Pittwater Animal Hospital
Dog Icon

Choosing a Dog
Picking a Puppy
Fleas and Ticks
Puppy Preschool
Dental Hygiene
Hip Dysplasia
Life Span

Vet with Dog

Most of our patients are dogs, probably because dogs are the most popular of all pets. For lots of reasons. They make wonderful companions. They alert you to strangers near the home. They hold down a wide variety of responsible jobs, like herding sheep, locating lost children and guiding the blind. They are there to provide much-appreciated company for daily constitutionals and other such fitness regimens.

Dogs are also good therapy. An ideal means of teaching children tolerance, thoughtfulness and responsibility. And a warm, loving and lovable respite from an increasingly impersonal world.

However, not all dogs suit all environments and lifestyles. Our many years of experience with canine patients and their owners has lead us to reach a number of conclusions regarding which dogs best suit certain situations.

Choosing a Dog - Although dogs come in a bewildering array of sizes and shapes, there are really only two types. Purebred and crossbred, known familiarly as mutts, mongrels or, more euphemistically, 'neighbourhood dogs'. With a pure-bred puppy you have a good idea of how big it will grow, what it will look like and how it will behave. But such foreknowledge can come at a price. Mixed breed pups are usually much cheaper, but you could be in for a few surprises when they become adult dogs. There are currently more than twice as many purebreds as crossbreds in NSW.

Dog Types

Because the average life-span of a dog is about 15 years, you should be considering what lifestyle changes will likely take place within that time. Like having children, spending extended periods away on business trips or moving overseas. All can seriously affect the relationship you share with your dog. The number of dogs dumped each year in Australia certainly suggests a lot of people do not think ahead.

The best age. Many think that six weeks and newly weaned is the ideal time for a dog to join a family. Because pups of this age must be fed three times a day which leads to a corresponding amount of time devoted to toilet training, you should figure on spending a fair few hours with your new pet. Figure too, there will be accidents that need cleaning up, and articles of clothing or furniture that will likely help assuage your pup's teething needs. However, the upside is that every moment you spend during this formulative period is helping forge a stronger bond between the two of you.


Older dogs won't present the same problems, but they may reveal some others of their own. Their health could be questionable. They could have developed a liking for chasing cars or an aversion to children. Or they could have cultivated exotic dietary requirements or developed behavioural problems such as constant barking.

Generally, however, older dogs have already proved themselves loving, responsive pets and adapt readily to new homes. When you consider the alternative could be a premature death at an animal shelter or pound, adopting an older dog becomes an even more appealing choice.

Male or female. As long as a dog is de-sexed at six months, it doesn't make much difference which gender you chose. De-sexing means far less strain on females physically and much reduced chance of infected wombs and mammary tumours. Neutered males tend to cause less trouble and be less apt to stray.

Conversely, males left with their malehood intact spend most of their free time roving in search for females on heat. These missions can last several days, significantly increasing the chances of dog fights and car accidents. What's more, these virile males often regard the family as their 'pack' and usually want to be the dominant male. This can lead to the antisocial habit of 'riding' young children or the legs of visitors. This desire to be top dog can also be expressed through aggressive displays of barking and biting to protect their home and family. Ironically, this same assertiveness can cause dominant males to turn around and nip at family members when forced to do things that offend their canine pride - like have a bath, get groomed, move from the comfy chair or take a tablet. Males that haven't been de-sexed also have bottomless bladders.


Long hair or short. Since high temperatures, paralysis ticks and thick bush come with the territory around here, we would recommend short-haired dogs. They are easy to wash and dry. The search for ticks and fleas less time consuming. Grooming unnecessary. And their skin is more accessible to the sun's drying and sterilising properties.

Which breed. Once you've taken the preceding advice into consideration, there are a few other things you should be aware of. Although dogs are rarely born with behavioural problems, certain breeds do tend to be more aggressive than others. This means you will have to spend more time on a pup's training and socialisation to ensure it develops properly. Puppy preschool can be invaluable in such cases.

