The inside scoop to expanding the lives of our best friends – by Mike D’Abruzzo
The average life span of our
dogs is only between 13 and 14 years, yet they have the potential to live a much longer life.
Breed type and genetics do play a role, however there are many factors that are within your control that can add
many years to the life expectancy of your buddy. Your dog is at the complete
mercy of the choices you make for his well-being. Your choices will not only
decide how long he will be by your side, but also his quality of life and comfort while there.
Below are some factors to consider:
Teeth- Dogs 3 years and
older have an 85% chance of getting some form of gum disease! Did you know that
plaque and tartar is made up of mostly harmful bacteria? If allowed to build up and cause gingivitis and other forms of disease
in the oral cavity the bacteria and its toxins will enter the body via the bleeding gums and wreak havoc on the heart, kidneys,
liver, and even the brain. Many older dogs that succumb to diseases of their vital organs would still be around if their owners
only paid attention to their oral health. Some veterinarians believe that good
oral hygiene alone will add up to 4 years of longevity to the average dog.
What to do?
Be sure to have a good dental hygiene
system in place for your dog. Some dogs simply need something to chew on to scrape
their teeth clean. I use chew bones made of pork hide. Pork hide is completely digestible so I avoid the problems associated with traditional rawhide bones. I also use dog treats that contain a combination of poloxamer 407 and simethicone. This is an inert substance that can be safely swallowed and is used in children’s
toothpaste. This works by forming a coating on the teeth. This coating interferes with the buildup of plaque by making the mouth surfaces slick so the plaque won’t
stick. Based on human studies, this combination helps reduce plaque
from 35% to 54%.
If your dog is not a regular bone chewer
or treat eater an extremely effective way to keep tartar in check is to brush your dog’s teeth with a paste made especially
for dogs (do not use human paste!). Honestly, some people may crack jokes at
you for brushing your dog’s teeth. But, it sure beats having your best
buddy suffer from painful gum disease and a shortened life (not to mention bad breath!).
Plaque is the sticky substance that
first forms on the teeth. This is what can be removed with the paste. After about 72 hours plaque begins to calcify and becomes tartar, which is hard, and bonds with the teeth. Tartar can only be removed by a veterinarian.
Therefore, I recommend brushing your dog’s choppers at least every other day.
Be sure to follow the directions provided on the box.
Also, I recommend avoiding any commercially
canned dog food. There is nothing in most of these that can not be found in a
quality dry food and it easily sticks to the gum line. As a veterinary technician
the worst dentistries I have performed were on dogs that were fed a diet consisting of mostly canned or moist type dog food.
Joint support –
As a veterinary Technician it was always a heartbreak to assist in the euthanization of an otherwise healthy dog because he
can no longer stand or live comfortably anymore due to his joints being totally destroyed.
This is a very common scenario, especially in larger dogs. Joints that
are wasting away are very painful - even if the often stoic dog does not tell you. Just
like in humans the stress from chronic pain can also weaken the immune system, making your fuzzy buddy susceptible to even
more countless health problems. It is generally agreed upon that some dogs are
genetically more prone to degenerative joint diseases such as hip dysplasia, but this does not mean it necessarily is a sentence
to a shorter life span.
What to do?
Degenerative joint disease does not
happen overnight. This is a gradual process that is dependent on a variety of
very controllable factors. As a matter of fact just about all puppies are born
with very normal joints. For instance, puppies are not born with hip dysplasia
– some just have a greater chance of developing the disease than other dogs.
Here are some hard to find tips that
will add YEARS to the life of your dog’s joints:
- Don’t neuter a male large breed dog before 1 year of age. I bet
your vet never told you that one. Male dogs can be up to 20% larger than their
female counterparts and therefore need that extra testosterone for the proper muscle development to support that extra large
skeleton. Don’t do this surgery until they finish developing physically. Trust me, I have worked with hundreds of large working dogs and I can tell you if
a dog is neutered from across the room without looking between the legs. Large
breeds that are neutered young develop noticeably differently. They will have
a much less muscular body. The ideal time to neuter is between 12 months and
16 months of age for males if it must be done (females I do recommend spaying ASAP before the first heat). There are arguments for neutering a male young which do hold some truth but I feel aren’t as important
as supporting the skeleton properly. For instance male dogs are NOT more prone
to cancer if left intact. Of coarse you eliminate the risk of testicular cancer
but only by default. You can also eliminate the risk of ocular cancer by removing the eyes, but why would you?! From a behavioral point of view most testosterone provoked issues start arriving with sexual maturity which
comes into full swing at about 16 months – 24 months. Behavioral problems
can be prevented or controlled with proper training and management. Hence, my
reasons for neutering by 16 months instead of 6 months like many vets recommend. This
is most likely because it IS an easier surgery to perform on a younger animal - smaller incision, smaller blood vessels, easier
to handle patient, etc… the only good argument to do so early.
