Welfare of dogs: protection from pain and illness

Dogs feel pain and it is believed that they have similar pain thresholds to people. However, individual dogs and different breeds may show pain and suffering in different ways.

Signs of illness or pain 

Any change in the way a dog behaves can be an early sign that it is ill, or in pain. Dogs which are ill or in pain, often change their eating and drinking habits. They may eat less or stop eating and lose weight. They may drink water excessively; drink less or not at all.

Some dogs become withdrawn and unwilling to exercise or play, cry when approached or touched, show uncharacteristic fear or aggression when approached, or they may try to hide. They may also show specific signs of ill health such as:

  • discharges from the eyes, ears or nose
  • drooling too much
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • constipation
  • problems with passing urine
  • coughing
  • scratching too much and developing skin sores
  • limping and swelling are also signs of possible ill health

The above list is for guidance only and is not exhaustive.

Diseases and dogs

Dogs are vulnerable to a range of infectious diseases and other illnesses. They need protection from serious infections, which can be provided by vaccination.

'Nosodes' are another homeopathic alternative to vaccination which you may wish to discuss with your vet. Dogs benefit from routine health care.

Neutering and dogs

Many people choose to have their dogs neutered and this is recommended if you do not plan to breed your dog. Your vet can advise on neutering and the health benefits of neutering dogs.

Breeding and health amongst dogs

If you decide to breed your dog, your vet can advise on the risks of inherited conditions that could affect the welfare of the puppies. A dog’s future health and welfare can be affected by the circumstances under which it was bred.

It is a good idea to have your dog screened for genetic conditions that are common to the breed.

Microchipping and dogs

Since 1 January 2013 all dogs in Northern Ireland must be microchipped at eight weeks old.
All dogs must be microchipped before an owner applies for a dog licence.

What you should do to make sure your dog is protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease - 

You should:

  • take sensible precautions to keep your dog safe from injury
  • seek advice from your vet or other suitably qualified dog care specialist if you notice changes in your dog’s behaviour
  • check your dog over regularly and watch out for signs of injury, disease or illness - make sure someone else does this if you are away
  • carefully check your dog’s coat regularly for fleas and infestations
  • groom your dog, if necessary, to maintain a healthy coat 
  • pay attention to your dog’s dental care and seek advice from your vet if there are signs of problems
  • contact a vet as soon as possible and follow veterinary advice if you recognise signs and symptoms of disease or suspect that your dog is in pain, ill or injured
  • seek advice from a vet or suitably qualified dog care specialist, if at any time you have concerns about the health or welfare of your dog
  • ask your vet how often your dog needs a health check, and about the things you can do to protect your dog’s health

Healthcare for your dog

Your vet is the best person to ask about routine preventative healthcare, such as vaccination and treatments to control parasites (for example, fleas and worms), as well as any current health problems your dog may have.

Follow these guidelines to keep your dog healthy:

  • if your dog is kept outside, clean up any dog mess regularly to reduce the risk of disease transmission
  • medicines intended for humans or other animals can kill dogs so it's important that your dog is only given medicines authorised for dogs or that have been specifically prescribed or advised by your vet for your dog
  • always  ask your vet if you are concerned that your dog has eaten or come into contact with anything that could be harmful
  • make sure that your dog is wearing a collar and identity tag when in a public place
  • make sure that the collar is the right size and fit, and does not cause any pain or discomfort
  • as dogs are also required to be microchipped, remember to keep the microchip database up to date with any changes in your contact details
  • seek the advice of your vet before allowing your dog to breed and take all reasonable steps to make sure that you will be able to find suitable homes for puppies - some buyers may prefer to buy from a member of the UKAS accredited breeders scheme

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