5 Ways to Help Your Pet Live Longer

If your pet is anything like ours, they are your everything — and you’d do anything to make sure they’re around as long as possible.

We sought the advice of Dr. Lucy Fuller, senior director of veterinary care at the Charleston Animal Society, for the most effective ways to help our pets live lengthy lives. And the long and short of it is this: balance is everything.

1. Visit your veterinarian regularly.  “This may seem like self promotion coming from a veterinarian,” Fuller says. “But it’s true!”  Veterinarians, she explains, are uniquely qualified to examine your pet and catch early signs of disease. Are you seeing no obvious signs of trouble in paradise? That doesn’t matter, you should still schedule a yearly visit, even if your pet doesn’t need any vaccinations.

2. Get vaccines on the recommended schedule.  Distemper, canine hepatitis, rabies — these things are nothing to mess around with. “Every year, I see pets with life-threatening diseases that could have been completely prevented with a simple vaccination,” says Fuller.  “Don’t let your pet succumb unnecessarily; see your vet for these.”

3. Keep your pet trim.  Carrying excess weight around can wreak havoc on their little bodies. “Possible health problems include constant pain from arthritis in the joints, torn cruciate ligaments in the knee (similar to the ACL in humans), diabetes, cardiovascular (heart) disease, urinary problems, inability to keep themselves clean/groom … the list goes on,” she says. So, feed them healthy foods — avoid table scraps! — and go easy on the treats. And always consult your vet for advice on a healthy, balanced diet.

4. Pay attention to your pet’s dental health.  Dogs and cats (and horses and rabbits and many other pets) can suffer from dental disease just like humans, Fuller says. In fact, dogs and cats can develop plaque and tartar just like people and they frequently develop gum disease as a result.  “Your vet will recommend a regular treatment regimen to keep your pet’s teeth healthy. If you start early and stay ahead of problems, you may be able to help your pet avoid losing teeth,” she explains. “I frequently have to remove numerous teeth in both dogs and cats because of advanced dental disease.  If left untreated, dental disease can cause rotten teeth, heart valve disease, loss of bone in the face leading to a fistula between the nose and mouth, terrible infections that cause pain, and horrible breath.”

5. Keep your pet’s mind stimulated by offering environmental enrichment.  We hate to break it to you, but a movie marathon on the couch will not help you or your pet live longer. While love, consistency and comfort are important for your pet’s wellbeing, so are enriching activities. “Consider puzzle toys — these are toys for dogs and cats that hide treats inside and require the pet to work with the toy to get the treat,” Fuller explains. “A quick YouTube or Google search will also give you plenty of ideas for things to offer your pet by way of enrichment.”  Safety note: no ribbon or string for cats, and use caution when offering rawhides and real bones to dogs.  “Your vet may have a list of safe food treats to offer your pet. So be sure to consult him or her,” she adds.

Does a lot of this sound familiar? Well, that’s because pets are more like people than you may think. They require a healthy balance — regular exercise, a healthy diet and regular check-ups — to ensure a long, happy life. So do what you can to incorporate these tips into your pet’s life today.

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Amy Jamieson

A former senior editor for People.com, Amy launched People Pets for People magazine in 2008. Now she writes about pets, lifestyle and more from her bucolic saltbox in Collinsville, Connecticut, usually with a cat in her lap and a dog at her feet.

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