- Keep your dog lean! An overweight puppy will put extra stress on developing
joints and stretch the developing ligaments which maintain a tight fit of the joint.
Manage adult dogs’ joints the same way. Keep your dog at the leanest
possible weight without the dog being obviously undernourished; the belly should be tightly tucked, no love handles, the ribs
should be easily felt but only viewed when the dog inhales, you should not be able to feel the bones of the lower back or
the wings of the pelvis when petting above the hips of the dog, and he should have obviously good muscle tone. This is what a healthy dog should look like. Not only is this
good for the joints it is good for the overall well-being of the dog. A recent
study showed that with all other factors being equal – dogs on restricted calorie diets live an average of 1.8 years
longer than those who aren’t. There is obviously even a larger
difference in the life span of dogs that are noticeably obese.
- Don’t get a false sense of security from popular commercial dog foods developed specifically for “large
breeds” and “large breed puppies”. These are basically just
marketing gimmicks. What is important for all dog foods is that the calcium phosphorus
ratio is about 1.2:1 for the normal growth and maintenance of bones. There is
no scientific data I have ever heard of that prove these different formulations need to exist if these commercial dog foods
were correctly balanced in all nutrients to begin with. These companies claim
that a lower protein and calorie content are necessary for the large breed formulations.
This is based on a ridiculous study where one group of Labrador retrievers were fed restricted portions of puppy food and another group were fed the SAME
food but had free access to eat as much as they wanted. The group that had free
choice ate more calories, protein, and coincidently became overweight. These
dogs had a greater incidence of hip dysplasia – big surprise right? A bunch
of fat puppies with stressed joints. How about just feeding the puppy the correct
amount of food? When wolves take down a deer there is not a part of the deer
for puppies, adults, seniors, etc. Commercial pet foods will even advertise popular
supplements that promote joint health added to the food. Unless, you are feeding
your dog plenty of RAW bones and cartilage he will never get the nutrients that he needs for optimum joint health from a commercial
dog food. Simply, it is just too expensive for these companies to put the necessary
amount of quality joint supplements in their food. These small amounts are added
mostly for marketing purposes. After one of my American bulldogs developed signs
of degenerative bone disease anyway after raising her on one of these “large breed” formulas I placed her on a
good joint supplement and immediately reversed the obvious effects and she has been comfortable for years and have put my
other dogs on joint supplementation as a preventative and it is one of the best things I’ve ever done for them. To have 100 pound plus senior dogs running around still like puppies brings me as
much happiness as it does to them. There are many on the market but I strongly
recommend to any dog over 6 months of age, especially large breeds and long backed breeds, either “Cosequin” which
contains cartilage and joint repair nutrients or “Agility” which contains the nutrients for both cartilage and
joint repair and also nutrients for strengthening the connective tissue and muscle around the joints. That’s what I give my dogs.
– Vaccines are great things. Rabies vaccine is required by law for
a very good reason. Without other popular recommended vaccines a lot of puppies
would not reach their first birthdays. I just want to caution you about over
vaccinating your dogs. This is a debatable subject but, think about it…
do you need to go to your doctor every year for every vaccine (polio, measles, etc…) that you received since a child. A personal dog of mine went blind in one eye from a vaccine reaction and I have
witnessed the removal of multiple tumors working as a vet tech that were thought to have been caused by a vaccine.
If, Muffin, the 16 year old
poodle has been receiving a parvo vaccine every year of her life – most likely she is protected and doesn’t need
it at 17. A better alternative is to spend your money on running yearly blood
tests to monitor the health of her organs so any problems can be addressed immediately and ask your veterinarian to run a
blood titer to see if a booster is necessary for certain vaccines. An honest
and knowledgeable veterinarian should be happy to discuss this option but do not always mention it to their clients.
Quality Nutrition –
The pet stores and internet are filled with tons of conflicting information originating from dog food companies trying
to convince you what to feed your dog (with their own interest at heart). It
will drive you crazy. As a dog trainer, behaviorist, and technician I have been a fanatic about providing the best nutrition
to both my own dogs and my clients’ dogs. I have done a lot of research,
read books, and attended seminars on the subject and these are the conclusions I have to share that will aid in a longer life
to your companion:
Corn (in any form) – This
is not a good ingredient to be in any dog food. It is one of the top 3 known
allergens to dogs, is an inferior source of protein, and is not very digestible. The
extra work involved in processing this inferior ingredient aids in the premature aging of many dogs. This is because the liver needs to work very hard to get to the useable protein and the break down of corn produces
a lot of nitrates. The nitrates then put extra strain and aging on the kidneys which have to filter this toxin out.
