Is there anything better than a pet that truly is a life companion? Is there anything else to wish for than wishing your pet lives a long life? We certainly don’t think so. Our dogs and cats become so integral to our lives and the lives of our friends and family. They are with us through the good and the bad and they love us unconditionally regardless of what we are going through. They deserve the world. And we are in a perfect position to give them that long, healthy life that they deserve if we understand and implement a few key concepts. They may seem simple, but when done consistently they can have some incredible results, extending your pet’s life and giving you many more years of adventures with humanity’s greatest companions.
Here are the most important concepts when trying to make your pet live longer:
- Change or adapt your pet’s diet
- Change your pet’s lifestyle
- Your pet’s training
- The hygiene
- Medical care
Your Pet’s Diet.
You are what you eat. It’s as true for our pets as it is for us humans and this is something that we are solely responsible for. The food that you feed your pets is the only fuel source they have to rely on and it’s the lead domino that affects all other aspects of their lives. In fact, obesity is probably the number one factor in poor pet health and so if you get this part right, a lot of the rest just falls into place.
First, let’s talk about quantity. There’s a sweet spot to be found here as a 2007 study showed that dogs who were raised on a calorie-restricted diet of about 25% less than the normal recommended amounts marketed by pet food companies lived an average of 2 years more than those dogs that were fed more. So, the key idea is that you should be trying to feed your dogs a bit less. Obviously, it’s important that you don’t change this immediately – you’ll want to slowly lower the amount of food they receive over time so that they can acclimatize to the new normal.
The science shows that this restriction does two things. It changes the nature of the gut flora which serves to improve lifespan as well as helping to manage a dog’s weight which helps to avoid adverse heart conditions and debilitating joint pain later in life. Don’t let your pet have constant access to food. Restrict portions and stick to set mealtimes and you’ll be giving them the best possible chance of a long, long life.
Then, let’s talk about quality. There is a huge range of different options all across the price spectrum but it’s worth doing your homework before just grabbing something off the shelf. Look for real, whole ingredients where possible and try to avoid sugar, sodium or other fillers that might make things taste better but will have an adverse impact on long-term health. By sticking to whole ingredients that are nutritionally balanced, you’ll optimize their immune system as well as their digestive, muscle, and joint health.
It’s worth trying a couple of different options and seeing how your dog responds in order to find the optimal food for your unique pet. The same goes for cats as well, the quality of cat food also ranges across the board – so take your time to get it right. You want to be looking out for what food helps to give you pets those shiny coats, healthy skin, and bright eyes. Your pets will thank you for it.
Lastly, take it easy on the treats. There is always a time and a place for treating your pet to something sugary and delicious but keep it in moderation so you can manage their weight. Pick your spots and mix in edible treats with other types of treats so you can still praise good behavior without always having to resort to feeding them something.
Your Pets Lifestyle
Exercise is an absolutely crucial component for pets. The worst thing you can do is keep a dog in a small confined space and not give it the opportunity to stretch its legs and get some oxygen through its body. Dogs are built to be athletes! By taking your dog on extended walks and runs you’ll unleash endorphins that will help to lower stress and keep morale stable. The recommendation is a minimum of 20 minutes per day, but it really does depend on the breed, size and personality of your dog. You can never really do too much here. Exercise really does get rid of the emotional cobwebs and will leave them feeling fresh and revitalized. Simply put, it makes them happy – which is a very underrated factor in extending lifespan.
The amount of exercise will also impact how well your dog’s heart, joints and legs work into old age. By keeping them active and strong, you’ve got a much better chance of continuing to walk with them into their later years as their cardiovascular system will have to work on a regular basis – fighting the decay that comes from lack of usage.
Another good trick is to let your dog roam off-leash if at all possible and ideally allow them to interact with other dogs (assuming the environment is safe and conducive to doing so). This social interaction is another way to improve the overall quality of life which translates into your pet being happier for longer.
While we’re here, it’s worth talking about the mental aspects too. Dogs (and cats to some extent) thrive on interaction and activity – so by keeping them busy as much as possible – you’ll keep their minds sharp and they’ll be ever so glad you did. Pets react to stress in a similar way that humans do – it’s not good for health. So, by keeping them happy and energized, you’ll keep them anxiety-free and they will live just that much longer.
This comes down to how much quality time you can spend with them – the more the better. Plus, it will even make you a happier human! It’s a win-win. Make it a habit to regularly play with your pet and they will be that much healthier both physically and mentally.
