The best gift we can give our dogs is a long, healthy, and enriched life. Bobi, the world’s oldest dog ever, was a testament to this. Unfortunately, Bobi died recently at a staggering 31 years old—but he leaves behind a legacy of head pats and treat requests. While we can’t expect our pet friends to stick around forever, the least we can do is provide an environment that is conducive to good health and long life. Check out our keys to a long, happy dog life below or send it along to someone you know so they can spend many long, happy years with their canine pal.
- Stay Vigilant for Changes
Since you spend more time around your dog than anyone, you’re in the best position to spot any changes in behavior that may be brought about by medical problems. For example, you can spot a limp, a change in appetite, or altered disposition sooner than anyone else. Animals are predisposed to hiding their ailments. It’s instinctual. They don’t want to show potential predators or mates that something is wrong. That’s why it’s important to spot these changes as soon as possible. If something has changed, write it down in a log. It may be no big deal—dogs do silly things sometimes for reasons we can only guess—but having clear records of changes in behavior or disposition can give you concrete data to work from rather than relying on memory. In general, medical professionals are far more likely to take your concerns seriously if you have objective, organized data about symptoms.
- Schedule Regular Vet Visits
In truth, while some behavioral changes in dogs may be more easily spotted by you, the pet owner, you likely don’t have the expertise to truly diagnose and treat possible ailments. Scheduled check-ups with your vet will ensure that nothing slips through the cracks. Of course, part of what will make vet appointments productive is your own observations of your pet, so regular vet checkups are no reason to stop watching them for changes.
Oftentimes, dog owners forget that they have options when it comes to their vet. While it’s not common, a vet may be dismissive of a problem that you feel could be serious. Sometimes you have to trust your gut. If you have the means, you can get opinions from more than one vet to see if there’s something the first vet missed. Unfortunately, like the human medical care system, it’s important to advocate for yourself when it comes to animal medical care or risk receiving subpar treatment.
- Keep Up with Grooming and Hygiene
While your dog may shy away from grooming and hygiene routines, it’s important to keep up with them. Even something as simple as matted fur can irritate the skin and leave open sores, making the dog uncomfortable and more at-risk for things like skin infections. A simple brushing routine can not only prevent discomfort and danger that comes with matting, but it can also be an important bonding moment between pet and pet parent. It may even turn out to be something both you and your dog look forward to every day.
Dental hygiene is crucial as well. In fact, many owners neglect their dog’s dental health without understanding just how harmful that can be. If neglected, poor dental hygiene can cause tooth decay and loss, gum disease, abscesses, and infections. Smaller breeds often have more dental problems, likely because their teeth can be more crowded in their mouths, leaving more nooks and crannies for food and subsequent bacteria to collect. Brushing their teeth with dog toothpaste (human toothpaste can seriously hurt dogs) is your best bet for keeping their teeth and gums healthy, but there are less invasive options like dental treats and tooth wipes. Ask your vet about teeth cleanings and best practices to keep your dog’s chompers healthy.
- Feed them a Healthy Diet
Don’t you just hate how you can’t eat ice cream and pizzas all the time without it catching up to you? Your dog wants to eat all the good things, too! You, however, have the foresight and logical firepower necessary to limit unhealthy intake to some degree. If dogs had their way, we’d all be eating raw venison steaks—but it’s as important to maintain a healthy diet in dogs as it is in humans. In fact, the pet parents of Bobi the 31-year-old dog in part attribute his long life to a diet of fresh food rather than conventional dog food.
Generally, fresher food full of protein, fats, vitamins, and sufficient carbohydrates is a good bet for your dog, but each dog’s ideal diet will depend on a number of factors including size, breed, activity level, age, and current weight. Your vet or a veterinary nutritionist should be able to help you come up with a diet that keeps your dog nourished but not overfed.
It almost goes without saying, feeding dogs human food is generally not a great idea, especially if it comprises a good deal of their diet. Part of eating right means eating in moderation, so if you are giving your pets treats or table scraps be sure to adjust their meals accordingly so they don’t put on excessive weight.
- Exercise their Brains and Bodies
Unfortunately, some things your mother and gym teacher told you about health are largely true, including the importance of exercise. Like humans, dogs need to use their bodies and minds to keep them in shape. The difference is, we can lace up our running shoes and do a few miles whenever we feel the need. That means it’s up to you as your dog’s caretaker to put them in situations where they can safely expend energy and get their body moving. Dog parks and walks are great ways to get out and get active for both you and your dog. Vigorous play is also good exercise for their minds and bodies. If you only have one pet, it’s especially important to bring some activity in their life as they don’t get the chance to play with another dog or cat during the day.
- Let Them Sniff on Walks!
A regular walking schedule can do wonders for your dog, inside and out. Walking of course burns calories and keeps muscles and joints active—but did you know many dog owners don’t take full advantage of their walks with their dogs? If you ever have a problem with your dog being too active even after a walk, you may be exercising their body but not their brain.
