A dog is man’s best friend, and you want to keep yours as happy and healthy as possible—it’ll mean more quality years spent and memories made with your canine companion. It’s a mighty task, but one we have faith that you can do (the human-canine relationship has lasted well over 10,000 years).
We’re guessing you have the basics—food, exercise, and sleep—covered. But guess what? There’s likely more you could be doing to ensure that your four-legged friend stays healthy and active long into their twilight years. Below, veterinarians explain exactly how to prime your pup with food, exercise, and more.
1. Invest in high-quality dog food
Food is the foundation of life, and just as cars run better on high-octane fuel and high-quality oil, dogs work best when you feed them fresh, whole foods, says Judy Morgan, D.V.M., a New Jersey-based veterinarian specializing in integrative medicine.
To make sure you’re covering all of your dog’s nutritional needs, opt for a dog food with a statement on the label that ensures it provides “complete and balanced nutrition,” per the Association of American Feed Control Official (AAFCO), the agreed-upon standard for dog foods across the U.S.
A prime example: The WholePrey diet from Orijen fits the bill with nutrient-dense ratios of meat, organs, cartilage, and bone your dog would eat in the wild—without the need for a long list of synthetic supplements. Orijen’s Original dog food is a feast for pups packed with the best cuts of chicken and turkey, plus herring, eggs, pumpkin, collards, and carrots.
2. Never skip annual check-ups
Even if your dog looks perfectly healthy from the outside, it’s important to keep their go-to appointments with the veterinarian on the calendar (once a year for most dogs and twice a year for dogs seven and up), Dr. Morgan says. This makes it more likely that your vet can catch treatable conditions such as diabetes and hot spots early on and potentially extend your pup’s lifespan.
3. Be a better protector
Vaccines for conditions such as rabies, distemper, and parvovirus are a must because they protect your dog from costly, life-threatening diseases. The same goes for parasite preventative meds. Since intestinal parasites, heartworms, fleas, and ticks are now found across the U.S., make sure to ask your vet about the best combo to ensure your pup is fully protected across the board year-round, per the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC).
4. Be their personal trainer
“Just as it is important for people to stay active, I recommend 30 to 60 minutes of exercise for healthy dogs each day,” Churchill says. Regular workouts help your dog maintain muscle tone and good joint function, which is especially important as they age. For puppies, make time for short bursts of play throughout the day. If your dog is older, understand that it’s normal for them to slow down (so be prepared to swap runs for walks and adjust your pace and distance accordingly).
For big dog dad props, find the perfect workout to suit your dog’s natural strengths and interests according to their breed. Think: long trail runs for high-energy American Staffordshire Terriers, Weimaraners, and Rhodesian Ridgebacks; rewarding games of fetch at the lake for Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers, or even specialized agility training for herding breeds like Shelties, Australian Shepherds, and Border Collies.
5. Do monthly rib checks
One of the biggest knocks on a dog’s lifespan is excess weight—and over half of all adult dogs are overweight or obese, per the 2019 VET Report. Keep your dog fit and you could add anywhere from five months to over two years to their life compared to their heavier counterparts, according to a 2019 study in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine.
How do you make sure your pup has the ideal physique? If it’s tough to feel ribs under fat or your dog has no waist (or it’s barely visible), cut back on table scraps (treats should only make up a max of 10 percent of your dog’s overall calorie intake!).
And remember: a high-quality dog food like Orijen Fit & Trim can easily cover all of your pup’s nutritional needs with fresh ingredients like deboned chicken and chicken liver, turkey liver, whole eggs, and flounder, to name a few.
Then, talk to your veterinarian about a slim-down plan ASAP, suggests Julie Churchill, D.V.M., Ph.D., a board-certified veterinary nutritionist and professor of veterinary clinical sciences at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine.
6. Build their brainpower
In addition to exercise, mental stimulation is essential to give your dog a long and happy life, Dr. Morgan says. Keeping your pup’s mind running with cognitive challenges can make them feel good, deepen your bond, and even slow the natural process of cognitive deterioration.
What to do: enrich your pup’s life and mind with obedience training, new tricks, games (like having your dog “hunt” for his dinner around the house), puzzle toys, and lots of socialization time at the dog park or doggy daycare. Just as you might go for sudoku (but not chess), find the activities that your pup enjoys most to keep them engaged.
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