Anyone who has ever lived with a dog knows how often it feels like we don't spend enough time with them. Most dogs live just ten to fourteen years on average, while some may live longer naturally, and some may be prone to diseases that shorten their lives.
Numerous people are unaware, however, that humans and dogs have many genetic similarities, including a proclivity for age-related cancer. This means that many of the things that humans do to live longer and healthier lives may also be beneficial to dogs.
Here are just a few ways that you might help your dog live a longer, healthier life.
1. Watch their waistline
Maintaining a healthy bodyweight is one characteristic that has been connected to longevity across a variety of species. That includes ensuring dogs aren't overweight and carefully monitoring their calorie consumption. A lean, healthy bodyweight is not only better for your dog in the long run, but it can also assist to reduce the severity of some health disorders like osteoarthritis.
Regular weighing or body condition scoring – when you look at your dog's physical shape and "score" them on a scale to see if they're overweight or at a healthy weight – can help you keep track of and control your dog's weight. When you use both of these strategies, you'll be able to see weight fluctuations and adjust their diet as needed.
Use feeding guidelines as a starting point for how much to feed your dog, but as your dog gets older or their activity level changes, you may need to adjust the food type or amount you feed to maintain a healthy weight. Knowing exactly how much you're feeding your dog is also important for weight management, so weigh it instead of scooping it in by eye.
More generally, good nutrition can be linked to a healthy ageing process, suggesting that what you feed can be as important as how much you feed. “Good” nutrition will vary for each dog, but be sure to look for foods that are safe, tasty and provide all the nutrients your dog needs.
2. Plenty of walks
Both our pets and we gain from exercise on a physiological and psychological level (and us). Physical activity has been linked to anti-aging effects in other genetically related species and can help manage a dog's weight.
While exercise alone will not extend your dog's life, it may help protect you and your dog from being overweight. And indeed, research suggests that “happy” dog walks lead to both happy dogs and people.
3. Teach them new tricks
It's not just about the physical aspects of becoming older. It's also a good idea to keep your dog's mind stimulated. You can teach old dogs new things, contrary to common belief, and you could just keep their brain and body younger as a result.
Explore alternate low-impact sports and pursuits, such as scentwork, that you and your dog may do together, even if physical activity is limited. Dogs' noses are intrinsically gratifying and enjoyable to use, so teaching them to identify items by scent can provide them with both mental and physical activity.
Even old dogs can learn new tricks. Aleksey Boyko/ Shutterstock
Other exercise such as hydrotherapy – a type of swimming exercise – might be a good option – especially for dogs who have conditions which affect their ability to exercise as normal.
Dogs, like many other companion animals, form strong bonds with their owners. Companionship is certainly provided by the human-dog link, and dog enthusiasts frequently refer to their pets as family members.
A strong caregiver-dog attachment can help you and your dog maintain a pleasant and mutually productive relationship. It can also assist you in recognising tiny changes in your dog's behaviour or movement that may indicate a problem.
When the caregiver and the dog are compatible, it leads to a better relationship — and even benefits for the owners, such as stress relief and exercise. Sharing positive, fun experiences with your dog, including playing with them, are great for cementing your bond.
5. Don’t skip vet visits
In modern veterinary care, there have been significant advancements in the prevention and management of health issues in dogs. Successful vaccination and parasite control programmes have successfully reduced the incidence of disease in both dogs and humans, including toxocariasis, which may be transmitted from dog faeces to humans, and rabies, which can be passed from dog to dog or dog to person.
You'll be able to adjust treatments and discuss your dog's needs if you have a solid relationship with your veterinarian. Regular health checks can also help uncover any possible problems early on, like as dental problems or osteoarthritis, which can cause pain and have a detrimental influence on the dog's wellbeing.
At the end of the day, our dog's longevity is determined by a combination of genetics and the environment in which they live. While we can't change their genes, there are a number of things we can do to promote their health and potentially help them live a longer, better life.