Pet FAQS: Answering care questions about your dog

Got a question about how to care for your dog? Whether you’re wondering when or if to neuter your pet pooch, or just want some training advice, Sainsbury’s Bank is here to help. We’ve compiled the most commonly asked pet questions — with support from our expert team of vets — so you can keep your dog healthy and happy.

Owning a dog is a huge responsibility as they have complex needs and no two dogs are the same.

Looking for ways to care for your dog? See our top tips below:

1. Provide a safe, clean and comfortable space for your dog

Keep your dog living its best life by providing it with a space of its own. You need to make sure that it has a place which is safe and keeps your dog cosy and content.

2. Ensure clean water and fresh food is always available

Be sure to clean out and refill their food and water bowls daily, to keep your dog hydrated and well-fed. Make sure no food is left out for long periods of time, and that your pet always has access to fresh water.

3. Feed your dog an appropriate diet

Many human foods are toxic to dogs, so don’t give your dog scraps. Chocolate, for example is extremely dangerous and could be fatal. Consult your vet for dietary suggestions according to the nutritional needs of your dog, based on its size, age, level of activity and breed. Underfeeding or obesity can significantly reduce a dog’s quality of life.

4. Ensure your dog gets adequate exercise

Dogs love nothing more than 'walkies', so make sure your dog is walked daily and has opportunities to exercise and play. Some breeds require more exercise than others. To find out how to best care for your particular breed, our Pawfect Care tool can help.

5. Training and behaviour

Ensuring your dog is well-trained is essential for both you and your pet. As social creatures, dogs love to be taught new tricks and enjoy spending time with their owner. But they also need consistent, firm boundaries. Positive reinforcement and training classes can help if your dog is prone to problematic or undesirable behaviour.

6. Look after their health

To keep your dog healthy and happy, have them checked by a vet regularly and be sure to keep their vaccinations up-to-date. Contact your vet immediately if your dog appears ill, in pain or shows any unusual behaviour. They may be unwell and need some kind of treatment.

7. Maintain coat, claws and teeth

Regular grooming and maintenance is essential to keep your pet healthy. Matted or dirty hair can cause severe health complications. Certain breeds of dogs will require more grooming and bathing than others. But they all need their coats to be brushed and kept clean. Always use dog-friendly shampoo and make sure your dog’s coat is dried thoroughly after bathing.

Keep your dog's nails well-trimmed; long nails make it harder for your dog to walk and can become painful. Your vet can do this or advise you on the safest practice. Make sure you ask your vet to check your dog’s teeth too, as dental care is critical.

8. Microchip your dog

Microchipping is required by UK law, and the details must be kept up-to-date. This means any vet or animal shelter can scan the chip and see your contact details. So, if your dog strays or is taken by someone, you're much more likely to be reunited.

Giving your dog the best care and attention can depend on its breed. Use our Pawfect Care tool to learn all about your dog's breed and their quirks and needs.

Toilet training a dog or puppy is always going to end up in a few accidents. However, with patience and consistency, toilet training your dog doesn't have to be difficult.

Take your dog out regularly

Take your dog for short walks and let them outside at regular intervals. Start by doing this every hour to encourage them to go to the toilet and reduce their likelihood of having accidents in the house. This teaches them where it is appropriate to go to the toilet. If you are toilet training a puppy, and they cannot go outside yet, train them to use puppy pads or newspaper. Once they are old enough and have had their vaccinations, you can make the transition to going outside.

Notice the signs

Pay attention to your dog’s behaviour. They may be telling you that they need to go to the toilet. Signs such as fidgeting, squatting and circling or sniffing the floor could mean that they need to be let out. Ensure you immediately clean up any accidents, as some dogs return to the same place to go to the toilet.

Praise your dog

Positive reinforcement is essential when toilet training your dog. Go outside with them and use praise and play after they go to the toilet. It's important not to punish your dog for accidents. This may cause them to associate going to the toilet in front of you with a negative experience, and can set back their training.

