Us humans can be obsessive about our dog’s health. Is she eating too fast? What are these skin irritations? Why is everyone talking about raw diets, and should we try one? The list of dog health concerns goes on and on.
It’s easy to understand why. Dogs bring joy to our lives. The very thought of our four-legged friends growing old, getting sick, and passing away one day is too much to handle. If there’s anything we can do to help our dogs live forever, er… okay, live longer – then bring it on, right?
The good news is that there are so many things we can do. Many dog illnesses are preventable. Many more can be staved off for a long time with the proper combination of diet, exercise, and diligent care.
And here’s the thing: while we humans are responsible for our own health, dogs count on us to make these decisions for them. Many of the decisions you make – from the dog food you select, to the activities you do with them, to the number of times you visit the vet – can affect their health.
It’s in your hands! Keep reading to learn everything you need to know to keep your dog in tip-top shape.
How Long Can I Expect My Dog To Stay Healthy?
While it’s impossible to know exactly how long your dog will live, the American Kennel Club has published these general lifespan guidelines:
- Small Breeds, like Chihuahuas, Pomeranians, and Yorkshire Terriers: 12-17 years
- Medium Breeds, like French Bulldogs, Cocker Spaniels, Poodles: 10-15 years
- Large Breeds, like Retrievers, German Shepherds, Rottweilers: 10-12 years
- Giant Greeds, like Great Danes, Mastiffs, Irish Wolfhounds, 8-10 years1
In general, smaller dogs have longer lifespans than larger dogs. Scientists aren’t exactly sure why.2 Whatever the reason, smaller dogs can generally live several years longer than their large and giant buddies.
There are breed specific guidelines, too. If you have a purebred dog, you can look up the lifespan for your specific breed or ask your breeder.3
For mixed breed dogs, your dog’s weight can be a clue to their lifespan. A study by Banfield Pet Hospital found these results:
- Dogs under 20 pounds, an average of 11 years
- Dogs under 90 pounds, and average of 11 years
- Dogs over 90 pounds, an average of 8 years4
Remember, these are averages. Thanks to improvements in veterinary healthcare and availability of quality raw dog food, dogs are living longer and longer these days.5
Which are the Healthiest Dog Breeds in the World?
While breed is just one factor in the puzzle of dog life expectancy, it is true that some breeds do tend to live longer.
- Australian Cattle Dogs tend to have minimal health issues. This breed, along with other working dogs like Foxhounds and Border Collies, tend to live long lives.6 They can live, on average, up to 13 years.
- Yorkshire Terriers, and other small companion breeds like the Maltese and Shih Tzu, can live up to about 16 years.7
- Standard Schnauzers have one of the longest lifespans, especially given their medium size.8 They can live to be 16 on average.
- Some say that German Shorthaired Pointers can live up to about 18 years, which is very long for any breed.9
Which Breeds Have Known Health Problems?
Some breeds are genetically predisposed to get certain ailments. While this is not comprehensive, here’s a rundown of a few common health issues:
- Siberian Huskies are predisposed to autoimmune disorders.10
- Bulldogs and other “short-nosed” dogs are susceptible to breathing and dental problems.11
- Pugs may experience issues with their eyes popping out of their sockets.12
- Many large and giant breeds, like German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, and Great Danes, are prone to hip dysplasia.13
- Dogs with weight issues. Some breeds, like Dachshunds, are more likely to have weight issues. This could be attributed to genetics, metabolism, or level of appetite.14
- Some breeds, like the Beagle and Vizsla, are more prone to seizures than others.15
Visit the CHIC Program for complete information about which health issues are prevalent in certain breeds.16
Whatever type of dog you have, keeping them on a healthy, all-natural diet and maintaining a regular exercise routine can help keep symptoms at bay.
Common Health Problems In Dogs
It’s sad but true: dogs can get sick, just like humans can. Dogs can suffer from genetic diseases, skin diseases, GI issues, the risk of obesity, and more. There are also illnesses that are unique to dogs, like distemper and parvovirus.17
Please don’t let this scare you! Knowledge is power. Learning about these dangers can help you make the best decisions when it comes to your dog’s health.
In dogs, infectious diseases can be spread by viruses, bacteria, fungi, or parasites. Most of these are spread from dog to dog. Others are spread through insects like mosquitoes or ticks. And some, like a zoonotic disease, can be spread from dogs to humans.18
Here’s a rundown of what’s out there:
- Viral diseases: like rabies, distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus
- Respiratory infections: like kennel cough
- Bacterial diseases: like bordetella, and Lyme disease
- Fungal diseases: like ringworm
- Internal parasites: like hookworms, tapeworms, roundworms, and heartworms
What Can You Do About Infectious Diseases?
Here’s a bit of good news: with modern medicine, many infectious diseases don’t pose the same risks as they once did.19 Once-deadly diseases like distemper, parvovirus, and hepatitis can now be prevented. Hooray – a win for dogs and their humans!
