In 2013, a 29-year-old dachshund mix named Max passed away peacefully in his family’s home. He had recently been named the World’s Oldest Living Dog. Max is an anomaly (the typical lifespan for dachshunds is 12-13 years), and his parent says she didn’t treat him differently than any other dog. But she must have done something right to keep him in such good shape for so long.
We can’t promise your dog will become a World Record holder, but these six tips will help ensure a long, happy life with your best friend. Certain breeds do live longer than others, of course, but these tips can apply to any dog.
How to help your dog live a long and healthy life
1. Encourage a healthy diet
Dogs who eat less live longer. According to a 2011 study, dogs who were raised on a restricted-calorie diet—about 25% less than “normal” recommended amounts of food—lived an average of two years longer than dogs who were fed more.
Of course, you shouldn’t drastically reduce your dog’s caloric intake without consulting a vet, but this information supports the common-sense knowledge that a dog with a healthy weight is a dog with a longer life. Obese dogs are more likely to develop heart disease and debilitating joint problems, too.
The quality of the food you feed your dog matters as well. Research labels. Avoid generic “meat byproducts,” sugars, excess sodium, and unnecessary fillers. Look for whole ingredients and responsible sourcing practices from your dog food to help extend your dog’s health.
2. Exercise enables a healthy body
Diet isn’t the only way to help your dog stay in shape. Exercise is a key component to prolonging your dog’s life, and as an added bonus, it’ll help you live longer, too!
Exercise is proven to lower stress, increase endorphins, and balance mood and emotions in people and dogs alike. In addition to helping your dog maintain a healthy weight and muscle mass, and keeping her cardiovascular system in shape, regular physical activity will help keep her happy.
If you want to prolong her life, consider prolonging those evening walks, and maybe even kick it up to a jog. Better yet, let your dog romp off-leash with a canine friend or two: socialization with other dogs is another way to reduce her stress and improve her overall quality of life.
3. Keep her mind in shape, too
Like people, dogs thrive on mental stimulation to keep them happy. A bored dog can become depressed, anxious, and even ill. You can extend your dog’s life by keeping her busy. As she ages, keep her mind active with training, socialization, games, one-on-one attention, and other enrichment activities.
It’s never too late to teach an old dog new tricks: sign up for advanced obedience lessons, or try a dog sport like agility or lure coursing. Your dog will thrive with the added stimulation, and your bond will strengthen as you learn new skills together.
4. Don’t forget to brush those teeth
Dental hygiene is an often-overlooked aspect of pet care. Many of us, myself included, simply forget to brush our dogs’ teeth on a regular basis. Unfortunately, poor oral hygiene can lead to plaque, gingivitis, and eventually periodontal disease, a bacterial infection of the mouth that has been linked to heart disease and organ damage in dogs.
The good news is, it’s not hard to keep your dog’s chompers in shape. Simply brush her teeth regularly, provide safe chew toys and dental treats, and have the vet check her teeth at annual visits. Learn more about dog dental health in our posts, How to Brush Your Dog’s Teeth (and Keep All Your Fingers) and Help! My Dog Has Bad Breath.
5. Follow your doctor’s orders
Even if your dog is the picture of health, she should visit the vet at least once a year for a general check-up, and twice a year as she enters old age.
Wellness exams are meant to “maintain optimal health,” and they provide a concrete record of your dog’s health history as she ages. They also give your vet the chance to spot potential problems early on, and a problem detected in its early stages is more likely to be treated and resolved successfully. Sticking to a regular preventative care routine will give your dog the best shot at a long, healthy life.
6. Remember to enjoy every moment
The sad fact of dog parenthood is that people outlive pets, and there are no miracle products that will extend your dog’s life far beyond the natural lifespan of her breed. But with conscientious care, enrichment, and regular veterinary attention, you may be able to give her a few extra years.
Your time together is precious, so maintain healthy habits, keep your dog active in body and mind, and savor every minute.
Top photo via Flickr/Nomadic Lass