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11 Ways You're Shortening Your Dog's Life

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Help Your Dog Live Longer by Avoiding These Things

by Nicole Pajer


As pet parents, we like to think that we are providing a healthy, happy life for our dogs. We feed them top quality food, give them lots of love, and toss the ball around the backyard whenever we have the time. But there is a lot more that goes into raising a healthy pup. And sometimes, our busy lifestyles cause us to overlook some simple measures that could help to extend the lifespan of our canines.


The good news, however, is that all of this is repairable and it’s never too late to bump up the level of care that we put into raising our pets. Pets360 tapped the minds of several experienced veterinarians across the nation to get their input on ways we may inadvertently be shortening our dog’s lives.

Letting your dog gain too much weight


According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, an estimated 53 percent of dogs were overweight last year. In addition to that, the association found that 95 percent of the owners of these obese dogs incorrectly identified their pets as being at a normal weight. As Dr. Shari Brown, a veterinarian in Chesapeake, Virginia, notes, letting your dog get too heavy can not only reduce his life span but also his quality of life. “People do not realize that dogs do not process or break down food like we do,” she explains.


For example, when a dog eats 1 ounce of cheddar cheese, it is equivalent in calories to a human eating 1.5 hamburgers or 3 chocolate bars. And it’s not just people food that presents the issue—some dogs are simply being fed too much dog food or treats. “I tell owners to treat each treat like a candy bar. Would you give your child 8 candy bars a day? I’m guessing not,” Dr. Brown adds. 


Solution: Dr. Brown advises limiting the amount of people food you give to your pup and making sure that you are correctly monitoring his intake of kibble. She also recommends that pet parents increase their obese pets' exercise routines, even if that means getting creative. “If it is cold outside or the owner is unable to exercise much, put a leash on your dog and take them for a few laps around your backyard or house. Or put a leash on them and take them for a tour around the inside of your house,” says Dr. Brown. “Anything to get him moving.”


If the weight still isn't coming off, consult your veterinarian, as they may want to put your pet on a dietary program. Your vet may also be able to help identify an underlying disorder, like hyperadrenocorticism or hypothyroidism, that may be contributing to weight gain.

Neglecting canine dental care


Periodontal disease (gum disease), is a common problem in dogs. As the American Humane Society reports, veterinarians estimate that 85 percent of dogs over five years of age suffer from the condition, which develops after food and bacteria collect along the gum line and form plaque in a dog’s mouth. A build-up of oral bacteria can ultimately lead to all sorts of health problems for your pet, including heart valve problems and infections within the kidneys.


Solution: Dr. Jeff Werber, owner of Century Veterinary Group in Los Angeles, CA, recommends grabbing a toothbrush and scrubbing your dog’s teeth as often as you can.


“It's not that difficult to brush your dog's teeth (the finger brush works great) and there are chew toys and bones that assist in reducing plaque, as well as water additives that help maintain oral health,” he explains. It’s also a good idea to schedule a visit with your veterinarian for a professional cleaning session at least once each year, says Dr. Werber.

Skipping annual check ups


While it may be a pain to cart your dog into the veterinarian on an annual basis, doing so may save his life. “Simply getting your dog seen once or twice a year by a veterinarian can help improve life span,” says Dr. Brown, who stresses the importance of annual physicals even for seemingly healthy dogs. “Even if your dog is acting normally, something could be brewing inside,” she explains. And in the case of a dog’s heath, time is of the essence. “In some cases, by the time symptoms appear, there isn’t much we can do. But if we get treatment started early, that can help to improve a dog’s quality and quantity of life,” Dr. Brown adds.


Solution: Experts, including Brown, recommend taking your pup in for an annual or bi-annual physical (especially for dogs over the age of 7). If there have been underlying conditions in the past, pet parents should ask for yearly blood work to follow up on such ailments. Dr. Werber also urges dog owners to keep their pets up to date on vaccinations to protect them from rabies, canine distemper, parvovirus, adenovirus, parainfluenza, and bordatella.