Routine, routine, routine

You and your dog will both start to learn their toilet routine and you'll slowly be able to reduce the number of short bathroom breaks they require.

Microchipping is now a UK legal requirement for all dogs by the time they are seven weeks old. Puppies need to be chipped before going to their new owners. A vet will implant the chip - it's a quick and simple procedure. As well as being microchipped, it is a legal requirement for dogs to wear a collar and tag with their owner's name and address when in a public place.

What is a microchip?

A microchip is a tiny computer chip (about the size of a grain of rice) that is permanently implanted under the animal's skin. The chip contains a unique code that matches their owner's contact details. This means that if your dog is ever lost or stolen, you're much more likely to be reunited.

It's essential to keep your details up-to-date so that you can be contacted. Your vet will give you the provider's details so you can update your information with new contact numbers or an address.

Training your dog with a few simple commands, such as ‘Come back’ or ‘Stay still’ will help with their obedience training and will also keep them safe. With proper training they can enjoy freedom, such as playing in the park without a lead, while being under control. There are a few ways to help your dog learn commands, like stay or come:

  1. Dogs learn best with reward-based training. Giving your dog a small treat or praise when they follow a command means they are more likely to do it again
  2. Be patient. Dogs love learning new tricks, but it can take some time to get it right
  3. Train in short but regular sessions, so both you and your dog are entirely focussed. Keep the sessions consistent, with the same vocal cues and signals, to help your dog learn
  4. Make the training session fun for your dog by ending with a short play session, so your pet associates training with positive experiences. This will help make them more eager to learn
  5. If you're having trouble training your dog, consider attending dog obedience classes, where you can get expert help

Teaching your dog to walk correctly on a lead can take time and patience, but it is an important step in a dogs training. Dogs get excited when on a walk, and sometimes their eagerness to explore can lead to pulling. There are a few ways to train them:

  1. Choose suitable equipment that fits your dog correctly, and is comfortable for them. Options such as flat harnesses, chest-led harnesses, collars and fixed or retractable leads are available
  2. Stop walking and remain completely still as soon as you feel your dog pull, and do this until you feel the lead relax. Repeat this as necessary. Your dog will learn to associate pulling with stopping
  3. Reward your dog with small treats or praise whenever they walk correctly with you; do this on the go to avoid stopping and starting
  4. Practice walking on the lead in quiet areas where there are no distractions, like busy roads or other dogs
  5. Be patient. It's no walk in the park, so to speak. Your dog will probably take a few weeks' of consistent training to get used to walking on the lead correctly

Neutering is the process of castrating male dogs (removal of the testes) and spaying females (removal of the ovaries and uterus). If you’re not planning to breed from your dog, vets recommended having your puppy neutered at around six months of age, depending on their development.

Once neutered, your dog won’t be able to breed. In the UK, many unwanted dogs and unplanned puppies are looking for loving homes - neutering is a responsible step to reducing this problem.

Neutering can help prevent some health issues related to pregnancy, certain cancers and even fatal infections. Neutering can also help with certain behaviours such as roaming (when dogs run away to find a mate) and dominant or aggressive behaviour.

After your dog's operation they will need some rest and recuperation. For male dogs, it can be more straightforward, and they will likely come home on the same day. For female dogs they may be kept overnight for observation.

Your vet may prescribe some pain medication and a protective collar to stop them from licking and disturbing their stitches. You'll also need to bring your dog in for a check-up. Your vet will advise on the safe levels of activity for your dog, and you may need to walk them on a short lead for a few days.

Most dogs need 60 minutes of exercise and play throughout the day, but this varies depending on the breed, age and health of your dog. For example, breeds such as German Shepherds or Boxers require at least two hours of activity.

If you're unsure, your vet will be able to advise on your particular dog's exercise needs or you can read our breed guides. Not getting enough exercise can lead to health problems such as obesity. It can also make your dog unhappy or bored, which can lead to destructive behaviour.

