib cage, then they're probably overweight." That's a sign you should reduce their portions by 10 percent. Check again in a couple of weeks and go from there.
7. Think beyond walks.
Activity level is very individual from dog to dog—and it's not just about the breed. "If you live in an apartment and the dog is by himself, you may need a pretty involved exercise program. But if you have a fenced-in backyard and another dog, so they're running around chasing each other, they may not need any exercise program on top of that." A sure sign that your dog isn't getting enough activity? Bad behaviour. "Digging, chewing, jumping up—those things are really born out of the frustration of excess energy that's not being burned off," says Forbes. If your dog can run circles around you, make him. Throwing a tennis ball or Frisbee gets the dog moving without you having to keep up. But if you can, why not get a little exercise yourself, too?
8. Know your dog's warning signs.
There are tons of different ailments dogs can experience—just like humans. But knowing what types of illnesses and injuries are common to your breed can help you recognize early warning signs. Do a bit of research on the web to get to know your breed. Whether it's joint issues, skin allergies or a predisposition to certain cancers, knowing what to be on the lookout for can help you address health issues before they get bad.
Luckily, being a pet owner is good for your health, too. Learn how you and your pet help take care of each other.