Not providing daily exercise


Just because your pet played hard at the dog park on Monday doesn’t mean that you can forgo giving him any exercise until Thursday. According to Dr. Kim Smyth, Petplan staff veterinarian, exercise not only helps to keep the weight off, it also provides mental stimulation for your pup. She also explains that keeping up your pet’s fitness routine gives him a healthy way to expel energy.


Solution: “Find an activity you and your dog both enjoy and work it into your daily routine,” says Dr. Symth. “As an added bonus, people who exercise with their pets tend to lose more weight themselves; it’s a win-win!” And if you don’t have time to drive to the dog park five days a week, mix up your routine. Take your dog on walks around the block, toss the ball in the backyard, or play a game of hide-and-seek in your house.

Exposing your dog to second-hand smoke


Just like humans, canine lungs are not equipped to handle smoke being blown at them all day. According to Dr. Werber, second-hand smoke can be extremely detrimental to pets, causing all sorts of ailments, such as an increased cancer risk and harmful respiratory issues.


Solution: Obviously the ideal way to tackle this situation is to abstain from smoking yourself. But if the habit is important to your lifestyle, then it’s a good idea to make sure that you do it away from your dog. Keep your dog in the house while you go outside on the patio to have a puff.

Forgetting about heartworm and flea and tick prevention


These measures are just as important as remembering to keep up with your dog’s vaccinations. “Flea, heartworm, and tick control is critical,” says Dr. Patrick Mahaney, of California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness (CPAW), Inc. These tiny critters spread diseases, some of which are life threatening. Fortunately there are many prevention options available from your veterinarian—from collars and topical spot-ons to oral medications.


Solution: Dr. Mahaney urges pet parents to purchase only veterinary approved products and to follow the recommended dosage guidelines. Dr. Werber also suggests that dog owners set reminders in their calendars for when their dogs are due for their next dose of preventive treatment.

Pushing certain breeds too hard


Small and toy dog breeds, as well as brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds, have very different exercise requirements than other types of dogs. For instance, English Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Pekingese, and Boxer types should not be exercised in extreme heat, says Dr. Mahaney, as it can be life threatening to them.


Solution: Make sure to speak to your veterinarian about how much and what type of exercise is best for your breed. And if you feel like your dog is trying to tell you that you are overdoing his workout, listen to him. Symptoms such as excessive panting, dropping to the ground in the middle of a workout, or lethargic (weak and tired) tendencies mean that you should stop and let your dog rest immediately.

Feeding your dog table scraps


“In addition to adding extra (and unnecessary!) calories to your dog’s diet, pet parents risk inducing pancreatitis by feeding their dog fatty table scraps,” says Dr. Smyth. Many foods that humans consume are extremely high in fats and sugars compared to what our pets should be exposed to. In addition, certain human foods—including garlic and chocolate—can be toxic to pets if consumed.


Solution: If you have a hard time saying no to those pleading eyes, offer your dog a healthy treat like baby carrots or apple slices. If your dog begs at the table, feed him his meal in another room while the family eats dinner to cut down on under-the-table handouts. 
Pet parents should also take a moment to familiarize themselves with what foods are considered dangerous for dogs.

Letting your dog outside unsupervised


Letting your dog roam free without you watching opens the door for a whole world of possible tragedies. “Cars, coyotes or other predators, unscrupulous people—they're all out there,” says Dr. Werber. “Don't let your dogs roam the streets unattended, even if they are tagged and microchipped.”


Solution: Keep your dog on a leash at all times when walking him outside. If you take your dog to the park, be a responsible pet parent and make sure to monitor his play sessions, says Dr. Werber. And if you notice a coyote or a potential predator, remove your dog from the situation immediately.

Not socializing your dog


Dogs who fail to get socialized don’t get the same “bite” out of life as their happy, socialized counterparts, says Dr. Werber. “They often develop anxiety and fear-related issues, even dermatologic issues, and they don't enjoy walks in the same way,” he explains. “Similarly a dog that has no human interaction, no fun, no playtime, can get depressed.”