Aside from their daily walks, you can keep your dog active with play time, agility training and swimming. You can also hire a dog walker to help with keeping your dog fit and healthy.

If the weather is particularly hot or cold, being outside for long periods can be harmful to your dog's health. There are lots of activities you can do inside, such as teaching tricks, throwing toys or playing tug-of-war. Think about a high-visibility dog jacket or LED collars in the winter months, so your pet can be seen in the dark.

Looking for ways to keep your dog happy and entertained? Dogs are complex and intelligent creatures that require lots of attention, exercise and love. There are plenty of things you can do to improve your pet's quality of life:

1. Make time for play

Dogs are incredibly social and love spending quality time with their owners. By making playtime a priority, you can give your dog the bonding time it needs, while keeping them mentally stimulated. Vary the games you play with different dog toys from time to time to keep things interesting for your pet. Why not consider organising a doggy-playdate, so your pet can socialise with other dogs?

2. New experiences

Instead of going on the same daily route, try varying your dog’s walking routine to let them enjoy new sights and smells. Take them to an enclosed dog-friendly park so they can be let off the lead safely and enjoy the freedom. Or let them explore on a longer lead in the countryside. Going somewhere new on an extra-long walk every few days will keep your dog's tail wagging, while also maintaining their fitness.

3. Teach an old dog new tricks

Dogs want to please their owners so teaching them some new tricks and commands with reward-based training is a great way to keep them entertained. Keep training sessions short but regular, and use play and praise to make it an enjoyable experience for both of you.

Just like humans, dogs require dental care and can suffer from gum issues if their teeth are not cared for. Brushing your dog's teeth regularly will ensure their mouth is kept healthy. Use specialised dog brushes and pastes. You can also purchase dental chew sticks that can be given to your dog occasionally to help dislodge food particles and plaque in your pet's teeth.

If you are unsure or have trouble brushing your dog's teeth at home, contact your vet who will be able to offer guidance. Vets also offer professional teeth cleaning services, you should consider having this done at least once a year.

We take precautions to protect our skin from sun damage, and it should be no different for our dogs. Dogs are also susceptible to diseases related to sun exposure, especially those with short or lighter coloured hair, or non-pigmented skin. Areas that aren't fully covered by hair should be protected with sunscreen, such as dog's noses, ears and abdomens. It's important to use certified dog sunscreen, as some ingredients found in human creams can be toxic to dogs. Always offer your dog a shaded area when they’re outside, along with fresh water to avoid overheating. If it is extremely hot, keep your dog indoors where possible.

If you're travelling with your dog in a car or on public transport, ensure there is plenty of ventilation, shade, and that fresh drinking water is readily available. For longer journeys, make stops where possible to let your dog out to use the toilet and stretch their legs.

Make sure your dog is restrained securely in any car so it can’t move around the vehicle and does not distract the driver. Dog crates and special car harnesses will make sure your pet is safe and secure. If your pet travels in the front of the car, make sure you deactivate the passenger air bags as these can be dangerous for pets if you have an accident.

If you're planning on travelling abroad with your dog, ensure you're prepared by reading our guide to travelling with pets here.

Your dog must meet specific requirements when travelling across EU countries or returning to the UK from another EU or non-EU listed country, and the process can be fairly lengthy.

Before setting off, check your pet is healthy to travel and has all the necessary vaccinations. In addition to being microchipped, your dog should wear an ID collar with your full contact details and holiday address on it.



Vet Assistance - whenever you need it

Our 24/7 vet advice helpline is available to all Sainsbury’s Bank Pet Insurance customers. If your dog is poorly, or just doesn’t seem quite itself, our dedicated team of vet nurses can offer advice and put your mind at ease.

They’re also on hand to chat through any questions you might have about your dog’s health or wellbeing. This includes advice on dental treatments, vaccinations and even toilet training. So if you have a query, don’t hesitate to give us a call.

If your pet becomes very unwell, has collapsed, is unconscious or has been involved in a serious accident, you should contact an emergency vet immediately.

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