Cocker spaniels, pekinese and poodles have more congenital abnormalities in Australia than other breeds. Giant breeds and boxers have shorter life spans. King Charles spaniels and schnauzers are particularly susceptible to tick poisoning.

Online help. One of the more contemporary ways to find out what dog best suits your situation is to try a few of the interactive guides found online. We strongly recommend that you fill out several forms so that you can reach a consensus. Just type 'choosing a dog' or some similar phrase into a search engine like Google or Yahoo and take it from there.

Picking a Puppy - Whether you get your puppy from a breeder or a pet shop, kennel or private owner, there are several things you should be looking out for regarding the mother's pregnancy and the pup's lifestyle since birth.

Vaccinations. Check to make sure the mother was fully vaccinated prior to mating. Maternal antibodies in the milk will protect the puppies until the first vaccination at six weeks.

Worming. The mother should have been wormed during gestation and the pups every two weeks from their third week.

The actual selection. First, watch the litter as the pups move about and interact. You've probably heard this before, but it's worth repeating: don't pick the puppy you feel sorry for. Instead, choose one that is active with a glossy coat and bright eyes. It should also have good conformation consistent with its breed.

At this stage pick up the pup you're interested in, holding it in the palm of your hand. Next compare its weight with that of its brothers and sisters. If yours seems noticeably lighter, choose another. Once you're satisfied, it's time for a closer inspection:

  • With most breeds the lower jaw should be no longer or shorter than the upper one.
  • Check to see that the teeth line up and clamp down on each other when the mouth closes.
  • The gums should be pink to red, not pale or grey.
  • Look at the roof of the mouth to make sure there's no groove (or cleft palate).
  • The eyes, including the irises, should be the same colour, shape and size.
  • Have a sniff of the ears; a foul smell indicates an infection. It's common enough and something we can remedy.
  • Excessive shaking of the head probably suggests ear mites. Again, it's treatable.
  • Make sure the pup hasn't been vomiting or showing any other obvious sign of illness.
  • Look around the tail area for any signs of diarrhoea; also see whether any of the other pups might have diarrhoea.
  • Feel around the navel area for a lump. This would be a hernia and can only be rectified by surgery.
  • Run your finger along the tail to make sure it's not broken and has no kinks.
  • Examine all four legs to make sure they have the same number of digits.
  • Check for fleas, a good indicator of the care the pups have been receiving.

On the same day you bring your new pup home we suggest you bring it to us so we can also make an examination. At the same time we'll give you some advice on lessening the trauma that usually accompanies the first night in a strange place.

Microchip & 5ยข

Microchipping - Since July 2002 the NSW Government has required all dogs over the age of 12 weeks to be microchipped. And before each dog turns six months, it must also be registered with the local council. While this might sound like extra hassle, it's actually a much better arrangement than the old way.

Instead of having to re-register and pay council fees every year, you now pay a flat charge of $35, and your dog instantly becomes registered for life. (If you don't, it could cost you as much as $550.) Although microchipping allows dogs to be instantly identified if they're ever lost, they are still required to have an identification tag. But at least they're spared the indignity of wearing those ugly plastic tags that councils used to issue.

Chances are, if you buy a dog from a breeder or pet store, it will already be microchipped. If not, it will only take us about five minutes to embed a tiny microchip ID (about the size of a grain of rice) under your new dog's skin between the shoulders. The process is not unlike getting an immunisation shot. In fact, it's usually less distressing.

When your dog leaves, it will be possible for councils, vets and animal welfare organisations to identify him or her simply by using a scanner. For the full story, click Department of Local Government - Companion Animals Act.


Vaccinations - When you purchase your dog, you should receive a vaccination certificate signed by a veterinarian. If your dog or puppy has had no previous vaccinations or if you are unsure whether it has been vaccinated, you should bring it to us to receive a health check and vaccinations for Parvovirus, Canine Distemper, Viral Hepatitis and Kennel Cough. All are found in Australia, and the first three are extremely dangerous with no known cure. The fourth, Kennel Cough, is a particular problem in this area. (Thankfully, none of these diseases can be transmitted to humans.)