Solution: Take your puppy at a young age (once he is fully vaccinated and cleared by your veterinarian) to training classes and puppy meet-ups where he can get to know other dogs. Let your dog stop and greet other dogs while out on a walk or host other dogs in your yard for puppy play dates.

Not spaying or neutering


Experts like Dr. Mahaney agree that forgoing spaying and neutering can be dangerous to your dog’s health. “Spaying and neutering is still the best way to guarantee reducing the risk of several cancers, let alone the behavioral issues you can see with intact dogs,” he explains.


Additionally, each heat cycle that a female dog goes through makes her more prone to the development of mammary cancer, says Dr. Werber. Intact males are also more likely to develop prostatic diseases and testicular cancer than their neutered counterparts.


Solution: You can arrange to have a spay or neuter procedure done at your local veterinary office. If cost is an issue, there are many clinics that offer low cost procedures; call your local pet clinics and shelters to find out when they are having a special on the procedure. And as far as when to have the procedure done, there are different guidelines for different breeds. “There have been many modifications made with regards to large breed dogs [and] when is the best time is,” says Dr. Mahaney. “For this reason, you should discuss and plan the procedure out with your vet.”


Comments  22

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  • Natural Prevention
    09/28/2015 09:22am

    "Dr. Mahaney urges pet parents to purchase only veterinary approved products and to follow the recommended dosage guidelines."

    It's a well known fact that vaccines account for 30-35% of a vet's income, so they push chemicals all the time. I am using Mercola's natural Flea & Tick Defense on my pack of five, brushing it through their coats once per week, and haven't seen a flea or tick in two years. Don't load your dog up with dangerous chemicals when the job can be done with essential oils. I'm convinced my Rottweilers would have lived longer had I known then what I know now. Caveat emptor.

  • 11/02/2015 09:14am

    You've just made an unfair blanket statement about DMV's in general.
    I don't believe for a second my veterinarians or the vast majority of DVM's advise anything that would harm or shorten the life of the animals in their care. Its not a conspiracy. It's using the best available information and drugs to keep both our pets and our families safe. I can't imagine where we would be without distemper, parvo, or rabies vaccines.
    As far as flea/tick prevention, while some "none chemical" remedies may do a decent job (Everything is a "chemical" btw) there are many out there that do not work well and may cause harm. Most are not regulated nor have been tested or proven to work despite their claims.
    I'm just urging everyone to discuss this topic with your veterinarian and do your own non-bias research.

  • 11/18/2015 11:34pm

    I agree...well put.

  • 01/11/2016 05:40pm

    You're absolutely right. Don't make blanket statements which are grossly exaggerated. (And you're on target about the dreaded "chemicals." Everyone and everything is made up of chemicals.)

  • 11/02/2015 09:29am

    You've just made a very unfair blanket statement about veterinarians.
    I don't believe for a second that my DMV's would advise or use anything that they knew caused harm to my animals. They use the best information and drugs available to keep pets and families safe. I can't imagine what it would be like without distemper, parvo, and rabies vaccines.
    As for flea/tick prevention, some "non chemical" remedies work decently if they are used properly. (Everything is a chemical btw) But there are many making claims that are just not true and may cause harm as they are not tested or regulated. Tick borne lime disease is a serious disease.
    I'm just urging everyone to discuss treatments with their DVM and do your own non-bias research.
    We all want whats best for our pets.

