We all love our pets and wish they could live forever but as we’ve still not found the fountain of youth, our best bet is simply keeping them healthy and happy. So, what is necessary for a long and fulfilling life when it comes to our furry family members, and how can we influence it? Following is a non-exhaustive list, yet it covers the key aspects, and some of them are surprisingly simple.
Choice of breed is significant
Firstly, if you’re not yet a pet owner but you’re considering one, there are some choices that can influence how long your pet is likely to be with you, and dog breed is one of them. On average, small dogs tend to live longer than larger ones, with smaller breeds being considered senior from 10 years. Larger dogs on the other hand, such as Great Danes, are senior from six to seven years.
The other thing regarding breed that can influence longevity is whether a dog is mixed or pure-breed, with mixed breeds tending to live longer. Varied DNA present in mixed breeds often creates a stronger, healthier dog.
Regular vet check-ups
You probably won’t be surprised to learn that at the top of the list is veterinary care, and animals should have check-ups at least annually. Regular visits to the vet helps to catch problems in their nascent stages and it’s particularly important for seniors whose recommended visit frequency is six-monthly.
Many medical conditions are easier to manage when detected early, and during a general check-up your vet will conduct a “nose-to-tail” physical examination of your pet. Vet visits are also the perfect time to ask questions and get advice on things you can be doing at home to help your pet lead a healthy lifestyle.
Vaccinations are preventative rather than curative, and they work by enabling animals’ immune systems to build defences against diseases. Vaccines have disease antigens that mildly stimulate the immune system without infecting the animal receiving them. The immune system then creates antibodies to fight off the real disease if the animal is ever exposed to it.
Many pet owners underestimate the importance of dental hygiene, and consequently most dogs and cats over three have some form of dental disease. The most obvious issue is loss of teeth, but most problems are less obvious and oral issues can cause considerable discomfort and pain and a host of related health issues.
The best way to prevent gum disease in dogs and cats is to brush their teeth. A brush a day helps to keep the youth-sapping decay away, and as well as this there are products such as chews and water additives that can help maintain gum health. In helping your pet to live a long and healthy life, good dental hygiene is high on the list.
A complete and balanced diet is essential to maintain your pet in good health, and a balanced diet requires fresh water and the right mix of protein, fats, minerals, vitamins and carbohydrates - with water being the most important of them. Protein is also a very important part of your pets' diet, as it forms the building blocks for life. Pet’s nutritional needs can change, and your vet is the best person to provide advice on what’s best for your pet considering their age and overall health.
Not only is quality important but so is quantity, and it can be easy to overfeed our pets. You should know, not only what diet is right for your pet, but how much of it they require. Food servings should be measured rather than judged visually.
Regular exercise helps pets remain healthy, active and engaged, and it’s just as important for them as it is for us. Health benefits range widely, but include helping to maintain a healthy weight, reducing digestive problems and constipation, and helping hip joints. For dogs, a creative, well-structured, exercise routine provides not only physical benefits, but mental benfits as well.
One of the biggest threats to your pet’s health is obesity. Keeping pets at a healthy weight lowers their risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease, respiratory disease, and some forms of cancer. It can also reduce the risks of injury to bones, joints and muscles that are associated with excess weight.
Even for indoor pets, desexing brings numerous health and behavioural benefits. Not only does it curb aggressive behaviour and eliminate wandering for mating purposes, desexing also reduces the risks of many cancers in both male and female dogs and cats. Roaming behaviour in undesexed animals increases the risk of road accidents, becoming lost or stolen, or being exposed to diseases in other animals.
Stress is not good for humans and it’s not good for animals either. In both, stress causes the body to release adrenaline and cortisol hormones, and these chemicals cause heart rate and respiration to speed up which suppresses the immune system.
In their natural environments, animals have natural stressors to deal with such as weather and the availability of food, but for domesticated animals stress is largely to do with the environment we provide for them. Moving home, introducing other animals to their home, and our treatment of them generally, can all cause stress. A relaxed, anxiety-free pet is generally a healthier one, and healthier pets live longer.
Pets need rules and boundaries, and a well-trained dog or cat is less likely to get themselves into trouble. The risk to a poorly trained dog that’s off its lead and running towards the road with a car coming towards it is obvious.
Well trained animals are more likely to remain with owners in the safety of their home, and respond positively to commands. Discipline helps with bonding and your relationship, and animals who live in structured and well-organised households are also less likely to be stressed.
Yes, cleanliness is next to dogliness (or catliness), and good hygiene means that pets will be less susceptible to insect infestations, diseases, and a range of other health issues. Cat litter should be cleaned daily, bedding should be washed regularly at a minimum temperature of 50 degrees, and water and food bowls should be washed regularly to reduce the risk of bacteria growth.
Dogs should be washed regularly but how often depends on a number of factors, including their health, breed, coat, and activity level. Dogs who spend the day outside rolling around in things they shouldn’t are going to need a bath far more often than ones who spend most of their time on the couch. If you can smell you dog, he or she really should have a bath.
We all need comfy beds where we can relax and catch up on rejuvenating sleep, and they’re particularly important for older pets. Hard, uncomfortable floors can lead to restless and erratic sleep, and a lack of sleep can adversely affect your pets’ overall health.
Arthritis and joint problems can be issues for older pets, and deteriorating bones can lead to an earlier demise. Ensure your pets have soft comfortable beds that are off cold floors and away from drafts.
Learning never ends
Mental stimulation helps to keep our brains active and stave off cognitive decline. The same applies to our pets, and that means our roles as teachers never ends. Trying new games with our pets or getting them engaged with toys that dispense food for example, can help to keep their minds active. You might have heard that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but you can, and it’s good for them!
Lots of love
Of course, one of the most important things you can provide your pets is love. Strong bonds make strong and healthy pets, and it’s important that all our years with them, no matter how many, are the best they can be.
If you have any questions about your pets’ health or you it’s time for a visit, please get in touch with any of our hospitals. Our highly skilled teams are available to help, whatever what type of pet you own.