Canine Parvovirus. This potentially fatal virus causes a severe gastroenteritis that can affect dogs of all ages but is most dangerous to puppies less than six months old. Symptoms to look out for include bloody diarrhoea, vomiting, severe abdominal pain, depression and, occasionally, heart failure. Death can occur within 24 hours.

Extremely hardy, Parvovius can survive in the environment for 12 months or longer. Because it's also so easily transmitted, strict hygiene and special disinfectants are required. However, annual vaccinations have proven highly effective.

Canine Distemper. Much like parvovirus, this virus affect dogs of all ages with puppies most at risk. Both highly contagious and fatal, the virus is transmitted in discharges from an infected dog's nose and eyes. The first symptoms will include those same discharges from the nose and eyes along with coughing, fever, appetite loss, vomiting and diarrhoea. As the disease progresses, the dog may have convulsions and other nervous system disorders. Even in instances where the dog survives, there can be permanent brain damage.

Viral Hepatitis. Also highly infectious, this virus damages the liver, much like those that affect humans. Again, puppies are most vulnerable. However, this time the virus is passed from one dog to another through urine, for as long as six months after an infected dog has recovered. Symptoms vary from lethargy and loss of appetite through to depression, abdominal pain and diarrhoea. Even death. Dogs that recover can still face long-term kidney and liver problems.

Kennel Cough. Despite the limiting nature of its name, this disease can be present anywhere dogs congregate. Public parks, dog shows, grooming parlours, even training classes. Caused by a mixture of a virus and a bacterium, Kennel Cough is not fatal. But like the various influenzas we humans get, a painful dry cough can last for weeks. In some cases the infection can spread from the dog's upper respiratory tract to its lungs, resulting in the more serious diseases of bronchitis or pneumonia.


To protect your puppy against these viruses, you should ensure it has its first vaccination between six and eight weeks of age with the second when 12-14 weeks old and a final vaccination at 16-18 weeks. Your dog will then require an annual booster. Because programs vary based on a puppy's age at its first vaccination and the type of vaccine used, we'll tell you what's best in your specific situation.

In case you're wondering, we rarely see reactions to these vaccinations. It's possible that your dog could feel a little 'off colour' for a day or two, and you might notice some swelling of the muzzle or tenderness where we made the injection. None of this is cause for concern, but if you see more serious signs, call us ASAP.

Female Paralysis Tick

Fleas & Ticks - Fleas and ticks are often a problem during the warmer months. Though often treated with the same products, there's a big difference between the two. Fleas are annoying, ticks can be deadly.

There's no social stigma attached to fleas becoming attached to your dog. Any dog with a social nature can pick up fleas. You can use either sprays, powders, rinses or flea collars to kill adult fleas present on your dog, but you'll also have to treat other pets and also the environment, especially your dog's bedding.

However, even closely following the precautions and directions on the packaging of the flea control products might not be enough. You'll find several Fact Sheets that deal with these persistent pests.

Paralysis ticks, which are a particular problem on the Northern Beaches, can be fatal to dogs. During the warmer months you should check your dog daily and remove any ticks. If you do find a tick, call us.

For more about this dangerous pest, click to see the relevant Fact Sheets and the dedicated page, Tick Advice.


Worms - Dogs need to be wormed regularly to control roundworms, hookworms, whipworms and tapeworms which live in the intestine. This is easily done by using one of the many available preparations, either as tablets or liquids. All dogs should be wormed every three months, although puppies must be done more frequently. Follow the instructions on the preparations or consult us.

Heartworm is transmitted by mosquitoes and is present in many areas of Australia and can be fatal. To help protect your dog, you have the choice of monthly tablets or a yearly injection.

All dogs other than very young puppies must be tested by a veterinarian before starting a heartworm prevention program as the medication can be fatal to dogs already infected.

Feeding - To maintain your dog's health and well being it must have a balanced diet. Puppies and dogs fed an all meat diet will develop nutritional deficiencies and growth problems. The most reliable and convenient way to provide a balanced and palatable diet is to feed high quality prepared dog food, both canned and dry.


