Routine dog health checks

Guide Dogs has been looking after the health of their dogs since 1931 and is constantly ensuring that the health care routine given to guide dog owners is up-to-date with the latest veterinary advice and is the best care that a dog can be given.

The information below is a guide to the general health care that guide dogs should be given. For more detailed information on any of these topics a guide dog owner should contact their Dog Care and Welfare Advisor or the vet they are registered with (owners of pet dogs should contact their local vet).

Health care advice 

Why vaccinate?

Vaccination is an important part of a complete dog health care programme. It helps prevent and control the spread of infectious disease that could prove potentially fatal to your guide dog. The vaccines we use contain a weakened form of the organism that the dog needs protecting against. It works by stimulating the dog’s immune system to produce its own defence against the infection.

What diseases can be vaccinated against?

Some of the major infectious diseases that guide dogs are vaccinated against include:


This is an extremely infectious viral disease that typically affects younger dogs, although dogs of all ages can become infected. This disease causes the intestines of the dog to become inflamed leading to severe stomach upsets and dehydration. In very young puppies, the heart may also become inflamed. The virus is extremely hardy in the environment and can survive for many months outside of the animal.


This is another highly contagious viral disease. It produces a variety of signs but the most obvious are sneezing, coughing and an unpleasant eye and nose discharge. In more advanced stages of the disease, the virus often attacks the nervous system causing fits and paralysis. A dog can be infected without coming into contact with an infected animal as areas used by infected dogs such as kennels and runs can harbour the virus. It may also be airborne.


This is a viral disease that is spread by direct dog-to-dog contact through saliva, urine, and faeces. Once infected, the virus targets the liver causing it to become enlarged and inflamed. The virus may also damage the eyes and kidneys. Dogs that are recovering from the disease may continue to harbour the virus and act as carriers, spreading the disease to other dogs by direct contact.


There are several different types of leptospira that can affect the kidneys and liver of susceptible dogs. Leptospirosis organisms are found in ponds, streams, and rivers in the UK and are passed by direct dog-to-dog contact. One form of this disease can be transmitted to people. This is known as Weil's disease.

Given the important role of guide dogs, under UK law they are allowed access to places that pet dogs may not go. These include restaurants, shops, and some hospitals. We must, therefore, be confident that there is no risk to the general public from transmissible diseases and in addition there is no risk to guide dogs from other unprotected dogs that they may come into contact with. As a result, Guide Dogs has implemented a vaccination programme under the guidance of experts in the field of immunology and vaccine manufacturers, which provides maximum protection for our dogs against these diseases.

What does Guide Dogs recommend?

Guide Dogs recommends that boosters which ‘top up’ the dog’s immunity are given once a dog is qualified and placed with its new owner. These will be administered by the owner's veterinary surgeon at intervals as recommended by the vaccine manufacturer. The boosters will remind the dog's immune system how to defend itself against certain diseases should it be challenged.

Do guide dogs get free vaccinations?

Vaccine manufacturers supply vaccines free of charge to Guide Dogs' puppies and dogs. If you own a guide dog or puppy, simply ask your vet to complete a vaccine reclaim card at the time of your dog's vaccination. The reclaim card can be found at the back of your guide dog health record booklet and your vet should send it off to the relevant manufacturer. The manufacturers will then reimburse your vet on receipt of a completed reclaim card. Please ensure that your vet submits a copy of their clinical notes informing your local Dog Care and Welfare Advisor of the vaccination given so we can keep our records updated.

What is Neutering?

Neutering is the removal of the reproductive organs in dogs and is generally undertaken to stop any unwanted litters. In female dogs, the procedure is known as spaying and in the male dog, the procedure is known as castration.

Why are guide dogs neutered?

Working guide dogs need to keep their minds on the job at all times. No flirting, fighting or seeking a mate. For these reasons all working guide dogs are neutered.

Unneutered dogs are easily distracted by female dogs in season and will often try to escape and find a mate. They can also become more aggressive towards other dogs and may become territorial, frequently marking their territory. Similar behavioural changes will also be experienced by the female dog, who may become restless, easily distracted and attract unwanted male attention.

When are guide dogs neutered?

With the exception of breeding dogs, all guide dogs are neutered. Male puppies are castrated during the puppy-walking period at approximately 8 months of age and bitches are spayed after their first season.

What are fleas?

Fleas are small, black insects about 2 mm in length. They live in the bedding and coats of dogs, cats and other animals and feed on their blood.

How can I tell if my dog has fleas?

Close examination of your dog may reveal these small, black insects moving rapidly through your dogs? coat. If there are few fleas present, only flea dirt may be evident which will appear as small, black specks. This is actually flea faeces, which is passed through the insect after sucking blood from your dog. To confirm the presence of fleas, place some flea dirt on a wet piece of cotton wool. The dirt will turn red as the blood pigment dissolves.