  • 01/17/2016 02:08pm

    YOU are the one who made the unfair statement. Vaccinations do take years off a dog's life if you give them yearly like most vets recommend, and some require if you want to be seen in their offices. Our vet in Chicago was the director of the ASPCA clinic there. He agreed totally with my vaccination schedule. This is a vet who is not in private practice, so he made the same amount of $$$$ whether he vaccinated my dogs annually or not. If your vet recommends or requires annual vaccinations he/she is a money hungry vet who cares more about his/her wallet than your dog. THIS is the proper DA2PP vaccination schedule for any normal, healthy dog (this schedule I use for Dobermans)...First the puppy series at 6-15 weeks. Then one a year after the last puppy series is done. Then NOTHING until they are 8, and that's all for life unless they develop any kind of immune disorder. Vaccines are caustic to a dog, and as necessary as they are in their early life, they are very damaging if you continue them annually. HW is another caustic preventative. I still use HW meds, but I give them every 6 weeks, not monthly. They recommend it monthly so it's easier to remember, and so they can get more $$$$ from you. I schedule reminders on my Google calendar and I've never forgotten about a dose or given one late. So do your dog a favor and stop the annual vaccinations of them, and give HW preventative every 5-6 weeks, not monthly. Our vet back in Chicago totally agreed with this, and like I said, he got the same paycheck no matter how many vaccinations he did, or how much HW med he sold, and he wasn't like all your vets who recommend DA2PP annually and HW monthly only to gouge money from you. They care more about their income than they do your dog, trust me

  • 10/06/2016 12:15pm

    My Border Collie/Lab mix lived to be 15 years old on DVM diet for obesity; regular vaccines, heart worm meds, and monthly tick control. If 15 years is considered premature, her life expectancy was impacted by ACL replacements not prescriptions or vaccines.

  • 11/03/2015 05:23pm

    It's always hilarious to me that people pretend that someone like Mercola is NOT making money selling his products. He makes WAY more on his unproven, untested, and possibly toxic "natural" product than any vet makes on synthetic flea products.

  • 11/03/2015 05:29pm

    Are you implying that Mercola does NOT make money on his unproven, untested, and possibly toxic "natural" flea product that never had to show any safety or efficacy before he sells it? He has made a fortune selling questionable products. FAR, FAR more money than any vet ever made on vaccines and flea products combined. Actually, far more than the total income of any 100 vets combined.

  • 11/18/2015 11:33pm

    As a scientist and physician, I find it amusing that the gullible public completely accepts "all natural" as a great thing. 1) "All Natural" has no meaning in a regulatory sense, just as "lite" has no meaning. Thus, purveyors of these products can use this designation for their products without having to worry about getting into trouble with the FTC. In the case of "lite" they are free to interpret what that means...does it mean less fat, fewer calories, or decrease sodium? Those are all legitimate uses of the word "lite". 2) because "all natural" has no meaning, companies can make their products entirely in a chemistry lab and call it "all natural"...without any problems- some of the substances probably started at something that occurs in nature somewhere along the line. 3) Poison ivy is natural, but I don't think you want to apply it to your skin (or your pets' skin), Arsenic is natural, psoralen containing flowers are natural but they cause severe photoallergic contact dermatitis. For that matter, ticks and fleas are natural.

  • 01/17/2016 05:45pm

    Hear, hear. Exactly what my own physician told me when I was going to take some "natural" weight-loss supplement a large multi-level marketing company used to push some years ago. I told him, "oh, but it's natural. He responded dryly, "So's cobra venom." I never forgot that.

  • Great Advise
    11/02/2015 08:48am

    We all want our furry friends to have a healthy enjoyable life. This article gives great advise so we can give our pets just that. Thx

  • This article is a crock
    11/13/2015 09:37pm

    Every time I tried to see the next of the 11 things, the only thing that changed was the ad. I won't be back to this site. It's just a collections of advertisements. Annoying and not useful .

  • Slide is not working?
    11/16/2015 09:18am

    I am unable to view this slide - it will not proceeed past the first slide when I click on NEXT! Anyone else have this problem? Thought I had to register to view it but still not working after I registered. Also tried it on 2 other computers & no difference.