It’s as simple as letting them stop and smell the world around them. It’s easy to get impatient and coax your dog along on a walk instead of letting them stop and smell the flowers (or whatever they’re smelling). When you allow dogs to sniff on a walk, they are often more content and tired afterwards because their brains are doing a lot of work when they sniff. They sniff to see who’s been around and what the world is like around them; it’s their social media!
Give it a try. Take your dog for a walk one day and encourage them to keep moving whenever they want to stop and sniff, then see how they act for the rest of the day. Give them a walk the next day and let them sniff; you’re very likely to see a more relaxed and mentally stimulated dog on the second day!
- Foster a Peaceful Home Environment
Part of what Bobi’s owners attribute his long life to is his relaxed and peaceful home environment. While dogs and humans alike need excitement and novelty in our lives, we also usually crave a stable, safe homebase to come back to between adventures. This can mean many things, but one of the most important elements of a peaceful home environment is a lack of aggression and conflict between family members or housemates. Dogs are so tuned-in to humans that they will suffer if humans around them are suffering, too. Your home doesn’t have to be a Zen Garden, per se, but wild, uncontrolled parties with dubious strangers, loud noises, unpredicted disturbances or intrusions, or violence of any kind will influence your dog’s psyche, which in turn affects their total wellness.
Some dogs are simply more anxious than others, and while your home may be perfectly stable and safe in the eyes of a logical human, it could contain many stressors for anxious dogs. Things like thunder, nearby construction, and couriers/mailmen can be stressful for an anxious dog and impossible to control for a dog owner. Instead, there are ways you can make your space feel safer for when stressors do come up. For example, many dogs find comfort in their own dog bed or crate. This writer has an anxious dog who likes to get completely under the covers at the end of a stressful day (much to his brother’s annoyance).
Try to pick up on some of the healthy things that soothe your dog like favorite toys, foods, scents, or sensations. Something as simple as throwing a blanket over the top of your dog’s favorite kennel can make your dog feel safe when the unexpected happens (or if they’re just having a bad day). Generally, it’s a good idea to come up with ways you can allow them to soothe themselves rather than you soothing them, as positive attention may positively reinforce their frightened behavior, making them think they’re doing the right thing by being afraid.
- Treat them Nicely
Emotional wellbeing can affect total wellness and poor treatment can even manifest as medical problems down the line. Dogs are empathetic, social animals and they simply can’t thrive without some sort of emotional bond with their pack. You can feed your dog the most expensive health food, take them to the top vets, and keep riff raff away from them completely, but their lives will always be somewhat empty if they don’t have a strong emotional link with someone. It’s easy to get busy and emotionally neglect a pet you’ve had around the house for a decade—but it’s always good to remind yourself that this animal’s experience is important and nobody wants to live in loneliness. Take some time to go on a walk, play tug of war, or simply give your old dog a pet. (Bonus: it’s good for you too!)
- Provide them with an Enriching Yard
Walks are great, but some people don’t have time to go on enough walks to match their dog’s energy level. If you have a yard with ample space for your dog’s size and activity level, playing in the yard is a great way for dogs to get their exercise without the owner needing to sink too much time into it.
It’s not just good for their bodies. For many dogs, the yard is simply where interesting things happen. They can occupy themselves with healthy stimulation by sniffing the ground and watching people and wildlife pass by. Like we said: let them sniff! Natural grass yards always have an abundance of interesting smells to capture dogs’ attentions and keep them from causing trouble.
Of course, the yard is only as good as its surface, so you’ll want to avoid things that get hot—like asphalt—or irritating surfaces like gravel, the pieces of which can get stuck between paw pads. No matter the weather, hard surfaces such as concrete, asphalt, and gravel can be tough on joints, especially for those affected by arthritis. Grass stays cool due to several factors not limited to water content and the process of photosynthesis.
Creating a healthy home environment outside will help with many of the above tips for a healthy and long life for your dog. Natura hybrid turf can reinforce the ground and cover the bare spots that dogs often cause, while allowing real grass to grow through it. The unique design of Natura also allows your dogs to sniff the real ground directly through the perforated turf. Your dog can have an enriched experience in your own yard while you don’t have to sacrifice the look of your lawn that you demand.
Natura installs easily, without heavy equipment or layers of rock and sand underneath it. Because it is perforated and sits directly on soil it does not retain the smell that traditional turfs often have and it is cooler to the touch on a hot, sunny day – all bonuses when it comes providing a great outdoor play area for your dog and having an outdoor environment you can enjoy and be proud of too. See some examples of how Natura made a huge improvement in the outdoor area for dogs here.
While it’s unlikely for a dog to live past 30 like Bobi did, the least we can do is give our dogs a good shot at a long, healthy life full of love. It’s part of the deal we take on as pet parents. We’re responsible for their well-being and they’re responsible for… well, barking at the mailman or lying belly-up in a patch of sunlight, but that doesn’t make their job any less important! In seriousness, for many of us, dogs make life just a bit more worth living, so why not keep the party going?