Some dogs may tolerate fleas well, with only very slight scratching. Others can show a severe allergic reaction to both flea bites and flea saliva. This can result in intense scratching and chewing of neck, ears, thighs and base of the tail. Your dog may also spin around quickly to chew itself when the flea bites. In extreme cases, your dog’s skin may start to scale and discolour. Hair loss and secondary bacterial infections may also occur.

How do I control fleas?

Adult fleas lay their eggs on the dog within a few days of their first blood meal. These eggs are non-sticky and will drop off onto surrounding carpets and bedding. From here, the eggs will hatch to produce larvae that feed on flea faeces and organic matter found in the environment. The larvae dislike light and will tend to live deep in the carpets and in soil.

After a period of growth, the larvae will pupate. This is when the larvae take on the form of the adult. The adult flea will be stimulated to emerge from the pupa by warmth of body heat, vibrations such as a dog walking by or by exhaled breath (carbon dioxide). The newly emerged flea may bite humans before jumping off to find a more suitable host. Once this host is found, the life cycle will start over again.

To control fleas, you must treat all your cats and dogs on the same day. There are many treatments for your dog on the market, some function by killing fleas immediately while other preparations act when the flea bites. Treating your pets alone is not, however, sufficient and you must also treat your home environment. Regular hoovering and cleaning of bedding will also help to destroy the flea’s different life stages.

We recommend that guide dogs are treated regularly according to the product manufacturer's guidelines.

A safety note

Make sure that you follow all product instructions carefully. Make sure the treatment is suitable for dogs as some products are particular to one kind of animal.

What are ticks?

Ticks are small, light grey, rounded insects which feed on the blood of animals. They vary in size and when engorged, can reach the size of a pea. They can be found anywhere on the dog’s body but are most frequently found on the ears, face or abdomen where hair cover is relatively thin. Ticks will only feed at certain times in their life. Peak activity is between the months of March to June and from August to November. Most of their life cycle is spent outside in areas of long grasslands and moorland but they can also survive in cracks and crevices in the walls and floors of kennels.

How can I tell if my dog has ticks?

Adult ticks can be seen attached to the skin of your dog and will resemble a small, smooth wart or blood blister. If your dog has only a few ticks, they may have little effect on your dog. Occasionally your dog’s skin may become irritated due to an allergic reaction to the bite. If infestations are heavy, anaemia may develop. Ticks can, however, be carriers of Lyme disease, which can be transmitted to the dog when bitten.

How do I control ticks?

When a tick is removed from your dog’s body, it is important that its mouthparts do not remain embedded in your dog’s skin or this may result in irritation, infection and abscess. To prevent this from happening, it is always best to get your vet to remove the tick. Spot on and oral treatments are available from your veterinary surgeon to provide protections against ticks.

What is a roundworm?

Roundworms are worms that live in the guts of dogs, feeding off partially-digested food. They can be up to 10cm long and appear white in colour. They are most common in puppies where they are passed from the mother through the placenta before birth, or after birth through the milk. Adult dogs can also become infected by ingesting eggs that may be passed on by the faeces of infected dogs.

How do I tell if my dog is infected?

Large infestations of roundworms may cause a characteristic pot-bellied appearance in puppies and in extreme cases may actually block the intestine and cause death. They may also experience diarrhoea and vomiting, in which roundworms may be visible. If left untreated, infestations may also cause retardation of growth.

Symptoms are rarely seen in adults who seldom have major infestations of roundworms.

The most accurate way of detecting roundworms is to visit your vet who will analyse a faecal sample from your dog for the presence of eggs.

How do we treat roundworms?

All guide dog-breeding bitches and puppies are treated for roundworm before they are placed in homes with puppy walkers. Guide Dogs recommends that adult working dogs, guide dogs in training and our breeding dogs are treated regularly with safe and effective wormers.

Can roundworms infect people?

Roundworms can infect people. In children in particular, roundworm larvae migrating around the body may settle in the eye and cause blindness. Proper worm control is essential to minimise the number of worms in the environment and is very important as a public health measure.

What are tapeworms?

Tapeworms live in the gut of dogs and may reach up to 20cm in length. The worm attaches itself to the wall of the intestines by its head, which has hooks and suckers. The worms are made up of flat segments, which are white in colour. Each segment is packed full of eggs which break off and are passed with the dog's faeces.

One of the most common ways for your dog to become infected with tapeworms is through fleas. During their growth and development, flea larvae will swallow tapeworm eggs and become infected. In its adult form, the flea will feed from the blood of a dog by biting it. On reaction to a bite or during grooming, the dog may lick or chew the area and swallow the flea. As the flea is digested inside the dog, the tapeworm hatches and anchors itself to the intestine of the dog.

How do I tell if my dog is infected?

Small numbers of tapeworms are not particularly harmful to your dog and will not usually cause illness. However, large infestations may cause weight loss and general poor health.