  • "People food" IS good!
    11/16/2015 08:16pm

    It's really sad that vets recommend synthetic/chemical diets over "food diets". The suggestion that table scraps are unhealthy for your dog makes no sense. Fatty or processed scraps are bad, but "people food" is not. All of the commercial pet foods depend entirely on synthetic nutrition. The ingredients that people recognize are used as bulk fillers and have little/no nutritional value. Would anyone be willing to feed their children nothing but chemical diets? Why is it ok for their dogs?
    On top of all those synthetics (origins unknown) owners are directed to use topical neurotoxins as flea and tick treatments and oral poisons as heartworm preventative. Is it any surprise that cancers are so common?

  • 03/22/2016 05:40am

    I JUST had this conversation with my sister today. While not everything that we as humans eat is good for out dogs their IS a lot of stuff that is healthy for our dogs. Carrots,Pumpkin,raw and unsalted peanut butter are just to name a few. So to just say don't feed them table scraps isn't a truly honest statement.

  • Dangers:Vaccines/Dog Food
    12/26/2015 02:48pm

    Pet Vaccinations
    Perdue University Study showing that only vaccinated dogs develop the precursors to autoimmune diseases and not the unvaccinated dogs.

    Another study that shows to titer yearly (most knowledgeable Veterinarians,suggest titers every 3 years) in stead of vaccinating yearly. This study suggests that vaccines last at least 7 years but we know from the below guide to vaccination most likely it will last a life time. Refusal to change and listen to the science is due to only one reason, interruption of the money flow from yearly vaccination and the diseases it causes.

    The facts and Guide to Pet vaccination

    Please read all of the free articles to learn how to properly care for your fur friends.

    Pet Food:
    The best of the worst dog food kibble

    5 Dangerous ingredients in the kibbles that are not listed on the label

  • Yogi
    12/29/2015 03:56pm

    We have 3 Havanese dogs, all three are registered therapy dogs and visit heart, cancer and trauma patients at our local medical center. I bought them their own treadmill. They walk on it when we can't take them for a walk due to the weather. This helps keep the weight off, however one is still a little heavy. We also feed them senior dry kibble.

  • Human food IS okay!
    01/21/2016 09:15pm

    So, all of my dogs have lived well into their 20's and I say "human food" is not a bad thing! I agree with everything else and our dogs have a healthy, raw diet but we give our dogs "human food" and they are the most fit dogs I know. You do have to know what your doing though. Your pet food could also factor in most of that fat and calories your dog is getting. Fido also needs daily exercise. Also don't mindlessly throw food at your dog, you could poison him. He should also wait until AFTER dinner to get any scraps or you will have a begging issue. Other than that I think "human food" is just fine!

  • expensive vets cost pets
    08/05/2016 06:23pm

    My Mother had 3 dogs one lived to be 17 years old and 2 lived to be 18 years old never went to the vet and always ate table scraps, not because they did not care for their dogs but because they could not afford the vets and lived on the farm and hardly ever went to the dr themselves, she mostly treated them the same way she did her kids and herself she is 94 and still living by the way. No point really just makes you wonder sometimes. Plus now days I feel like some times if the vets were not so expensive people would take better care of their dogs and I would rather see a dog being fed and taken care of the old fashioned way than out there starving and living in a dump trying to find food, some people can care for an animal and give it a shelter and food but can not afford the vet charges.

  • Third hand smoke
    09/05/2016 04:13pm

    Third hand smoke is dangerous too. The smoke on your clothes and in your hair can be cancer causing to nearby pets and people just like second hand smoke can. Yet another reason to quit smoking. If you can't quit for yourself do it for your pets.

  • Spaying older dogs
    09/29/2016 09:06pm

    I have a 12 year old female Jack Russell rescued from a puppy mill when she was 6. Her 2nd owner gave her to me a couple of years ago. She trembled during storms until recently, so I didn't want to take her to my Vet and put her in a cage until she felt secure. I'm lucky enough to have a very affordable Vet who told me he cares more about pets than profit. Is it too late to spay this dog? She is well protected from males, but I want to do what's best for her.