This is a list of things that I believe will increase the odds of a long and healthy life for your dog. Let this list be a fun launching pad/discussion starter/whatever, but not a guilt inducer and not an overwhelming task list. We will probably not agree on every point, and that is ok, of course. If you want more details on any of the recommendations or have suggestions to add, let me know! Here’s what I’ve got…
1. Start out learning everything you can about the dog you would like to adopt or now have. Obsess about their breed (or mix of breeds, or your best guess), their origin, their gender, and their probable health issues now and in the future. Some puppy basics can be found in “The Christmas Puppy.”
2. Decide that in as far as it depends on you, you will keep your dog for the rest of his or her life. Go over possible scenarios with your family and decide what things are “deal breakers” and how you will try to avoid them.
3. This is an odd recommendation, but I promise it will help you keep the big picture in view through the unavoidable rough days, plus it will be nice to have…Have EVERY family member write an essay or draw a picture of what they love most about your dog. If your dog is new, do it when they come home or as you get to know them. If they are already a family member, I still recommend this. When I wrote the “Pet Savers” newsletter, which was, in part, about Noodle the Poodle, we realized how many of Noodle’s issues were probably linked to his past, and started giving him much more slack and much more affection. He soon was no longer leaving puddles of Poodle piddle in the house and has seemed like a much happier, calmer dog ever since.
In other words, remember how much you love your [Joy the Puppy] so when she [insert issue of the day here] you can remember what an adorable [six pound fluff] she was, and look forward to the incredible dog she will someday be. You know, for example.
4. Use only positive reinforcement to train your pet.
5. Vow not to support a puppy mill in any way when you obtain your pet.
6. Choose a puppy or dog food that will keep your pet the healthiest.
7. Find an incredible, kind groomer.
8. Find a trainer who is knowledgeable and uses only positive reinforcement.
9. Make sure you have a veterinary team and an emergency veterinary team you can trust.
10. Meet your pet in his or her environment before you bring them home.
11. If possible, have your other pets meet your new pet before you bring him home.
12. Walk your dog as often as possible.
13. Keep your dog just slightly underweight. This has been shown to add an average of two years to a dog’s life!
14. At a recent veterinary conference, a speaker opened with, “You know, leash laws ruined my orthopedic practice.” Everyone laughed, but it is true that veterinarians see far fewer dogs who have been injured or killed by cars than they did a few decades ago. And by “they” I mean old vets! Keep your dog within your control, in your yard, in a fenced or otherwise safe area or on a leash.
15. Keep teeth tartar free, with brushing, chewies and professional dental cleanings done under anesthesia as needed.
16. Bring your dog in for veterinary wellness exams twice a year.
17. Get regular bloodwork screenings.
18. Get regular fecal exams.
19. Get regular dewormings.
20. Keep your pet flea-free.
21. Keep your pet tick-free.
22. Keep your pet heartworm-free.
23. Get core vaccines. For dogs, these include distemper, infectious hepatitis, parvo virus and rabies. Other vaccines may be helpful for your dog, depending on where you live and what he may be exposed to.
24. Safely socialize your pet to people and other dogs.
25. Look through your environment as if you are a dog looking to get something stuck in your GI tract. Hide that stuff.
26. Do the same with potential toxins.
27. Feed at least two meals a day.
28. Provide strict supervision around kids.
29. SLOWLY introduce your dog to new dogs. Provide strict supervision if there is any question of how they will get along.
30. Involve your dog in family activities.
31. Have a pet budget (food, toys, treats, grooming, training, veterinary care, other) and an emergency medical fund set aside.
32. Use all positive reinforcement to potty-train your puppy or dog. Use every resource you have…friends, vet, trainer, books, internet. This is a long process, but if it is done well, will save you much frustration in the years to come. And it is never too late to brush up on or complete.
33. Have your pet spayed or neutered.
34. Keep your pet indoors.
35. When they are not indoors, keep your pet in a comfortable environment.
36. Have fresh water available all of the time.
37. Give treats that enhance your dog’s life.
38. Have medical issues checked and treated early, and have chronic issues treated as often as needed.
39. Avoid/aggressively treat arthritis. Feed large and giant breed puppies for slow, steady growth. They will still grow as large as they should, but you will greatly decrease their likelihood or severity of joint issues. Have existing arthritis treated with joint-sparing exercise and nutraceuticals and medications as recommended by the veterinary team. There are even surgeries available to avoid and minimize arthritis in some cases. This is one of the biggest “non-lethal” killers of pets.
Our Herbie was an otherwise healthy 16-year-old, but had to be euthanized when his arthritis got so painful it would wake him up and scare him. Of course, lots of things scared Herbie, (including mirrors, and walls, and Russ, when Herbie would forget who he was) but he was such a fun-loving dog, we hated to see him in too much pain to enjoy life.
40. As your dog ages, he or she will slow down and may even forget things, including house training. Have new behaviors and abnormalities assessed to determine if there are underlying medical issues that could be treated.
Give your pet some grace in these years. They will not be the puppy they once were. Every so often, compare the quality of their life as an “old dog” to when they were young or middle aged and make sure life is still good. Can she get around well? Does she still eat well? Does she still like being with the family and doing many of the things she used to do? Walks may be slower, but are they still enjoyable?
Now step back and admire your beautiful dog, and continue on as you have, for you have brought her successfully to this stage of life, and you both deserve to enjoy it together.