Infected dogs will pass the tapeworm segments through their faeces. These appear like grains of rice in the faeces and may be seen on the skin around the anus. Your dog may also show signs of anal irritation by dragging its bottom across the floor. This usually occurs as a result of the worm segments being shed. Occasionally, a worm may enter the stomach of the dog, causing irritation. This may make the dog vomit and an adult worm may be visible in the vomit.

How do I treat tapeworms?

Modern worming tablets are very effective in treating tapeworms. It is, however, very important to control your dog’s fleas in order to prevent re-infection.

Guide dogs are treated regularly for tapeworms. We also regularly treat our dogs for fleas. Random faecal samples are also taken from guide dogs to check our worm control measures are adequate.

Why do Guide Dogs microchip?

Since April 2016 it has become a legal requirement for every dog to be microchipped.

Microchip identification was first introduced in the late eighties and has gradually been accepted as a safe and reliable way to identify dogs. The microchip is contained within a special glass coating and is completely harmless. The chip will register a unique code number when a scanner is passed over it. The code number can then be referred to a central database that will identify the dog and owner.


What is a healthy diet?

Guide Dogs has found that the best way to meet the nutritional needs of its dogs is by feeding them high quality complete dog food from a reputable manufacturer. Complete diets contain all the ingredients required to maintain your dog’s health and require no nutritional supplements. Other types of foods are available, such as tinned meat and mixer biscuits.

Varieties of complete diets are also available and have been formulated to suit the particular phase of the dog’s life. There are puppy foods, adult maintenance foods, and foods suitable for older dogs. Each of these has the correct balance of nutrients for that stage of the animal’s life.

Whatever food you are using, it is important to monitor the amount your dog is given. Do not feed titbits or home-cooked rations as this may lead to nutritional imbalances. We also recommend that you do not give bones to your guide dog due to the potential damage they can cause to the teeth and mouth. Bones can also cause minor stomach upsets and splinters can become stuck in the digestive tract. Many good toys are available which are far safer for your dog to chew and much more effective at maintaining oral health.

What is obesity?

Obesity is defined as 15% or more over optimum body weight and it is generally caused by eating more than is needed by the body. Obesity can cause many physical problems for your dog, including heart failure, joint pain and stiffness, diabetes mellitus, heat intolerance and skin disease.

The problem tends to develop gradually, so weighing your dog monthly will allow you to notice any weight gain and allow you to reduce your dog’s diet before it becomes a problem. If your dog begins to gain weight you can change to a light/lower calorie version of the food you are using. Most of the good-quality complete diets are available in ‘light’, which are specially formulated to meet all the dog's nutritional needs whilst providing fewer calories.

What can affect a dog's eye health?

Dogs sometimes suffer from minor eye infections or inflammation of the eye. Occasionally, tiny objects such as grit or grass seed can get into the eye and cause discomfort. Other common complaints include eyelid problems, dry eyes or glaucoma. Most eye conditions will need veterinary attention. It is not advisable to treat your dog's eye condition at home for too long or to attempt to remove foreign objects lodged in the eye yourself. This may make the condition worse and cause permanent damage.

How can I identify an eye problem?

If your dog does have an eye problem, the most common signs will be excess watering of the eye or a discharge. It may also appear cloudy and your dog may start blinking excessively. Your dog may also scratch its eye or wipe its face along the carpet. To stop your dog causing further damage to itself, it may be advisable to prevent the dog from rubbing or scratching the eye until you can see the vet. To maintain optimum eye health, keep your dog's eyes clean by wiping away any discharge that may accumulate at the corner of the eye with cotton wool soaked in luke-warm water. Use a separate piece of cotton wool for each eye to prevent the spread of any infection.

What can affect a dog's ear health?

Dogs will suffer from ear problems from time to time. During the summer months, grass seeds can become a problem by becoming lodged in the ear, causing discomfort. Other common problems include ear mites and ear infections.

How can I identifying an ear problem?

If your dog is suffering from an ear problem the ear may appear red and swollen and may feel hot. There may be discharge or an unpleasant odour to the ear and your dog may also shake its head and scratch its ear. It may also hold its head to one side. If you suspect that your dog has an ear problem, you should consult your vet immediately. If left untreated, the dog may cause damage to itself by scratching. If a foreign body is visible and is easily accessible and not penetrating tissue, it can be removed with your fingers. Do not insert anything into the ear (such as tweezers) as they are easily damaged. To prevent the dog from causing further injury to itself before seeing the vet, it is advisable to prevent the dog from rubbing or scratching the affected ear.

Dog care and welfare advisors

All guide dog owners are assigned a Dog Care and Welfare Advisor by Guide Dogs. The Advisor is the person that guide dog owners need to contact if they have any queries about the health and care of their dog and they can offer advice and support on a whole range of veterinary care policies and procedures.

For further information, please contact the Dog Care and Welfare Advisor. Please use the details on the downloadable PDF to contact your local Dog Care and Welfare Advisor.

Dog Care and Welfare Advisor Map PDF Take a closer look