Puppies have different nutritional requirements to adult dogs and for this reason it is essential to feed your puppy with specially formulated puppy foods in canned and dry forms. Cow's milk is unnecessary and may cause diarrhoea. Commercially prepared pet milk with low lactose is available.

Puppies need frequent small meals and for details of appropriate amounts to be fed for your dog's age refer to the feeding guides on the packaging of the prepared products or be guided by our recommendations.

Any changes to diet should be made gradually over several days.

Water is essential to your dog's well-being and clean water must be available at all times. Your dog should have its own sturdy food and water bowls which should be placed near the sleeping area.

Puppies and dogs enjoy chewing on large raw bones but remember never to offer cooked bones or those likely to splinter.

Puppy Preschool - Because puppies develop up to 90 percent of their attitudes towards people, other animals and their environment during their first 16 weeks, it's crucial they be properly socialised early on. If not, they're much more likely to develop antisocial habits like biting, barking, chewing, digging and indiscriminate weeing.

The most effective way to ensure your puppy becomes a well-adjusted adult is to enrol him or her in a recognised puppy preschool. If you will permit us a small plug here, we have been running a very successful puppy preschool at PAH for more than 10 years. To find out much more about the curriculum, session times, class sizes and special discounts, just visit our Puppy Preschool page.

De-sexing - Contrary to some well-entrenched misconceptions, neutering doesn't turn your dog into a fat, lazy wimp with the personality of a wet dishrag. In reality, there's no real downside to de-sexing unless, of course, you're a breeder. Instead, there are quite a few advantages.

Because your pet will no longer be able to breed, you won't be faced with the problem of finding good homes for unwanted pups. (Forget about rearing puppies for a little profit on the side. It's an expensive and time-consuming passion almost guaranteed to leave you out of pocket.)

Females. De-sexed females don't suffer the strain of continual litters which deplete their bodies of essential nutrients. They're much less likely to develop breast cancer as they age. And they won't have to worry about potentially fatal infections of the reproductive tract.

You also benefit because you won't have to put up with randy males hanging around or cleaning up messes in the house when your bitch is on heat. And since she tends to stay around the house, she'll always be there as a watchdog or family pet.

Males. Castrated males are less apt to develop prostrate problems or tumours in the testes. The penchant to roam is reduced in 90% of males. Aggression between others males is lessened, as is leg lifting to mark territory. De-sexed males are also less likely to indulge in mounting and masturbation, particularly when the operation is carried out before they're six months old.

On the subject of aggression, neutering tends to reduce dominance-based aggression but has little effect on the fear-based type. If you do have an aggressive dog, desexing will ensure its genes won't be passed onto another generation.

And to lay one old wife's tale to rest, there is no evidence to suggest that a female makes a better pet if she has had a litter before desexing. If you don't want to use your bitch for breeding, she should be desexed between five and six months. Just call us to make an appointment.

The surgical procedure is quite routine. You can bring in your dog either the evening before the operation or on the same morning. Since your dog's stomach must be empty, its last meal should be in the early afternoon of the previous day. Also, don't give it any bones for 36 hours before surgery. Despite the use of a general anaesthetic, your dog will be up and about and back to normal the following day.

For fact sheets on preparing your dog for admission and what happens afterwards, just click Fact Sheets and look for the titles 'Admission Guidelines for Day Surgery or Procedures' and 'Post-Operative Care Following De-sexing.'

Dental Equipment

Dental Hygiene - By the time they reach three years of age, the vast majority of dogs have gum disease. You might notice persistent bad breath, red, inflamed gums and a brown and yellow discolouration on the teeth - particularly the molars. Small dogs with tightly aligned teeth have the most trouble with periodontal disease.

If left unchecked, it will cause the gums to recede, weakening the supporting structure of the teeth and leading to infections and tooth loss. Even worse, bacteria released into the bloodstream can end up in the kidneys and heart valves where they affect the general health of your dog.

