“Dogs’ lives are too short. Their only fault, really.” — Agnes Sligh Turnbull
Although advances in veterinary medicine are helping pets live longer than ever before, it’s never long enough for those of us who love them. In what feels like the blink of an eye, our beloved pets grow up, mature, age, and decline—somehow living a chronologically short, but emotionally deep, life. But what if your pet could live longer? What if you could add years to their life? You can—and you can start today with this Palm Valley Veterinary Center guide to improving pet longevity. Here are five ways to “paws” the clock and add years to your pet’s life.
#1: Keep your pet up to date on veterinary care
No matter how healthy your pet appears on the outside, routine wellness appointments are instrumental for improving their life span. Wellness visit advantages include:
- Physical health assessment — The veterinary exam can detect subtle abnormalities in your pet’s health that may suggest larger underlying problems, including allergies, obesity, dental disease, arthritis, and metabolic disorders.
- Disease prevention — Vaccines, vector-borne disease screening tests, and parasite preventives create a strong defense against contagious life-threatening viruses and parasitic diseases.
- Early disease detection — Blood testing allows your pet to be screened for early disease markers, giving your veterinarian a head start on treating potentially life-threatening conditions.
#2: Keep your pet lean with proper nutrition
Your pet’s food does more than satisfy their appetite—it also fuels their body’s internal processes and provides energy for physical activity. Inappropriate nutrition (e.g., table scraps or poor quality food) and excessive calories cause detrimental growth and development issues, compromised health and mobility, and chronic inflammation.
According to Purina’s 14-year life-span study, dogs consuming a restricted calorie diet maintained a healthier body condition and lived 1.8 years longer than those who were fed ad-lib. In addition, the restricted calorie diet dogs showed a delayed onset for chronic diseases and age-related changes.
Tips for maintaining your pet’s ideal weight include:
- Asking your veterinarian for a diet recommendation
- Using a measuring cup to portion out your pet’s food
- Feeding small meals instead of letting your pet graze or “free feed”
- Exercising your pet every day
- Monitoring your pet’s body condition and adjusting their food intake as needed
#3: Exercise your pet every day
Regular physical activity is a cornerstone for pet health and longevity, but unfortunately in today’s busy world, it’s often neglected. Consistent species-appropriate exercise gives your pet an opportunity to burn off excess energy, practice natural behaviors (e.g., cats stalking and pouncing), maintain a healthy body weight, build muscles, preserve joint health, and relieve stress and anxiety.
Healthy dogs should receive at least 30 minutes of daily exercise, while cats should enjoy several short (e.g., 5 to 10 minute) bursts throughout the day. Appropriate aerobic exercise will increase your pet’s heart and respiratory rate, and promote effective calorie burn and muscle development. Fun ideas for increasing your pet’s daily activity include:
- Walking and hiking
- Underwater treadmill therapy
- Pet fitness and balance exercises
- Puzzle feeder toys
- Fetch and tug-of-war
- Nose work
- Motion-activated toys for cats
- Hide and seek
- Training classes
#4: Create a daily dental health routine for your pet
Dental disease (i.e., periodontal disease) is one of the most commonly diagnosed—but entirely preventable—conditions in dogs and cats. Untreated dental disease leads to chronic inflammation, infection, bone loss, tooth decay, and organ damage as harmful bacteria enter the bloodstream and attack the heart, liver, and kidneys.
When combined with annual visits and prophylactic dentistry, a daily at-home care routine can stop dental disease by removing the harmful bacteria that become plaque and tartar. For the best success, select care methods that suit your pet and your schedule. Recommended options include:
- Anti-plaque water additives
- Dental diets
- Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC)-approved dental chews and treats
#5: Train and socialize your pet
According to the American Veterinary Society for Animal Behavior, behavior problems are the number one reason for relinquishment to shelters and the number one cause of death for dogs under 3 years old. Without appropriate training or socialization, pets are ill-equipped to handle the challenges of the world around them, which causes them to respond with fear, aggression, reactivity, or destructive behaviors.
Positive reinforcement training and socialization should begin during a pet’s formative period and continue throughout their life. When introduced in a positive and patient manner, training and socialization create confident and well-adjusted pets that can adapt to their surroundings. Trained pets are easy to care for and are trustworthy companions at home, in the veterinary office, and on the road. Basic manners (e.g., “come,” “stay,” and “leave it”) can literally save your pet’s life by preventing accidental injury or death from everyday threats (e.g., hit by car, escape, toxin ingestion, dog fight). Once your pet masters the basics, advanced training such as agility, therapy work, and trick training are rewarding ways to deepen the pet-owner bond.
Although our pets will never live as long as we do, these five habits can extend the quality and quantity of their life. If you have questions about your pet’s diet, exercise, or health, contact Palm Valley Veterinary Center to speak with our expert team or schedule an appointment.