How To Increase the Odds of Choosing a Dog That Will Have a Long Life
I have lost two dogs to cancer in a little over 6 years. Both dogs were over 5 years old when they came to me, and they were larger dogs, but I felt that they should have lived longer than they did.
I wanted to look into the most favorable circumstances for having a dog that could live to its full lifespan with as little disease as possible.
I thought it would probably be about the same for every mammal. Eat good food. Keep stress low. Exercise. Sleep well. Have companionship.
But I was surprised at a couple of the things I found.
If you're also looking for a dog that will live longer and that you can love for many years, the tips below should help you in picking out your new companion.
First, the size of the dog directly affects its longevity. Larger dogs generally have a shorter lifespan. So, if you prefer medium or large sized dogs, be prepared for a lower lifespan.
The difference isn't in the height of the dog, but in the weight. They are, after all, variations of the same ancient animal. Almost half of dogs who weigh 30 pounds or less live over 10 years, where not quite 15% of dogs over 30 pounds live that long. Some small dogs can have a lifespan of 18-20 years.
Exceptions to this rule are when excessive weaknesses are bred into the dog. For example, an English Bulldog can weigh 70 pounds, and its life expectancy is about 8-10 years, where a Labrador Retriever at 70 pounds has a life expectancy of 10-12 years.
While both breeds tend to have hip dysplasia and other conditions, the English Bulldog also has tendencies towards everything from respiratory problems to several types of cancers. The English Bulldog even has trouble giving birth to its own kind due to breeders who have developed its small pelvis and its big skull.
Second, dogs who are fed real food generally live longer than dogs who eat commercial dog food. Commercial dog food, even the higher end dog food, is very processed and has lost too much of its micronutrient food value. Too many brands also contain meat and other parts of animals that would never be fed to humans, but are freely fed to our pets.
For instance, when a commercially-raised chicken is found to have a tumor somewhere on its body, it can't be killed and sold as a whole chicken. Instead, the parts that don't have a tumor are sold as cut chicken pieces for human consumption, and the parts that have the tumor are cooked, ground and made into chicken meal for inclusion into pet food. Depending on the commercial chicken producer, the tumor may or may not be cut out of the meat before it goes to the rendering plant. Most don't bother.
Dog food also contains processed animals who were road kill or were brought to rendering plants from farms and ranches were they died of illness or injuries. Who knows what hazards are contained in the meat from diseased animals, no matter how highly processed it is?
Most dog food also contains a much higher level of cereal grains than a dog would eat if it were eating a mixed diet of real food. A dog is an omnivore. That means it eats a mixed diet, with a variety of different foods. Giving a dog a high percentage of cereal grains is an inflammatory diet, with arthritis and allergies among the likely results.
A good source for learning how a dog eats and how to make your own dog food is presented by Dr. Pitcairn in several books on feeding dogs. He was a veterinarian in Australia before commercial dog food was first sold there. He saw how quickly the healthy dogs in Australia changed from well to having many ailments he had never had to treat before. Several of his recipes are available free online at Housepet Magazine. Or you can purchase one of his books on dog health above.
Third, before you choose a dog, you will want to think about more than just size in your dog. Think about what you want in a dog.
- Do you want a companion to cuddle and read with, or a more athletic dog to walk and hike with?
- Do you want a dog that's very responsive to you, or one that's more independent? Are there other animals or small children in your house?
- Do you intend to spend time with the dog, training and playing?
- Are you at home a lot? Or are you gone a lot? (If you're gone a lot, you may not be good for any dog.)
- Do you mind a dog that tends to bark more or would you like a dog that does bark a lot?
- Do you want a dog that's more friendly with strangers or one that's more protective?
- Do you like dogs that have long hair or fur? If so, you should decide what you will do about keeping the dog groomed.
- Do people in your household have allergies? If you or anyone else tends to have allergies, you may want to think about a dog that has hair instead of fur, such as a poodle.
When you're thinking of these traits, you don't have to think of purebreds. You can get mixed breeds that provide the same traits. If you adopt a dog, shelters today usually have grading systems that tell you some of the traits they can see in each dog. But a dog that's a poor fit in your household won't be happy, and neither will you.
Fourth, if you think that having a pure breed of dog is preferable to finding a mixed breed, you should be very cautious about the diseases that various breeds carry in their genes. Dogs with shortened snouts have a bad time with breathing issues, as well as chronic sinus and respiratory diseases. Dogs with loose folds of skin tend to have chronic dermatitis. Many larger purebred dogs have hip displasia. Many purebreeds also have tendencies for heart disease, various cancers, digestive disorders, etc.
Hereditary diseases in purebreds are encouraged by inbreeding to increase certain "favorable" traits, at the expense of the whole breed's health. If you choose a purebred dog, you should also be very cautious about which breeder you choose; make sure that breeder is reputable.
The LAST place you should get a dog is a pet store! I can't emphasize that enough. Pet store puppies come from puppy mills. Regardless of what the pet store staff tell you, there are very few exceptions to this rule. Puppy mills are nothing short of living hell for the dogs who breed there, and they provide tragic weaknesses in the puppies, weaknesses that probably won't develop until after you've become very attached to the dog.
However, the best way to guard against hereditary diseases is to choose a mixed breed dog. A mixed breed dog will have greater genetic vigor, because the genes that caused these diseases will be mixed with genes that don't carry them. For example, if you have two parents of the same breed, your chances of having two sets of the disease-causing genes is much higher than if you have two parents of different breeds. If only one set of the genes that cause a disease exists between the two parents, the chances that the disease will occur are much less.
Fifth, a dog, no matter what its size, needs exercise and an interesting life. Dogs become disabled and die early from lack of exercise just as humans do. A dog should have a daily walk, at the very least. If the walk is done in the morning, the dog feels better and more relaxed all day. A dog that isn't exercised can be loud, pushy, easily excitable, and can show a myriad of other behaviors.
They also need to not be stressed by unrelenting boredom. Some of them act out by chewing on things, developing odd repetitive habits or trying to run away, but others just lie there and stare at nothing. If your dog is doing that, try to introduce something fun into its life, such as days at a dog park or sessions of play with you, or even hire a neighborhood kid to play with it.
Sixth, if you choose to feed a dog whole food instead of commercial dog food, think about getting your dog as a puppy. You can find puppies in the local paper, through friends or as an adoption from a local shelter. Then it will go almost directly from its mother's milk to whole food.
As an added benefit, you will have the opportunity to raise your puppy to be well-adjusted and happy. Whether a puppy is purebred or mixed breed, it will benefit from having your love and protection from an early age.
If you prefer not to raise and train a puppy, which is very much like having a toddler in your home, you can easily adopt an adult dog. Local shelters are full of lovely adult dogs that would make great pets.
Again, if you choose one that isn't a purebred, it will also very likely have more genetic vigor than the purebred dogs. It will be past the puppy stage and, while it may have had experiences and a history of feeding that aren't the best, decent care and love will reverse most, if not all, of those problems. The best dog I ever owned came from a shelter, and lived a long time.
Seventh, as with all animals, a dog needs good veterinary care and decent grooming. If you go to a vet whose main practice is dogs and cats, you will find a vet that is familiar with common diseases and who also knows what diseases are current in the animal population. Vets also do nail clipping for a small charge, which is very handy.
I hope this helps you in keeping your dog healthy. And I've love to hear about any additional tips you have for helping your dog to live a long and happy life. I haven't included the number of tips in my title, because I hope to add to these tips as I hear new ideas from you.
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