Informed dog parents can help keep their pets disease-free by checking in with their vet and making a prevention plan.
Congenital abnormalities, or “birth defects,” are a problem in some dogs, particular purebreds. Unfortunately, these issues are not always detectable or predictable.20 Some can cause pain, but aren’t fatal. Others can be deadly.
Common Genetic Disorders
- Hip Dysplasia – If a dog’s hip joint isn’t configured properly, it can cause pain and limited mobility. This is common in breeds like Retrievers and German Shepherds.21
- Seizures – Seizures can often be managed with medication. They are more common in breeds like Beagles, Keeshonds, and Dachshunds.22
- Heart Issues – There are a number of canine congenital heart problems. Breeds that may be more at risk for genetic heart problems include Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Dachshunds, Doberman Pinschers, Great Danes, and Boxers.23
- Degenerative Myelopathy – This disorder is caused by deteriorating nerve fibers within the spinal cord. Symptoms don’t usually appear until later in life. German Shepherds are most commonly affected.24
- Brachycephalic Syndrome – Brachycephalic, or “short-nosed” dogs, like French Bulldogs, Pugs, and Boxers may experience breathing problems and dental issues.25
What Can You Do About Genetic Diseases?
If you plan to adopt a specific breed, do your research first. Make sure you select a breeder who follows responsible breeding practices. Irresponsible breeders should not be supported. They should have records showing that the lineage is free of genetic disorders.26
If symptoms show up later in life, call your vet as soon as you suspect something may be wrong.
Skin disorders are one of the most common health problems in dogs. They can vary from intense, short-lived issues to chronic problems that require lifelong treatment.
Atopy, a chronic allergic condition, affects up to 15% of dogs.27
Hot spots and pyoderma can be caused by an allergic reaction or another illness.28
Mange, an infectious skin disease, is caused by mites.
What Can You Do About Skin Disease?
Some canine skin disorders are caused by poor nutrition.29 A balanced, all-natural raw diet is recommended, but it’s especially important for dogs with skin disorders. As always, if you see anything unusual on your dog, call your vet.
Because some dogs can have a tendency to cruise around and eat what they please, gastrointestinal upset (aka a stomach ache) is common. Dogs who are going through this may vomit, have diarrhea, or refuse to eat.
More serious GI issues include:
- Colitis, which is caused by inflammation of the colon.37
- Bloat, a life-threatening emergency that’s caused by the twisting of the stomach.38
- Gastritis, an inflammation of the stomach lining.39
What Can You Do About GI Problems?
To prevent these issues from ever occurring, always feed your dog a high-quality, natural diet! Proper diet is so important for the well-being of dogs. Since some issues are caused by dogs eating and drinking too fast, monitor your dog.
If your dog is showing signs of a serious issue, like bloat, take them to the vet right away.40
Trauma can be anything from dog fights, to car accidents, to accidents in your home. Puppies are more likely to die from a trauma-related incident, so always keep an eye on your little one if you have a puppy.41
What You Can Do
To avoid accidents, use common sense. Keep your dog on-leash when you’re outside of your home – especially when you’re around traffic. Train your dog like their life depends on it. Someday it could. Make sure they have a solid understanding of come, leave it, wait, and no.
When you aren’t home, make sure electrical cords are tucked away and windows are closed.42 If you take your dog to a dog park or an environment with other dogs, always keep an eye on them. Never leave your dog unsupervised around young children.
In 2018, the ASPCA Animal Poison Center received nearly 214,000 cases of pet poisoning. According to their list, the most common toxins to look out for are:
- Over-the-counter medications, like ibuprofen
- Human prescription drugs
- Toxic food, like onions, grapes, and raisins
- Chocolate, especially baked goods or candy
- Veterinary products, like your pup’s medication
- Household items, like paint and glue
- Plants that are toxic to dogs
- Garden products, like fertilizer43
Toxins & Harmful Additives in Commercial Dog Food
No informed pet parent would purposefully give their dog something toxic like chocolate or rat poison. But there are other, similarly harmful toxins lurking in the foods that some of us give our dogs every day.
Many commercial dog foods on the market use “feed-grade” ingredients that allow for toxins and additives that would never be allowed in “human grade” food. Here are just a few of the icky ingredients that “feed grade” commercial dog foods are allowed to contain:44
- Mold-based mycotoxins at unsafe levels
- Harmful chemicals like Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA), Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT), which are known carcinogens45
- Preservatives like Ethoxyquin, which is illegal in human food and has been shown to be harmful if swallowed
- Humectants (moistening agents) like Propylene Glycol (PG), which is derived from antifreeze
- Food dyes like Blue 2, Red 40, and Yellow 5 and 6, which have all been documented to cause allergic reactions, behavior problems, and cancer in humans
- Contaminants like rodent, roach, and bird poop
What You Can Do
Feeding your dog food with sub-standard and potentially toxic ingredients can create problems in both the short and long term. For your dog’s sake, seek out high quality, dog food that is free of chemicals and fillers.
