One of the few sad facts of pet ownership is the difference between the length of our lives, and the longevity of our pets. While we live to our 80’s and 90’s, dogs do well to live over 25 (human years). And so, we unfortunately live to see a lot of our pets pass on.
Why is it that dogs live such short lives compared to us? One theory relates to dog's evolution from wolves. Wolves generally live in conditions where only the fittest and toughest survive; those that matured later in life risked the possibility of dying before reproducing and passing on their genes. So, as wolves evolved, natural selection favoured ‘early maturing’. As a result, their longevity was compressed and this was bred into their genetics.
Veterinary medicine is moving forward in leaps and bounds, but what can we do as pet owners to help our furry friends live long, fulfilling lives?
If you feed your pet too much starch and soluble carbohydrates, you increase the risk of diabetes and obesity. Be aware of sneaky ingredients such as corn that have heaps of soluble carbohydrates (one of the more common ingredients used in dry dog food).
Most pet food manufacturers now recognise this, but you could always include your carbohydrates through sources such as green leafy and yellow orange vegetables (proven to reduce cancer). Contrary to popular belief, dogs are omnivores, and should be offered a protein and carbohydrate source in their diet. Ideally, low fat protein sources like kangaroo, chicken, lamb, beef, and fish are all good options to include in the diet. If you decide to formulate your pet’s diet, consult your vet or animal nutrition specialist so you don’t forget any vitamins or minerals.
I strongly advocate vaccinating your pet – by doing so, you’ll help protect them against life threatening disorders, such as Hepatitis and Parvo-virus.
Some of the standard vaccinations, for instance Hepatitis, Parvo-virus, and Distemper vaccine, only need to be administered once every three years. Having said this, the less you vaccinate your animal, the less risk of causing adverse reactions, but these are highly unlikely to occur. Your vet will be address any concerns you have.
When it comes to longevity and well being, neutering is a controversial topic. There are many health benefits to de-sexing, including a lower incidence of hormone related cancers and a reduced rate of related health problems. However, de-sexing your pet will potentially make your dog prone to obesity, so be sure to keep an eye on his waistline!
Pure-breed dogs often predisposed to certain diseases, due to their genetic make-up. Therefore, mixing the genetics up through multiple crosses significantly reduces the risk. Plus, you get to give a pound animal a new home, it’s a win win!
However, if you are dead set keen on getting a pure bred pup, reduce the risk by ensuring appropriate health screens such as orthopedic records and to DNA health screens. And if you are really committed, you can trace back the pedigree and get an impression of the health of their ancestors.
Hopefully this gives everyone an insight into ways be can help improve the life span of our four legged family members!
Dr Ben Willcocks is a Veterinarian, and a regular contributor to the pet website, www.vetico.com.au.