Three Ways to Help Your Dog Live Longer
1. Start With Your Veterinarian
Regular trips to your veterinarian are the cornerstone of helping your dog live longer. Remember that dogs age much faster than we do. Veterinarians are uniquely trained to detect changes in your pet’s health at the earliest and most treatable stages, so a comprehensive physical exam is essential. Additionally, your veterinarian can identify early warning signs for degenerative diseases. Another aspect of a typical check-up is the consultation you have regarding preventative measures, specifically heartworm and flea preventions as well as recommended protective vaccines based on your pet’s particular lifestyle and risk factors. She is also there to answer an array of important questions about health and well-being, which include topics like nutrition and exercise (as described below), behavior, current treat and food recalls and diseases common in your area. Every veterinarian wants your best friend to live a long and healthy life, so take a proactive approach to keeping your four-legged family member in excellent health.
2. Weight Control
Just like us, our furry friends need to maintain a healthy weight for similar reasons. Keeping your dog at a healthy weight can add two years to its life. Every dog’s ideal weight is slightly different based on its size and shape. Therefore, the best way to determine if your furry friend weighs the right amount is to keep a consistent eye on its body shape. Dogs should have an hourglass shape when viewed from above, and while you don’t want to see the ribs, you should feel them easily when placing your hand on the chest. You should consult with your veterinarian to ensure proper weight at every visit.
Diet and exercise both play a role in maintaining ideal body weight. In terms of diet, there are numerous manufacturers of dog food on the market, all of whom promote their products as the most nutritious. With so many choices for food on the market, it is important to consult your veterinarian on what she recommends. Dogs have different nutritional needs based on their breed, lifestyle, age, health status and more. Often, the amount of food recommended on the label will be too much for the average house pet. Your veterinarian is key to ensuring you are giving your dog the best food, and in the right quantity, for their specific needs.
Regular exercise is important for maintaining healthy weight, muscle mass and mobility. If your dog leads a sedentary lifestyle, gradually ease into exercise and be cautious about overdoing it as this can lead to joint injuries. Be especially cautious with overweight dogs during hot months because heatstroke is a greater risk. Even out-of-shape dogs can tolerate starting with a 10-minute walk twice a day (morning and late evening hours) and working up to longer and more vigorous activities. If your pet shows signs of being winded or sore, consult your veterinarian.
3. Training and Socializing
As soon as you bring your new dog home, one of your top priorities is to properly train and socialize it in a new environment. If you have a puppy, you should consult with your veterinarian on the preferred method for training. It’s important to expose puppies to people, other animals and unique situations in a controlled positive setting before 16 weeks of age. This ensures puppies grow into well-adjusted dogs.
For adult dogs that are new to the household, be proactive in determining their normal personality. Some dogs will open up right away, while others will take longer. For those that have any unwanted behavioral issues, again consult with your veterinarian on the best way to reduce or eliminate such problems. For dogs with excessive energy, long and frequent exercise sessions may help curb unwanted behaviors and promote better physical health. In some instances, behaviors that we deem inappropriate may be natural in certain settings. Thus, it is again vital to discuss your new family member with your veterinarian when questions arise as to behavioral issues around the house.
Everyone in the veterinary profession shares the goal of keeping your dog healthy for as long as possible. Working together, you and your veterinarian can provide the best opportunities for your dog to live as long and healthy a life as possible.
Tyler Foreman, DVM, is a graduate of Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine who lives in Dallas, Texas. Dr. Foreman practices at Rowlett Veterinary Clinic in Rowlett.