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The Ultimate Guide to Caring for Your Adult Dog

Keeping Your Best Friend Happy and Healthy

Your dog is considered an adult once they are fully grown, from 5 to 15 months of age, depending on their size and breed. Although your 2-year-old Labrador may still act like a puppy, they are done growing and have technically reached adult status. Many of your adult dog’s needs are the same as they were during puppyhood, but other needs will change as your dog matures.

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Integrating an adult dog into your household

If you have recently adopted an adult dog, they may take some time to fully relax and understand they are in their new forever home. In particular, if you adopted your dog from a shelter, they may have bounced between several temporary homes, and possibly the street, before having the good fortune of landing at your house. Your dog may take time to discover how wonderful your home is, and let their true personality shine. Be patient as your new pet navigates this transition, and support them as they grow in confidence. 

Until you know you can trust your dog alone, restricting them to a crate at night and when you are not able to supervise them is best. Dogs appreciate a “den” of their own, and a crate stocked with blankets and toys will provide comfort and security. Choose a crate large enough for your dog to lie down and turn around in comfortably. 

Dogs have all personality types—some will be eager to meet new people and animals, and others are more reserved. Watch your dog’s body language, and let them approach people and other pets at their own pace. That being said, you should expose your dog to as many different people, animals, places, sights, sounds, and smells as possible. Although the critical socialization period—3 weeks to 3 months of age—has passed, socialization is a lifelong journey, and introducing your dog to new experiences can help them become more confident and secure. Make each experience positive, with high-value treats and praise, so your dog learns to associate positive feelings with new situations.

Feeding your adult dog

With so many options, choosing a diet for your dog can be overwhelming. Ensure the food you choose is appropriate for your dog’s life stage and size. For example, a miniature poodle should not eat the same diet as a Great Dane. Diets are specifically formulated with nutrient amounts that are appropriate for different dog breeds and lifestyles. If you are not sure which food to choose, a veterinarian is the best source of advice. Talk to a veterinarian now.

Pet obesity is a growing problem, and excess weight will be detrimental to your pet’s overall health. Ideally, you should establish healthy eating habits early to prevent obesity in your adult dog. If your pet is already overweight, consult with a veterinarian for the best weight-loss plan to return your dog to a healthy weight. 

Feeding your pet the correct amount plays an important role in maintaining good health. Many pet food companies overestimate the amount you should feed your pet, so ask a veterinarian to help you determine your dog’s appropriate daily calorie allotment. This calorie amount should be divided into two meals, rather than allowing your dog to free-feed. To determine how much to feed your dog at each meal, divide their total daily calorie allotment by two and, using the calories per cup found on the dog food label, calculate how many cups of food to give your pet. At meal time, measure your dog’s food with a measuring cup to ensure they receive the proper amount, put the food down for 20 to 30 minutes, and remove what your dog does not eat. Provide plenty of fresh, clean water for your dog at all times. Eating meals, instead of grazing throughout the day, also helps your dog develop predictable elimination habits, as they will have to go at similar times each day.

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Housetraining your adult dog

When you adopt an adult dog, their history is often unknown, and you may not know whether they are house trained. Adult dogs have larger bladders than puppies, and should be able to hold it for longer periods, but your new pet may not understand the rules if they have never lived inside. To house train an adult dog, take them to the location you have chosen for elimination, and tell them to “Go potty.” Repeat this process every hour or so until your dog eliminates, and reward them immediately in this location. Between trips outside, keep your dog nearby so you can watch them closely—use a leash or gate them in a room with you, if necessary. Once your dog understands they should not eliminate in the house, they will be hesitant to do so in front of you, and may sneak off if given the chance.  

When your dog has an accident, clean it up quickly with an enzyme-based cleaner to completely eliminate the odor, which will remove the temptation to go again in the same spot. Accidents are an expected part of house training, and you should never punish your dog for their accident. If you catch your dog in the act, firmly tell them “No,” and lead them outside.

Training your adult dog

Teaching your dog to obey basic commands will stimulate their brain, establish you as their leader, and keep them safe in various situations. For example, if your dog runs toward the street, you can command them to “Come,” and prevent them from being hit by a car. Try teaching your dog these commands:

  • Sit — Holding a small treat slightly above your dog’s nose, move slowly toward them and say “Sit.” They should naturally sit down, and as your dog’s rear touches the ground, give them the treat and lots of praise.  
  • Stay — Once your dog learns to sit, hold your hand out and tell them “Stay.” Release your dog after a few seconds, give them a treat, and gradually work up to longer distances and time periods. 
  • Come — From across the room or yard, call your dog’s name and say “Come.” Most dogs will naturally come to you, but repeat the command if necessary. Praise your dog and give them a small treat when they come. 
  • Heel — Knowing how to properly walk on a leash is an important skill for your dog to learn. With your dog on a short leash, have them stand on your left side, right beside your foot. Begin walking and, holding the leash taut, tell your dog “Heel.” If they walk in front of you or pull, stop, hold the leash tight, and repeat the command. Once your dog relaxes and returns to your side, give them a small treat and resume walking. 
  • Shake — With your dog in a sitting position, pick up their paw, shake it up and down, say “Shake,” and reward them with a treat. After repeating this several times, hold your hand out and say “Shake.” When your dog holds up their paw, take it, and give them a treat.
  • High five — This is a variation on shake. Instead of holding your hand out palm side up, face your palm toward your dog, and say “High five.” If they lift their paw and hit your hand, give them a treat. Work up to making your dog tap your palm with the bottom of their foot.