Training Your Pet
Unfortunately, a lot of pets don’t get to live to old age because of accidents that occur. The only way to try and avoid these is to make sure your pet is well-trained. It’s something that you need to do early in their life and the efforts will pay off handsomely. A well-trained dog will know how to act around a road, with other dogs, when a car is coming down the street, etc. Train your dogs effectively and there is a much lower chance of accidents bringing a premature end to your relationship. There a ton of really good resources online which you can apply to train your own dog, or you could even send them to a professional dog training school for faster results.
So many of us never consider this, but we really should be brushing the teeth of our pets! It’s easy to forget because it’s just not part of our normal routine but when we do so we risk plaque and gingivitis eventually leading to bacterial infections in the mouth that have been linked to heart disease and organ damage. By making it a habit to brush their teeth regularly and give them responsible chew toys, you’ll avoid all that nastiness and keep your dog’s mouth fresh and healthy. It may seem like a small thing, but this effort pays off in the long run. Some studies have shown that 70-80% of pets end up with dental diseases because of poor dental hygiene. Don’t be a part of this statistic. It doesn’t take long; it just takes some effort.
It’s also important to wash them on a regular basis. Keeping them clean will help to prevent all sorts of insects, bacteria, diseases and other germs from attacking them after they’ve been running around in the grass and mud all day. It often helps to set a regular reminder in your calendar to prompt you to do this – that way you don’t have to rely on remembering to do so, the reminder is automatic.
It’s important that you’re taking your pet to the vet on a yearly basis for an annual check-up, and maybe even more regularly than that when they become seniors. This proactive action will allow your vet to monitor the ongoing health and spot any potential problems before it’s too late to deal with them. Because pets age faster than humans, health problems can creep up much faster than you think. The more often you can have a professional-looking at your dog or cat, the better. We’ve seen tremendous advances in veterinary medicine in recent years, but these improvements are only possible if you actually take your pet to the vet consistently. It’s even true for acute injuries and illnesses which can now be treated much more effectively if your pet has a detailed health record and history of visiting an expert regularly.
A common response to such a suggestion is that the cost of this medical treatment is exorbitant, and it sometimes can be out of the hands of pet owners. That’s where pet insurance can be helpful. If you’re truly looking to care for your pet as best you can, then it is definitely worth considering pet insurance where your premiums will cover any unforeseen medical expenses and make the decision an easy one rather than one where you’re weighing up the costs and benefits. This is a sure-fire way to be sure that you can always give your pet the best possible care and the longest possible life.
We must touch on pet vaccinations as well because the whole field is controversial, to say the least. You’ll find vigorous debates on both sides about if and how your pets should be vaccinated. At the end of the day it comes down to personal choice – you need to do what’s right for you and your pet. Do your research and talk openly and honestly with your vet to come up with a suitable vaccination plan suited to your furry companion.
At home, you can also perform certain home wellness exams yourself to assess how your pet is doing. Make sure they are calm and relaxed before examining your pet from their nose all the way to their tail, making sure you check their nose, eyes, teeth, gums, paws, claws, and belly. If you see anything that seems like an anomaly – speak to a vet and get some expert advice. This is especially true in the case of ticks. If you find ticks or other parasites on your pet, chat to your vet about preventative medications and/or monthly injections.
But what if my pet is already old? Is it too late?
The short answer is no. It’s never too late to implement the suggestions above. Some people think that they’ve missed the boat by not sticking to these recommendations throughout their dog’s life. But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, the best time to start is now! Do what you can to implement some changes in your pet’s life and you’ll still be able to see results.
It’s also worth thinking about how to make the aging process easier for them. If your cat has arthritis or some other physical struggles, then can you make the litter box walls a bit lower? If your dog’s eyesight is deteriorating, can you improve the lighting in darker hallways or on staircases? Can you place rugs on slippery surfaces where they are liable to fall? There are lots of ways you can make life a little bit easier for your older companions that can help to extend their lifespan even from a late start. Take a walk around your home and look for opportunities to improve things and make space a bit more pet friendly. Your pet deserves it.
So, there are key things to keep in mind when trying to extend your pet’s life. A lot of it may seem like common sense but the real trick is to do it regularly and consistently over the long term. Caring for your pet’s physical and mental health in this way gives them the best possible chance of living a long and happy life, one which will bring you immense joy for years to come.
Stick to the basics, care deeply for their wellbeing, and use expert advice to diagnose problems early so you have a chance to treat them. Get that right and you’ll be glad you did.