Dogs can appear to transition from lively puppies to wise old companions in the blink of an eye. For those of us who share our lives with these four-legged friends, the time spent together can never be long enough. If dog parents could change one thing, it would be to have their dog by their side for eternity.
Unfortunately, dogs have shorter lifespans than humans. But the good news is, while there’s no way to guarantee a longer life for your dog, there are ways to enhance a dog’s healthspan — the period when they’re free of illnesses that are seriously detrimental to their day-to-day lives — and keep their tails wagging for longer.
We asked Brandon Stapleton, DVM, and head veterinarian for 5-star-rated The Farmer’s Dog, for his tips on enhancing a dog’s healthspan.
Understand your dog’s background
Different breeds and types of dog are prone to particular conditions, and may benefit from certain medical care or nutrition.
IVDD is common in Dachshunds, for example, and Great Danes are prone to bloat. “There are many more examples among different breeds, so it’s important to consult with your veterinarian about common conditions in your dog’s breed or age group in order to take preventative measures where possible,” says Dr. Stapleton.
If possible, it’s also a good idea to check your dog’s family history and if you know who their parents are, find out which illnesses are hereditary.
With basic background knowledge, you might be able to save your dog from illness or discomfort by understanding what activities or foods suit them.
Feed your dog a complete and balanced diet
What we put in our bodies has a huge effect on our long-term health, and it is no different for dogs. It’s important to choose a dog food that meets the AAFCO standards and is suitable for your dog’s age and type.
And it’s important that the nutrients in your dog’s food are actually available to and being used by their body.
“That’s why digestibility is an important measure of pet-food quality,” says Dr. Stapleton. “Research shows that fresh, human-grade food is more digestible than many types of extruded kibble, which means that dogs eating it absorb more of the nutrients it contains — and they produce smaller poops than dogs who eat kibble. In sum, fresh human-grade food is a way to pack your dog’s diet with more of what’s good for them.”
Control food portions
It’s also essential to feed your dog the right amount of food to avoid unwanted health conditions associated with malnourishment or obesity.
“Maintaining a healthy weight and lean body condition in dogs has been shown to extend their lifespan by up to two-and-a-half years and it also enhances their overall quality of life, potentially delaying the onset of chronic diseases,” says Dr. Stapleton.
For optimal results, a customized meal plan tailored to your dog’s specific needs simplifies portion control, ensuring they receive the right amount of food.
If you want your dog to feel energized, happy, and calm, taking the time to consider what and how much food is suitable for them is well worth the effort.
Give your dog an appropriate amount of exercise
Obesity is a widespread issue among American dogs, with nearly 60% being overweight or obese. This condition is linked to various health problems, including osteoarthritis, heart issues, and cancer. Dogs in a lean body condition tend to live up to 2.5 years longer, enjoy a better quality of life, and experience a later onset of chronic diseases.
“While diet is the most important factor in helping a dog lose weight, exercise is also a significant part of keeping your dog healthy and happy,” says Dr. Stapleton.
While it’s true that most dogs benefit from staying active, it’s important to recognize that each dog has unique needs. We’re not suggesting you take your Greyhound on the same run as your senior Chihuahua. However, every dog does require a certain level of mental and physical stimulation, so it’s essential to determine the right amount for your furry friend.
Speak to your veterinarian if you are unsure about how much exercise your dog should be getting. Dogs who get insufficient exercise may show signs of stress and other behavior issues such as aggression or fear. A healthy dog is a happy dog after all so get them off the couch and moving!
Train your dog, early and often
Shockingly, trauma is among the top causes of death in young dogs. Dogs can be seriously hurt if they escape from home or get into fights, often suffering long-term health effects as a result.
“Creating a strong bond between you and your dog is important to keeping them safe, and one of the most special things a pet parent can experience,” says Dr. Stapleton. “Discover how to train your dog right from the start through engaging activities that you both can enjoy together.”
If you encounter challenges, conducting some research or enrolling in a training class can be highly beneficial. The process of teaching your dog to follow commands is not only rewarding for you but also contributes to their overall happiness and well-being.
Protect your dog from dangerous objects and substances
In 2021, the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center received over 400,000 calls related to animals. While the specific breakdown by species isn’t available, this staggering number highlights the common occurrence of pets ingesting harmful substances.
“Safeguarding your dogs from toxic materials is essential to their well-being,” says Dr. Stapleton. “Educate yourself about human foods that can be harmful to dogs, and securely store hazardous ingredients, medications, and other items out of their reach.”
Additionally, be aware that certain objects can pose risks if swallowed, potentially leading to choking or intestinal blockages. Make sure to supervise your dog with toys and treats. And remember that dogs have an amazing skill for finding things they shouldn’t eat. Take every precaution to keep dangerous items away from them (even if you think they are beyond reach).
Your dog’s dental health has significant implications for their overall well-being and if neglected, can cause serious health issues.
“Dental problems are alarmingly prevalent among dogs, affecting over 80% of those aged three or older,” says Dr. Stapleton.
The bacteria responsible for dental and gum issues can spread to other parts of their bodies, sometimes leading to life-threatening conditions. For example, there have been studies to show a connection between periodontal disease and heart problems in dogs.
This is why it’s wise to establish a regular tooth brushing routine for your dog. With training and patience, most dogs can come to appreciate this practice. Always opt for dog-specific toothpaste, as human versions contain ingredients that can be harmful or even fatal to dogs.
Additionally, include dental checkups, cleanings, and evaluations in your veterinary visits and ask them for any brushing advice.
Regular veterinary visits
One of the most important pieces of advice to help your dog stay fit and healthy for as long as possible is, of course, regular veterinary visits including preventative services like vaccinations.
“Maintaining regular visits to the vet for checkups and age-appropriate services could potentially lengthen your dog’s life through preventative measures,” says Dr. Stapleton. “Be a proactive partner in your dog’s care. Talk to your vet about any current health concerns and plan for keeping future issues at bay.”
Visiting your veterinarian regularly means they have the opportunity to look out for any lifestyle problems or concerns that can be caught sooner rather than later. Pet insurance is also a good idea as it may reduce the cost of these visits and any treatment. A win-win!
Ensuring your dog enjoys a long and healthy life is a goal every pet parent shares.
“While there are no miraculous products to grant your dog eternal life, you can offer them the best chance at more joyful years by caring for them accordingly,” said Dr. Stapleton. “With the right lifestyle and proactive care in conjunction with your veterinary care team, your dog can have a long healthspan, and a healthy, full life.
If you are concerned about your dog’s lifestyle or their aging process, don’t be afraid to contact your veterinary care team as they can provide invaluable support and peace of mind.