After your dog masters these commands, you can add fun tricks, such as “Play dead” and “Roll over,” to their repertoire. It is OK to use small, high-value training treats, but remember to subtract the treats from your dog’s daily calorie allotment to prevent excess weight gain.

Exercising your adult dog

Every dog requires regular exercise for optimal mental and physical health. Daily exercise will prevent obesity, or help your overweight pet lose extra weight. Exercise also stimulates your pet’s mind, and high-energy breeds, such as border collies and Jack Russell terriers, can become bored and destructive if not given daily opportunities to play. Exercising with your dog is a great way for you to bond, and stay fit. Activities you can engage in together include:

  • Walking
  • Jogging
  • Hiking
  • Playing fetch
  • Agility training
  • Swimming

Consider joining a canine sporting community as a way to meet other dog owners with similar interests, and to socialize your dog. Dock diving, treibball, scent tracking, and canine freestyle are a few of the available options.

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Keeping your adult dog healthy and safe

Regular veterinary care is critical to keeping your dog healthy throughout their life. Establish and follow a regular health care routine to help keep your dog up to date on vaccines, parasite prevention, and routine health screenings that can save their life. Despite the best care, however, accidents, injuries, and health problems can occur, and recognizing common health problems and seeking immediate veterinary care is the best way to ensure as many years as possible with your best friend.

Regular veterinary visits for your adult dog

Your adult dog should visit a veterinarian at least once a year for routine wellness and preventive care. During this visit, a veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam, oral health assessment, and lifestyle risk assessment. Routine screening tests, such as a heartworm test and fecal analysis, are typically performed to detect dangerous parasites that can impact your pet’s health. A veterinarian may also perform blood work to evaluate your dog’s blood cell counts and organ function, and to gain baseline values for comparison with future blood work. If you have recently adopted an adult dog, they should visit a veterinarian for a thorough health screening during their first week of adoption. 

Vaccines for your adult dog

Your dog will require annual vaccines to protect them against life-threatening infectious diseases. If you have adopted an adult dog with an unknown vaccine history, assume they have not had prior vaccines, and a veterinarian can determine their best catch-up schedule. A veterinarian will base your dog’s vaccines on their lifestyle and exposure risk to specific diseases, although all dogs will receive core vaccines, including:

  • Rabies — The rabies virus is spread mainly by wildlife, and transmitted via bite wounds. Rabies affects a pet’s nervous system and is always fatal, making vaccination critical. The disease can also be transmitted to people, and is typically fatal.
  • Distemper — The distemper virus is spread via aerosolized respiratory secretions, and affects a pet’s respiratory and nervous systems. The virus often causes severe disease and death, and pets who survive the initial phase typically develop progressive neurologic degeneration, and eventually die.
  • Hepatitis —Caused by a virus, infectious canine hepatitis causes liver disease, blood clotting issues, and temporary vision problems. Most dogs recover and do not suffer lifelong effects, although severe cases can be deadly.
  • Parvo — Parvo is a highly infectious disease spread through the feces of infected dogs. The canine parvovirus is extremely hardy, and remains infectious in the environment for months to years. Some dog breeds, including rottweilers, Doberman pinschers, and American pit bull terriers, have a higher infection incidence. Parvo causes severe vomiting and diarrhea, and death from dehydration and sepsis is common.
  • Parainfluenza — The parainfluenza virus causes an upper respiratory infection that can progress to pneumonia, particularly in dogs who contract concurrent respiratory infections.


Optional vaccines that can be administered, based on your dog’s lifestyle and risk include:

  • Leptospirosis — Leptospirosis is caused by a bacteria that is shed in the urine of infected wild animals, and spreads through contaminated water. Infection causes kidney and liver failure that can be fatal without treatment. Dogs who go camping, hiking, or swimming are at risk, as well as those who may come in contact with wildlife in their own backyard.
  • Lyme disease — Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria spread by black-legged ticks (i.e., deer ticks). Lyme disease causes joint inflammation and lameness, and severely affected dogs can develop kidney failure, neurologic problems, and heart disease. Treatment with antibiotics is curative, but dogs who develop kidney failure typically do not survive. Dogs who likely will be exposed to ticks, such as those who go camping, hiking, or hunting, are at highest risk. 
  • BordetellaBordetella bronchiseptica is a bacteria that causes kennel cough, a highly infectious canine upper respiratory infection transmitted via respiratory secretions. Dogs who contact other dogs, such as those who go to boarding, daycare, and grooming facilities, are at risk for contracting kennel cough.
  • Canine influenza — Canine influenza is a highly infectious respiratory infection caused by the canine influenza virus that typically causes an upper respiratory infection, but can progress to pneumonia and death, particularly if other infections are present. The virus is spread through respiratory secretions, a

Parasite prevention for your adult dog

A number of internal and external parasites can threaten your dog’s health, and require regular prevention and screening.

