A couple of weeks ago I was looking over health records for our Goldendoodle, Gibson, and I was stunned to realize that he is almost nine years old. Time certainly flies. It doesn’t seem so long ago that a client gave him to me when he was just a four-month-old ball of blonde curly fluff. But here he is, nearly a decade later—at an age when many dogs are slowing down and developing health problems that are considered “normal” for an older dog. But Gibson hasn’t slowed down a bit. He has no arthritis, minimal lumps and bumps on his skin, his eyes are clear and bright, and his teeth are white and beautiful. He’s never had an ear infection or skin rash, and only the very occasional stomach upset after snacking on something irresistible he discovered on a trail. We’ve certainly been fortunate to have such a healthy dog; but I believe it’s more than just good luck.
While it’s true that time takes its toll on every living thing, getting old isn’t necessarily synonymous with sickness and disability. I’ve seen many patients in my veterinary practice that were well into their teens, but were still active and vital, with no significant disease present. On the other hand, I’ve seen dogs and cats that were barely middle-aged with problems such as arthritis, skin tumors, dental disease and cataracts—again, all commonly associated with “normal” aging. Genetics certainly do play a part. Generally the larger breed dogs seem to age faster than small ones. But one of the—if not the most important— determinants—is diet. Basically, there is no way a dog or cat (or human for that matter), can exist solely on commercially processed foods and maintain health in later years of life. (See my article, “The Kibble Conundrum” http://animalkindvet.com/kibble-conundrum). Fresh meats and organ meats should be a significant part of every dog and cat’s diet. Freshly cooked vegetables, eggs and cultured dairy products such as yogurt are great additions. Dr. Karen Becker’s book, Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats is a great guide for properly feeding homemade diets. There are also numerous excellent fresh-frozen diets for dogs and cats now widely available, nutritionally balanced and very convenient. Kristi’s All Natural Pet Food is one such product. We carry it at our clinic, and it’s made right here in the Rogue Valley.
Regular exercise and maintaining a lean body weight are also very important in maintaining health in later years. Obesity is a very common problem in pets, and leads to myriad health issues, including cancer. Overuse of vaccines and pesticides is another issue that can trigger disease in otherwise healthy animals. In an effort to keep our pets healthy by protecting them from infectious diseases and pests, we are unfortunately frequently achieving the opposite result. I recommend using natural, environmentally safe pesticides whenever possible, and limiting vaccines to only the most necessary ones. Read my article http://animalkindvet.com/vexing-vaccines for more information.
While it is impossible to stop the “paws of time,” there is much we can do to help our pets live a long and vital life.
Dr. Judkins is the owner of Animalkind Holistic Veterinary Clinic in Historic Jacksonville