To help prevent gum disease you should provide your dog uncooked bones to chew. If bones cause vomiting and/or diarrhoea, you can try rawhide bones, Greenies, pigs' ears or chew toys such as Dental Kongs.

Dental Work

While dry food is better than tinned, it won't completely clean your dog's teeth. Fortunately, new prescription diets (which we sell at PAH) have either a specially designed kibble which helps clean the tooth surfaces (Hills T/D Diet) or added enzymes to reduce plaque build-up (Eukanuba).

Dogs with dirty, inflamed teeth due to tartar and gingivitis should be treated with a prophylactic scale and polish. Doing so can often save their teeth and extend their life span, but only if regular cleaning then becomes part of the regimen. By the way, do NOT use human toothpaste; if swallowed it can irritate your dog's stomach.

Infected or damaged teeth need to be extracted. Thankfully, we have both the equipment and skills to make it all happen with minimal discomfort for your dog. Most of our dental patients feel much better within days of having sore teeth removed.

In extreme cases requiring filling and/or root canal work, you may have to take your dog to a specialised veterinary dentist. (Who will likely charge a specialist-sized fee.)'

Great Dane Puppy

Hip Dysplasia - This is a genetic disease of the hip joint most often affecting large and giant breeds like Great Danes, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Labradors and other retrievers. While responsible breeders have been working to eliminate the trait from their dogs, you should always ask about their success rate (known as hip scoring) before purchasing pups prone to the problem. Aside from the genetic propensity of certain breeds, evidence suggests the incidence and severity of hip dysplasia is also influenced by diet, growth rate and excessive exercise during the early months.

Signs. In severe cases, puppies less than a year old can exhibit lameness, a reluctance to jump up, a kind of hopping gait and less tolerance to exercise. In milder cases it will take more time for joint cartilage to erode and other causes of pain and lameness to take place. You should also look for well-muscled front quarters, the result of the dog's reluctance to use its hindquarters. X-rays are often the only way to determine the extent of any such problem.

Treatment. The are two ways you can go: conservative or surgery. In young dogs the idea is to slow the growth rate and keep the pup at his or her ideal bodyweight. Exercise should consist of frequent short walks or swims as opposed to off-lead free running. In some cases we might prescribe anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs. You could even try acupuncture, chiropractic manipulation or physiotherapy to help reduce the extent of bone damage.

For older dogs the same regime of weight and exercise management along with a course of drugs applies. However, in addition to anti-inflammatory and analgesic medicines, we may see reason to introduce chondroprotective agents. Working to help both reduce cartilage breakdown and repair existing damage, these drugs often involve a four-week course of injections supplemented with a daily capsule or tablet.

Surgery includes Triple Pelvic Osteotomy (TPO), hip replacement or excision of the hip joint. TPO is used with potentially susceptible puppies younger than 11 months showing little or no signs of dysplasia. By improving the fit of the joint, the surgeon minimises future development of the disease. Although this procedure has a very good success rate, it should be undertaken only after specialist assessment of individual cases.

Another operation with a very high success rate is hip replacement, which is used with older dogs. Again, the orthopaedic specialist will perform the surgery only after an individual assessment of the patient's suitability. In smaller dogs, usually weighing less than 15 kiograms, it may be possible to remove the hip joint itself, offering permanent pain relief.

Converting Dog Years to Human Years - No doubt you've heard that every year of a dog's life equals seven of our human years. Not so. You also may have encountered simple tables or interactive forms that compute a dog's human age based solely on its own age. They're not all that much more accurate, for several reasons.

To find out more, just click Calculating a Dog's Life Span.

Euthanasia - Because most dogs live 10-15 years, you'll likely be faced with the decision of when to say goodbye to a cherished part of your life. Though you'll probably sense when the time is right, it will still be one of the hardest decisions you'll ever make. And you'll naturally want to be sure you're doing the right thing. To find out more about the process, please see the Fact Sheet titled 'Euthanasia'.

If after reading it, you still have further questions about euthanasia, we urge you to contact us.