Extend Your Dog’s Life: Three Things Owners Can Do

Weight-watching, Secondhand Smoke, Oral Health

In many ways, dogs are like people. We know they need good food and proper exercise to maintain health, but, beyond that, what can we do to extend our dog’s lives?

  1. An overweight dog is a dog at higher risk for heart disease, joint problems and back problems. “Fat” means “unhealthy,” just like human obesity, but dog owners seem to go into denial when they look at their “chubby” pets. Diet is extremely important for the dog’s ability to breathe normally without panting and perform age-appropriate exercises.

High quality dog foods are available in reliable pet stores. Some folks prefer to make their own pet food or provide raw diets, but most pet owners want ready-to-serve foods. The extra upfront cost for premium foods are worth it in saved vet costs and extended quality of life.

Obesity is becoming a problem among animals at an alarming rate, just as in humans. Many people give their dogs the upper recommended portions of dog food, plus dog treats, bones, and goodies from their dining tables. Yet, owners get offended when vets suggest they are overfeeding so some vets avoid the topic.

If you can’t see the dog’s waistline, it is time for a diet and that means smaller portions and fewer calories. Some breeds have dog food formulas especially made for them; some diets are made for older, less active dogs or overweight dogs. Ask your vet for specific weight loss recommendations for your dog’s age and breed. Modern-day vets have become more knowledgeable on the subject because their clientele expect expert advice.

Obviously, you shouldn’t continue to feed the same caloric amount to an overweight dog, but it’s also a bit cruel to cut back too quickly. My vet said she told the owners their lab was 20 pounds overweight so they made the dog lose the 20# before the next vet visit in about 6 weeks. That’s too extreme. A large dog might lose a pound a week, but will hit plateaus, like humans, before continuing to lose. A small dog, like a Chihuahua, will need to lose ounces, not pounds. Unless you have a very reliable home scale, you might need to arrange vet visits for a weight check to make sure you are on the right track for healthy weight loss.

The Irreverent Vet is a practicing vet who uses a pseudonym so he can speak openly on such topics. “Don’t shoot the messenger. If I tell you your dog is obese, I don’t have any personal jollies or things to gain from saying it. I’m telling you because it’s true and I want your dog to be in its best health possible.” (PetPlace.com)

  1. Secondhand smoke. How many owners realize that tobacco smoke has ill effects on their pets, which develop lung and breathing problems just like humans? Predictably, long-nosed dogs develop nasal cancer more frequently while shorter-nosed dogs are more susceptible to lung cancer.

According to studies done with almost 3,300 pet owners, including 21% (almost 700) smokers, 28% of smokers said the knowledge that their smoking was affecting their dogs would motivate them to quit. Another 14.2% said they would quit smoking indoors, and a percentage from both groups (8.7% of smokers and 16.4% of non-smokers) would ask other smokers in the household to quit smoking for the benefit of their pets. (Dog Fancy, March 2014)

  1. Dental care. Owners are becoming more aware of the need for good oral health for their dogs. About 80% of dogs aged three years and older have some kind of plaque/tartar buildup to the degree that they require professional dental cleaning by the vet – under anesthetic. Many vets recommend dogs have dental checkups every 6 months after the age of four. (Pet Place Veterinarians)

Owners are told to brush their dogs’ teeth daily. This is great for the very dedicated dog owner who has the time and owns a dog that will cooperate with doggy toothbrushes and dog-tested toothpaste. In reality, the majority of owners do not do this. Owners can put an anti-plaque solution in their dogs’ water bowls; they can offer dental chew rawhides and other dog chew toys that help clean the teeth; and they can offer dry, special, dental-formula dog foods.

If tartar builds up enough to create pockets of bacteria around the teeth, which leads to periodontal disease, the dog can lose teeth. If the bacteria get into the dog’s blood stream, bacteria can cause other organ damage. Good oral care can extend your dog’s life by three years.

Prevention is always better than the cure. “Wellness checkups” with the vet can be worth the price. Many people only go to the vet for annual vaccinations, injuries, or obvious signs of illness. Vets are watching for breed-related and age-related problems, along with early signs of other serious, health-related problems. A vet is comparing the dog’s history with what he sees that day. If you only go to the vet “as needed,” unnoticed problems can become more serious.

Dogs are like people, and sometimes they need more than an annual doctor visit, dog food, and back yard exercise.

Know your pet; observe changes. Watch for signs of unhealthy weight gain; check his teeth for tartar buildup and pay attention to doggy breath. Avoid secondhand smoke. Your best fur-friend depends on you for his care and health; he can’t do it himself.

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