Also, it so happens (can it be a coincidence) that the dogs that come to me with the worst anxiety, fear, and nervousness
issues also happen to be fed on the diets with the highest corn contents. Poor
nutrition and incomplete proteins have been linked to behavioral abnormalities in humans – can this also be true in
Why do popular dog food manufacturers
use it? Easy, because it is cheap, they can use it as the main ingredient, and break it down into multiple components on the
label so it doesn’t look like that is the case. This is called ingredient
splitting and should make the consumer angry when they think they are buying a chicken or beef based dog food and it is mostly
made up of corn (then usually some by-products). The day I get the call from
the farmer about the pack of wolves or wild dogs raiding his corn field is the day I believe corn should be part of our dogs’
Wheat, soy (also produces gas),
and white rice (almost no nutritional value) – same principal here, just not as badly abused. They are all cheap cereal fillers. A good test to do is soak
your dog food in water for about 15 minutes. If it blows up and becomes spongy,
that means the company is selling you mostly cereal. And you wonder why the dog
seems to poop the same amount he ingests! A good dog food will produce small,
firm, easy to clean up stools.
Pet food Chains and grocery
stores – Unfortunately, if you find a food in one of these places it is most likely coming from a large company that
mass produces less than ideal food. The pet food chains have been the recent target
of class action lawsuits due to the alleged deceit of the amercian public (updated info at www.petfoodrecall.us). Just the nature of the retail pet business requires that the food have an available shelf life of about 2 years. So, most of these brands are using a lot of cheap grains and lots of preservatives,
artificial colors, etc. It is not uncommon for a lot of this food to sit in a
warehouse or trailer for well over a year before it ever hits a shelf. The best
brands that I have come across supply to smaller pet supply stores and businesses. They require that the food has a quick
turn around and is sold within 1 month of being delivered from the company. Believe
it or not, there are companies out there that will not sacrifice quality to make more money faster.
Known cancer causing agents
– There are too many to list. For example, why do some pet foods contain
sunflower oil when studies have shown that it increases the risk of cancer by 69%? If
you spend one month as a fly on the wall of a busy animal hospital you will be disgusted to see how many dogs in their prime
years walk through the door with cancer. I find it hard to believe that this
is all genetic.
What to do?
I decided to get some clues
on nutrition from some of the oldest dogs on record. The oldest documented dog
was an Australian cattle dog named “Bluie” from Australia
who lived to be 29 years and 5 months of age.
I also found some info on another
Australian dog, a bull terrier mix, who was heading for his 28th birthday.
This dog ate mostly fresh kangaroo meat, emu, and some table scraps. I
couldn’t find what Bluie ate but my guess would be something similar. The
raw diet craze originated in Australia and has an impressive
track record of longevity and suppressing common health inflictions. I read a
book on these diets and tried it on my own dogs. The main problem was that it
was very expensive. My dogs were eating quality butcher meat and ingredients
and I ended up eating hotdogs for myself. Also, you really need to know
what you are doing and how to balance the diet properly to avoid deficiencies in certain nutrients. After my dogs suffered two days of explosive diarrhea, due to some bad meat, I confirmed that the diet
had great merit but is very difficult for the average person to master and afford.
I recently found out about another
dog in the U.K., a collie that was about 27 years of age and
was fed a vegan diet of mostly boiled lentils and fresh vegetables. This was
a surprise! The dog was also kept very active and very tone.
So, of the two old dogs that
I definitely knew of their diets – one was almost completely carnivorous and the other a vegan. The one common factor was that their diets were almost completely holistic.
So one day while doing a search
for a readily available holistic diet without all the red flags I listed above (and there are more than that!) I came across
some products formulated by a very accomplished veterinarian, Dr. Jane Bicks. I
researched the products and became quite excited. I had a few questions so I
called her personally and after about 1 hour of discussion I was convinced that this would be the food and supplements I would
recommend. Finally a food that was formulated by someone who cares more about
the pets than the money a company can generate. Among many accomplishments the
one that mattered to me most is that she helped develop the largest animal shelter system in the U.S.
and a portion of the proceeds from these products help that cause. This is in
fact the same thing I use the retail part of my business to support - to lower the cost of my training so that I can offer
free training and programs to shelter and rescued dogs.
Dr. Bicks’s products
are formulated using only the ingredients that she feels dogs need for a long healthy life – not what is cheapest or
appeals to the consumer, and in her contract with the manufacturing company it states that her formulations can not be altered
regardless of the cost. For the sake of your pet I highly encourage you to take
a look at these products which are drop shipped to your door to ensure freshness.
For most dogs I strongly
recommend a dog system (food/daily supplement combination) and Agility joint supplement. This is the best way to
offer the full spectrum of necessary nutrients outside of feeding raw natural diets.