By Dr. Becker
Just as people are living longer lives, so are many pets.
In fact, pet owners with an elderly dog or cat around the house these days tend to brag about it!
Improved living conditions, treating companion animals as real members of the family and advances in veterinary care are major contributing factors to the longevity of pets nowadays.
Improved Quality of Life for Today's Dogs and Cats
It's no longer the norm for dogs and cats to spend most of their lives outside.
Not only do they live inside with the family, they often sleep in the same bed with their humans.
Most modern dogs don't have jobs, so unlike in bygone days, they're not viewed as disposable when they can no longer work.
Many aging pets get the same care and concern elderly human family members receive.
A hundred years ago, a dog with hip problems would be euthanized.
Canine hip surgery was unheard of.
Pets didn't get routine professional dental care.
If a dog or cat developed cancer, it was an automatic death sentence.
Today there's a plentiful supply of small animal veterinarians in most cities and towns across the U.S., which wasn't always the case. And most modern day pet owners are aware of the importance of routine vet exams for their four-legged family members.
Two "advancements" that have not contributed to the longevity of today's dogs and cats are commercially available processed foods, and yearly re-vaccinations.
"Advances" in pet nutrition over the last 50 years have created health problems previously unheard of in dogs and cats, including inflammatory bowel disease, an explosion of allergic conditions, bloat, diabetes, and various cancers.
Yearly re-vaccinations, which thankfully are no longer recommended even by the traditional veterinary community, have in my professional opinion created an avalanche of health problems for pets, most involving the immune system. When an animal's immune system is compromised through repeated vaccinations, any number of devastating diseases can result.
Top 5 Ways to Raise a Long-Lived Pet
- Feed balanced, species-appropriate nutrition from weaning through old age.
When it comes to helping your pet have a long, healthy life, one area where you can exercise maximum control is with diet.
There are lots of videos and articles here at Mercola Healthy Pets that provide detailed information and tips on how to feed your dog or cat balanced, species-appropriate nutrition.
If you're just starting to learn about pet nutrition, take a look at 13 Pet Foods -- Ranked from Great to Disastrous to see where your dog's or cat's diet falls on my scale of best-to-worst.
If you're ready to upgrade your pet's current commercially prepared diet, this video and part 2 will show you what to look for and what to avoid when you're shopping for pet food. In order to make good decisions about which food to buy, it's important to be able to read pet food labels accurately.
If you're considering a raw diet or making your pet's meals at home, I've co-authored a cookbook, Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats. In addition to recipes you can prepare raw or cooked, the book includes suggestions for how, where and when to shop to get the most value for your dollar. It also covers supplies, equipment and storage essentials.
- Avoid unnecessary vaccinations.
By unnecessary I mean yearly re-vaccinations of the core vaccines (distemper, parvo, adenovirus for dogs; panleukopenia, calici, herpes for cats), or any non-core vaccines your pet doesn't absolutely need.
Over-vaccinating can create serious short and long-term health problems. Yes, many pets have enjoyed long lives despite yearly re-vaccinations, but many others have developed vaccine-associated sarcomas, autoimmune disorders, and other life-threatening diseases. In fact, we may never know how many conditions seen in today's pets were caused by over-vaccination.
Vaccine-related illness is almost entirely avoidable, because as more and more pet owners and vets are coming to understand, there's simply no need to re-vaccinate for the same diseases year-in and year-out.
According to the new American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) vaccination guidelines for 2011, yearly re-vaccination of the cores is no longer recommended. And in fact, the AVMA has acknowledged immunity lasts at least five years for distemper and parvo, and at least seven years for adenovirus.
There are many other videos and articles here about vaccines, the dangers of over-vaccinating, titering vs. automatically vaccinating, and how to properly vaccinate kittens and puppies to achieve immunity for a lifetime.
- Keep your companion slim and trim.
Thanks to poor quality processed diets and sedentary lifestyles, obese pets are becoming the norm. It's such a widespread problem many pet owners don't even realize their dog is grossly overweight, or their rotund kitty is at risk for a long list of obesity-related diseases.
Feeding too much food and the wrong kind (biologically inappropriate) is how the problem starts. Dogs and cats are carnivores. The foundation of their diet should be animal muscle meats, organs and bones. Unfortunately, the foundation of most popular, commercial pet diets is grains, carbs and fillers – the exact type of food dogs and cats don't need. This isn't species-appropriate nutrition and can contribute not only to obesity, but also to a long list of illnesses and diseases.
Lack of adequate exercise is also a big risk factor in creating a too-heavy cat or dog. Every animal is designed to be physically active. Not only does lack of exercise pack on the pounds, it can also cause extreme boredom and lack of mental stimulation, which often leads to behavior-related issues.
- Arrange for routine maintenance on your pet's body.
Keeping your dog or cat active through exercise is one of the best ways to maintain musculoskeletal integrity and organ health. But don't overlook other excellent health maintenance options available to pet owners who want to provide an optimal quality of life for their companions. Some of these include:
In order for your dog or cat to enjoy not just a long life, but also a vibrant life, she needs the ability to move around comfortably until her final days. Many pets remain free of organ disease most or all their lives, but succumb to problems associated with degeneration of the musculoskeletal system.
Whatever you do to keep your pet's frame in good working order will go a long way toward maintaining her quality of life, for all the years of her life.
Take your pet to the vet twice a year.
Because I'm a proactive practitioner, I recommend routine at-home wellness exams and twice-yearly professional wellness checkups for every pet.
Often pets aren't seen by a vet until an illness is in an advanced stage. This usually means the animal has been suffering for some time, and sadly, it often means there's no way to stop or reverse the progress of the disease.
That's why I suggest twice yearly vet exams for healthy pets and more frequent visits for animals with chronic conditions. If two visits a year isn't feasible for you, I strongly urge at least an annual wellness visit to your vet. This is especially important as your pet ages.
I also encourage you to have a holistic practitioner on your pet's health care team. There is a lot that can be done to improve the health and quality of life of your companion beyond the traditional Western medicine model of drugs and surgery.
A holistic vet, an animal chiropractor, an herbalist, a vet trained in homeopathy -- these practitioners and others who practice alternative therapies can offer a world of healing possibilities to relieve the suffering of sick animals and keep healthy pets well.