How to Keep a Dog Forever Young
by Debra A. Primovic
To pet lovers, the disparity between human and canine life spans seems unfair. Efforts to help dogs stay healthy not only keeps them around longer, but pays dividends in also keeping them in as youthful shape as possible.
Know When Your Pet is “Old”
According to Dr. Johnny Hoskins, in Geriatrics and Gerontology of the Dog and Cat, the canine age that qualifies as senior depends largely on the breed and size. This veterinarian notes that dogs weighing less than 20 pounds are seniors at nine to 13 years, while giant dogs of 90 pounds or more are oldsters between six and nine years. Smaller breeds usually live longer.
Schedule Regular Wellness Exams
Comprehensive geriatric exams help identify early diseases or other problems. Include an evaluation of the teeth, heart and lungs, abdominal palpation and inspection of the ears and eyes. Monitoring weight, checking for parasites, blood work and urine tests are often recommended. Any symptoms of concern may require additional tests.
Watch for Illness
Because dogs are good at hiding illness until it is too late, regular home exams are vital. Be alert to such things as changes in water consumption, urination patterns and activity levels; poor appetite; weight gain or loss; coughing or difficulty breathing; vomiting or diarrhea; and skin lumps or masses. If you suspect a problem, don’t delay—get your vet’s evaluation.
Control Your Dog’s Weight
Obesity stresses the heart, which can lead to problems in the brain, lungs, liver and kidneys. Over time, life-threatening conditions can develop.
Keep Close Tabs
Outdoor, free-roaming pets generally have shorter lives than indoor animals. Keep dogs on leashes or in fenced yards.
Monitor the Environment
Keep trash and poisons out of a pet’s reach. Ingesting even a small amount of toxic substances, such as antifreeze, rat poison or slug bait, can cause serious illness or death.
Provide Good Nutrition
Feed your dog a high-quality, low-fat, high-fiber diet and minimize treats. Discuss the merits of senior-formula food with your vet.
Encourage Daily Exercise
Exercise strengthens joints and muscles, provides mental stimulation and helps maintain a healthy body weight.
Spay or Neuter Your Dog
Spaying and neutering reduce the risk of potential health problems related to the reproductive organs and diminish the desire to wander, which lessens the chance of being hit by cars.
Offer Mental Stimulation
Provide your dog with toys, games and quality time. Most pets are never too old to play, and it’s never too late to teach old dogs new tricks.
Following these 10 tips will go far in keeping a well-favored canine companion forever young.
Debra A. Primovic, a doctor of veterinary medicine, also holds a bachelor’s of science degree in nursing. She works as a staff veterinarian at the St. Louis Animal Emergency Clinic, in Missouri, and serves as managing editor of PetPlace.com, an online resource for pet health and wellness.