Owning a dog is one of the greatest pleasures and highlights of our life. But there is a downside to loving a dog, and that’s the huge difference between our life expectancy and theirs.
“Everyone wants to live as long as possible, and we want the same for our family members and pets,” says Dr. Jerry Klein, AKC chief veterinary officer. “Though total control over the length of a lifespan is impossible because of genetic hardwiring, there are things we can do to modify and maximize how long our dogs live, and more importantly how we can improve the quality of that life.”
Following is a list of key health and wellness steps dog owners can take to extend the time and improve the quality of their best friend’s life and keep them active for life.
All dogs should have annual wellness checkups, including a physical examination to detect any changing health conditions. Dr. Klein says that elderly dogs (about 7-9 years and up for most dogs) or dogs living with chronic medical conditions should have veterinary checkups every 6 months. These checks may pick up subtle changes in weight, blood values, lung or heart sounds that could make the difference between an early diagnosis and possibly even life or death.
Dental care, regular treatments to protect your dog from heartworm and other internal parasites, and up-to-date vaccinations are critical to prevent illness and infections. Many dog owners take a pet first aid course and put together first aid kits, so they’re prepared for illness and emergency situations.
Our dogs depend on us to provide nutritional food appropriate for their breed, age, and activity level that supplies the proteins, vitamins, and nutrients they require. Obesity is the number one preventative health issue of American dogs, reports Dr. Klein. The proper diet helps your dog maintain a healthy weight, contributing to a longer and higher quality life. Constant access to fresh water is also important.
Adult and senior dogs often develop chronic medical or physical issues that younger dogs do not have. They may be on long-term medications, including antibiotics, which can be stressful to their systems and affect the delicate balance of the gut system. Dr. Klein urges dog owners to discuss the need for probiotics or supplements with a veterinarian. Ask if pre and probiotics, omega-3 fatty acids, or chondroitin and joint & mobility supplements may be useful for your dog to stay happy and live their most active life.
Daily exercise, based on age, size, breed, and environmental conditions, contribute to physical health and mental stimulation. This applies to older dogs, as well, who want to maintain active and who benefit from a walk around the neighborhood. Proper exercise conditions muscles and builds the strength that will help your dog stay flexible and mobile as he ages.
“Keeping the body and mind active is crucial to feeling vital and alive for man and beast,” says Dr. Klein. “Take a new route on your daily walk occasionally. Let your dog discover new scents and sights.” Puzzle toys, short road trips, and dog sports such as agility, rally, and barn hunt will stimulate your dog’s mind and strengthen the human-dog bond.
We can’t control the scary noises made by UPS trucks, vacuum cleaners, or hair dryers. But there are steps we can take to help our dogs have a low-stress life. As soon as your dog becomes part of your family, you can reduce anxiety by introducing a daily routine, setting expectations, teaching basic obedience commands, and socializing your dog to a variety of people, places, and environments.
Who doesn’t like to look good and get their hair done? Dogs are no exception. “When dogs are used to regular grooming, they relish the attention,” says Dr. Klein. “Grooming is another way to do a thorough hands-on exam of the mouth, ear canals, paws and nails, joints, and anal sacks. Additionally, you may feel any unusual lumps or bumps, which should always be brought to the attention of a veterinarian.”
Every year, pets die after consuming toxic foods and plants, being hit by cars, or suffering heatstroke. Be sure your dog never has access to foods, medicine, or plants that are toxic to dogs. Keep your dog on leash or away from roads. Don’t leave your dog in an unattended vehicle. Be sure someone can contact you if they find your dog by using a microchip and collar tags. Train your dog to obey commands such as down, stay, come, wait — even where there are distractions.
Our dogs can’t tell us when they’re feeling sick. If you understand what is healthy and normal for your dog, you can more quickly identify when you need to get veterinary help. For example, Dr. Klein says, “A dog’s normal temperature is 101-102 degrees Fahrenheit. The normal color of a dog’s gums is pink (just like a person’s). Pale gums or bluish gums are not normal and should be thought of as an emergency,” he says.
Alternative therapies are a great addition a dog’s routine. Dr. Klein suggests that acupuncture to treat certain ailments can yield positive results. Water therapy and swimming is often helpful for dogs recuperating from sports injuries or some medical conditions. Many elderly dogs have osteoarthritis, and properly supervised swimming is a great way for them to exercise and shed a few pounds. Massage is another gentle way to reduce pain and improve blood flow to sore joints. Some dog owners even opt for canine chiropractic care, which can help improve a dog’s mobility by realigning their spine and musculoskeletal system.
Last, but by far not least, when it comes to having an impact on our dog’s life, a strong bond is vital. This benefits the physical, mental, and emotional health of dog and owner. Treasure the time you have with your dog and pay attention to the signals your dog gives you. This will help you understand what makes him happy, so you can enjoy your years together while living an active life.
YuMOVE is a triple-action joint supplement developed to provide a more comprehensive solution to joint health. It helps to soothe joint stiffness, support long-term joint health and mobility throughout your dog’s life. YuMOVE is the official dog joint supplement of the American Kennel Club.