The Six Things I Do to Keep My Dogs Healthy
Dogs are divine creatures who generously offer us mere mortals the kind of unconditional friendship and fidelity that's almost impossible to find this side of Heaven. The only downside to doting on dogs? They don't live nearly as long as we'd like them to. So, in the interest of keeping my best friends in great shape as long as I can, I've become a de facto canine life extension specialist. I'm a health nut, so I try to eat right, exercise, and minimize stress in my life -- and I've harnessed everything I know about wellness to make my dogs' stay on Earth last as long as possible.
So far (knock wood) it's worked: Two of my large dogs lived to the ripe old age of 17, and my beloved Sheba is still going strong at age 15+ (shhh ... she's really 16, but we're in denial). Okay, I'm not a vet -- so I offer these tips Dogster-to-Dogster, hoping they will help you extend your time with your best friend. At the end of the day, your hound's health is in your hands! Here are six things you can do to keep Spot from getting sick. Here's to your pup's best health.
1. Food, Glorious Food
Times have been tough of late, but I'll make any sacrifice to feed my dogs the best-quality pet food my budget will allow. "You are what you eat" is true no matter what your species, but it's especially true of dogs. When dogs dine on wholesome, healthful grub they actually like the smell and taste of, the difference in their appearance is noticeable in a matter of days: their coats are shinier and shed a lot less; their eyes are brighter and their tails bushier. When dogs regularly dine on food that agrees with them, they also walk with a spring in their step, regardless of age. All of my dogs were rescued from shelters or the streets, and sometimes the before-after contrast is dramatic after just a few servings of quality dog food. I'm always careful to exercise portion control by following the feeding directions on the package to the letter, and using a measuring cup to mete out the correct amount -- "eyeballing it" invariably leads to overfeeding, which causes obesity, and that's about as unhealthy as it's possible to get (for humans as well as dogs).
2. Paws for Playtime
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." That immortal line from the movie The Shining might as well be every dog's mantra. We humans tend to be workaholics, but dogs would much rather goof off all day. Although I'm guilty of workaholism, I recognize my dogs' deep-seated desire for downtime, so I carve out time in my schedule to indulge that need as often as possible, even when it's deadline city at the home office. It's not always easy, but I do it because I know it keeps my dogs healthy. And honestly, I find that when I return to my computer after a dog walk, my writing and thinking improve because I feel refreshed -- so everybody wins.
In addition to shorter "relief walks," I make time for at least one nice, long walk every week day, and more on weekends (walking is great for human heart health too). In fact, just about any fun activityyou could think to do is made more fun with Spot by your side. Take exercise, for instance: Running and yoga are both brilliant workouts, but it can be difficult to maintain momentum and motivation. If, however, you do yoga and/or run with your dog, chances are you'll stick with the program until you reach your desired level of optimal fitness.
3. Your Dog Bed or Mine?
Catching quality ZZZs is as important for dogs as it is for us -- and maybe even more so for dogs, considering that they doze, on average, 16 hours each day! I'm a big advocate of sharing the master bed with dogs; at my place, every night is a three-dog night, for I sleep most soundly surrounded by cuddly dogs. But even so, it's important to provide Spot with his own bed so he can retreat to it whenever he feels so inclined (i.e., when my snoring becomes unbearable).
The ideal nesting spot should have nice loft, so it doesn't flatten out like a pancake; this is especially important for senior dogs, whose tired, creaky joints appreciate a cozy cushion. A dreamy dog bed should also sport a machine-washable cover that's easy to remove, launder, and replace whenever stale-smelling or soiled.
Where you place the bed is as important as the type you select. Think carefully: Are you putting it in a spot that's too close to a drafty doorway or other chokepoint that sees lots of traffic and activity? This will ensure restless nights filled with bad dreams. Like us, our dogs need good, restful sleep or they become irritable and unhealthy, so situate Spot's bed in a quiet, cozy nook.
4. Adopt a Buddy for Bowser
"Every one of your dogs wants to be the only dog," my Mom is fond of admonishing me, but I couldn't disagree more. My five dogs love hanging out with each other! They're the ultimate brat pack. Think of it this way: You know what it's like when you and your closest friends speak the same language and finish each other's sentences -- what would it be like if you didn't have that support group of like-minded peeps? Let's face it, dogs love us humans, but they are -- and always will be -- pack animals. That means most dogs feel most at home in the company of members of their own species.
Dogs thrive in situations where they get to hang out with other dogs; I actually believe that dogs "tell" each other things we mere humans can't quite understand (yet). Hey, they're probably gossiping about us! So, if your dog likes the company of other dogs (not all do; some really do prefer to be the "only child"), by all means do your part to reduce the pet overpopulation crisis by adopting a friend for your best friend. And if adding another dog to your family is not in the cards, by all means bring Spot to your local neighborhood dog run as often as possible for quality socializing time.
5. The Doctor Is In
Regular vet visits are a must for maintaining canine health, but in between appointments, I do my utmost to keep my dogs as far from the animal hospital as humanly possible. That means adding a variety of nutritional supplements to my dogs' dietary regimen to keep their immune systems (and other working parts) in top form. Their packaged food contains everything they need, nutritionally, so I add in extras I take myself that aren't found in pet-food formulas.
The daily supplements we can't live without are: Probiotics (for the immune system); coconut oil (for tooth and brain health); cinnamon and turmeric (both anti-inflammatory brain boosters); curcumin (anti-cancer); and neem (I administer this organic biopesticide as a capsule and apply it topically during flea/mosquito season; it's also great for skin health). My senior dogs take Omega 3 fish oil (for the joints and heart), hawthorn (for the heart), and milk thistle (for the liver). It may take a couple extra minutes to feed my crew, what with juggling so many additions to their food bowls, it's like fixing curry for canines. But it's so worth it to hear the vet say, time after time, "You're doing something right!"
6. Destress the Dog
Stress is a silent killer; it eats away at a body like nothing else, causing a variety of serious health problems. I do whatever I can to reduce stress in my dogs' lives by being considerate of their needs. That includes relating to them respectfully; providing them with toys and activities for their enrichment; adding flower essences to their water; and playing soothing harp music CDs to calm the atmosphere during rough patches (such as the Fourth of July, or any time loud fireworks are scheduled).
Whenever I need to do something the dogs really don't love -- such as brushing their teeth regularly (which is critical for keeping them healthy) or giving them a bath -- I try to make the chore as painless as possible by deploying tasty treats. Brushing their teeth with coconut oil, for instance, gives dogs a healthy mouth and sweet-smelling breath, plus they love the taste -- so everybody wins. And on occasions when I expect my brat pack to stay calm and quiet, I give each one a raw beef bone or a rubber toy schmeared with peanut butter, for gnawing away at to their hearts' content. A little kindness and consideration (and, okay, bribery) goes a long way in keeping dogs happy -- and happy dogs are healthy dogs!
Dogster readers, how do you keep your dogs healthy? Please share tips in the comments!
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