Everyone agrees that the worst thing about dogs is that they don’t live long enough. But these easy, common-sense tips can help extend the time we have with our canine pals.
1. Find the Right Breed
What’s your perfect dog? Like a spouse, a dog is a partner who will be with you for a long time, for better or for worse, so pick one you can live with. Divorce between humans is devastating, but a canine-human mismatch can have deadly consequences for the dog. If you are honest with yourself upfront, you’ll find someone to make your heart sing every second you are together.
2. Know Your Dog’s Background
Find a breeder with a sterling reputation for producing healthy, well-balanced puppies. Ask lots of questions, about pedigree, health screens, and care during the first few weeks. With rescue organizations, ask about the dog’s background, health, vaccine status, and temperament issues that may require additional training. And don’t just take anyone’s word for it. Trust your eyes, ears, and gut. If something seems wrong, say no.
3. Dog-Proof Your Home
Examine every inch of the place you call home with one question in mind: How many ways can my puppy hurt himself here? Anything that dangles, sparks, topples, or can be chewed poses a danger. Don’t think you’re in the clear if your new dog is an adult. One 9-year-old dog got a new home in an urban high-rise, instead of the rural area she was used to. She did not realize that the open window led, not to a backyard, but to a 15-story drop. It all ended well and she was pulled to safety, but only after an afternoon perched on an air conditioner.
4. Teach Emergency Cues
Young puppies are information sponges so use this period to ingrain life-saving cues—come, leave it, and an automatic sit or down. It’s a little more challenging to teach these to an adult dog, but you’ll be happy you made the extra effort if your dog ever gets loose and makes a beeline toward traffic.
5. Research Your Dog’s Diet
For most dogs, a high-quality diet, whether from a can, bag, or your kitchen, is essential. Don’t just read labels and recipes, read your dog. Dull hair, unpleasant odors, and stomach problems may mean that the food doesn’t agree with him. If that’s the case, change the menu. Talk to your vet about the best food for your dog.
6. Know When to Say No
“Awww, he’s so cute. Can I kiss his little nose?”
“Can I give her a piece of my sandwich?”
“Let me toss him in the deep end!”
As a dog owner, you will face a constant barrage of requests, opinions, and orders. Protect your dog from all of this unsolicited affection and advice by learning to say one little word: “No!”
You live with this dog and you know what’s best for him. Don’t allow anyone to put your or your dog in a dangerous situation.
7. Stay Educated
Dog owners have more resources than ever before. Use them. Food recalls, for example, often appear on Facebook and Twitter before they reach the news. Scientific papers on canine health are available online. Watch for new developments. Some can be lifesavers.
8. Prepare for the Worst
Accidents happen and knowing how to perform the Heimlich maneuver on a dog or how to tie a tourniquet can mean the difference between life and death. Classes, books, and online resources offer the basics. Also, find the nearest 24-hour veterinary emergency room in your area, keep the number handy, and make sure that you have a way to get there no matter what time of day or night. Have an emergency plan for disasters and keep a pet first-aid kit on hand as well.
9. Save Money for Medical Care
Medical care costs money, so consider buying a pet insurance policy for your dog or having a credit card reserved for your pet’s care. Some illnesses are one-time big expenses, while others require long-term care and medication. Either way, insurance can ease the financial burden of caring for a sick dog.
12. Preventative Care
One of the best ways to extend your dog’s life is to regularly take them to the vet and groomer. Your vet has likely known your dog most of their life and can catch medical problems in routine visits before the issues progress. Groomers also keep dogs comfortable and oftentimes notice when something is off on your dog’s body. There are also many supplements your vet may recommend to improve your dog’s quality of life.
11. Soothe Your Senior
There’s nothing like old dogs. They are sweet, soulful, and noble, but, like old people, they can be crabby, achy, and may lose control of their bodily functions, as well as go blind or deaf. These problems, however, don’t have to be the end of the line. There are all kinds of products and techniques—like orthopedic beds, acupuncture, supplements, and water therapy—that can help you keep your dog healthy and comfortable in their golden years.
12. Know When to Say Goodbye
As difficult as it may be, part of keeping your dog healthy and comfortable is knowing when it’s time to say goodbye. Talk to your veterinarian about your dog’s quality of life to make sure your pet isn’t suffering. Pet euthanasia is a difficult choice, but sometimes necessary.