  • Fleas — Fleas ingest a small amount of a pet’s blood each time they bite, and can cause life-threatening anemia in small dogs. Although flea bites cause itching in all dogs, those with flea allergies can suffer severe inflammation and itching from only a few bites. Regular flea prevention is important to prevent infestation of your pet and home.
  • Ticks — Ticks can transmit a number of life-threatening diseases, including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and tick paralysis. Tick preventives kill ticks that make their way onto your dog, which will significantly decrease the likelihood of disease transmission.
  • Heartworm — Heartworms, which are transmitted by mosquitoes, cause progressive heart failure and lung damage that can be fatal without treatment. Annual heartworm testing and year-round prevention are critical to prevent these deadly parasites from establishing themselves in your pet’s body.
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) parasites — GI parasites, including roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, coccidia, and Giardia, are common in dogs, and can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and dehydration. Regular GI parasite preventives control common worm infections, and routine fecal analysis is performed to screen dogs for parasites.

Reproductive health for your adult dog

Dogs who are not intended for breeding should be spayed or neutered to prevent reproductive problems. According to the American Animal Hospital Association’s (AAHA) Canine Life Stage Guidelines, small-breed puppies should be spayed or neutered at approximately 6 months, and large-breed puppies should be spayed or neutered when they reach their full adult size, which can range from 5 to 15 months of age. However, if your adult dog is still intact, they can still be spayed or neutered. This removes the hormones that can lead to health and behavior problems, such as reproductive infections and cancers, urine marking, roaming, and unwanted pregnancies.

Permanent identification for your adult dog

The American Humane Association estimates that one in three pets will go missing in their lifetime. A microchip is a permanent identification device that can help reunite you and your pet, should they wander away and become lost. The size of a rice grain, a microchip can be injected under your pet’s skin during a routine veterinary visit without sedation. After the microchip is registered, its unique number will be linked to your contact information. Should a Good Samaritan take your lost pet to an animal shelter or veterinary hospital, an employee can scan the microchip and you can be contacted. If your dog has a microchip, always ensure your contact information is up to date so you can be contacted quickly, and reunited with your lost pet. 

Dental care for your adult dog

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), dental disease is the most common medical problem of dogs, and without regular dental care, most pets will develop dental disease by 3 years of age. Regular dental care consists of daily toothbrushing combined with regular dental exams and professional veterinary cleanings. Most pets require annual dental exams and cleanings, although some may need more frequent care. Most dogs accept toothbrushing well, and a veterinarian can demonstrate how to correctly brush your pet’s teeth.

Common health concerns of adult dogs

Most adult dogs who are kept up to date on vaccines and parasite preventives remain relatively healthy; however, health conditions can occasionally develop. The most common health concerns of adult dogs include:

  • Allergies — Dogs can develop allergies to pollens, dust mites, molds, fleas, and food ingredients. Allergy signs include itchy skin, secondary skin infections, and chronic ear infections. Allergies can be seasonal or nonseasonal, and are typically a lifelong problem. 
  • Ear infections — Ear infections are often related to allergies in dogs, and affected dogs can experience chronic inflammation. 
  • Obesity — According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, more than 50% of U.S. dogs are overweight or obese, making it one of the most prevalent canine health concerns. Obesity leads to many secondary health conditions, including heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes. 
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) upset — Many dogs are indiscriminate eaters, and ingest items that cause stomach and intestinal inflammation. Ingestion of a non-food item (i.e., foreign body) can cause a life-threatening GI blockage.
  • Infectious diseases — Dogs who have not been vaccinated are at risk of contracting a variety of infectious diseases. Keep your dog’s vaccines current to minimize their risk. 
  • Parasites — Regular preventive administration will prevent the most common canine parasites, but your dog can be exposed to other, less common parasites. And, if you forget your pet’s regular parasite preventive dose, you will leave them vulnerable to a flea infestation, tick-borne disease, or heartworm infection. 

 

Adhering to a regular health care routine will set your dog up for a lifetime of good health, but accidents, injuries, and illnesses can still occur. If your dog isn’t acting normally, or you have questions that need immediate answers, download the Airvet app and speak with one of our experienced veterinarians in minutes.

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