For household toxins, keep all of these items – and anything else that may be toxic – out of paws reach.46 If you have a persistent pet, look for “pet safe” containers to store things like medicine to ensure that they can’t access it.
If you have small children, make sure they understand which foods are appropriate for dogs. And if you think your pet may have ingested something questionable, always call your vet right away!
Other Signs of Serious Illness
As your dog gets older, there’s a chance they could fall ill. As a conscientious pet parent, it’s best to always be aware of potentially dangerous symptoms so you can do something right away.
Common Signs of Serious Illness
In some cases, your vet won’t be able to detect illnesses early on – even in blood work. But there are some signs you can look for that will clue you in. If you see any of these symptoms, tell your vet right away. These could all be signs of a serious medical issue that require immediate attention.33
- Abnormal lumps that continue to grow (or don’t go away) – If you see a mass under your dog’s skin, don’t just “watch it,” have it removed and biopsied.
- Wounds that don’t heal – If you’ve tried antibiotics and ointments, and the sore isn’t getting better, call your vet.34
- Weight loss – If you didn’t put your dog on a diet, unexplained weight loss may be a sign of health issues. Call your vet.
- Loss of appetite – If your dog stops eating for seemingly no reason, bring your pup in for a check-up to make sure everything is okay.
- Enlarged lymph nodes – This could be a sign that your dog’s immune system is working on overdrive.
- Abnormal bleeding – Nosebleeds are a common sign of serious illness.35 Alert your vet if your dog is bleeding from any body opening.
- Offensive odor (beyond typical “doggie” odor) – This could be a sign that bacteria is growing on your dog’s body. If a bath doesn’t make the smell go away, call your vet.
- Reluctance to exercise or loss of stamina – If your typically-energetic pup is refusing to get off the couch, take note. This could be a sign of anything from organ ailments, to heart trouble, to an upset stomach.
- Persistent lameness – If Fido is limping or staying off a certain leg, there could be something going on. Call your vet if you’re concerned.36
What Should You Do If You See One Of These Symptoms?
Early detection is the best thing you can do to keep your dog healthy and happy for a long time. So stay in tune with your pup and regularly check in on their behavior.
There’s no need to be paranoid! If you’re an attentive pet parent – you regularly pet and brush your pup all over, see your vet regularly, and take note if their behavior changes – you’ll be in good shape. If you notice any of these symptoms, call your vet right away.
How Can You Keep Your Dog Healthy?
Okay! Now that you’ve read through the spectrum of things that can make your dog unhealthy, let’s get to the good stuff! What can you do to make sure your dog is happy and healthy for as long as possible?
If this section had an alternate title, it would be: Dogs They’re Just Like Us! Many of the things that we humans do to keep ourselves healthy are also great for our four-legged friends.
Feed Your Dog A Balanced, All-Natural Diet
As Dr. Marty likes to say, “It all starts with the food.”47 The key to your dog living a long, healthy, happy life is getting the best nutrition. According to the most current scientific research, this means a raw, all-natural diet that is free from chemicals or fillers.48 Freeze dried raw foods offer you the convenience of kibble with the quality of raw food.
High-Quality food will:
- Provide dogs with the energy their body needs49
- Give them the vitamins and minerals to keep their skin and coat healthy
- Strengthen their immune system50
- Keep their digestive system in good health
Ensure that their brain develops properly51
So, how do you make sure you’re giving your dog the best food? Here are some helpful guidelines to follow:
Look For Quality, All-Natural Ingredients
When you’re shopping for dog food, look at the label. You should see whole foods like turkey, beef, salmon, pumpkin, and spinach – not chemicals, fillers, or ingredients you can’t pronounce!
If you’re unsure, take the time to Google each ingredient and learn about the effects it could have on your dog. You might be surprised at what some big dog food companies include in their food.
After you look at the label, take a look at the dog food company itself. Where do they source their ingredients? What are their quality standards?52 After researching the company, you should feel confident that they are committed to sourcing the highest quality, all natural ingredients.
- Don’t accept anything less for your dog.
- Protein should be the first thing listed on the label
- Protein should be your dog’s main source of calories. This will not be hard if you opt to feed your dog a healthy raw food diet, as it will be based around REAL protein.
Pick a Food That’s Rich in Natural Probiotic & Prebiotic Fiber
A healthy gut makes for a healthy pup. Make sure you’re supporting your dog’s digestive health by seeking out all natural food that contains natural probiotics and prebiotics. Here are just a few benefits:
- Helps keep dogs fuller for longer, so your dog may eat less frequently
- Produces more compact stools
- May reduce canine food allergies
- Boosts your dog’s energy
- May ease symptoms associated with allergies
- Improves skin health
- Gives your dog a shinier, softer coat
- Reduces shedding
- Improves doggie breath
- Reduces flatulence
- Easier to digest53
Freeze Dried, Raw Food Is Best
Most dog food companies cook their food extensively — which strips it of all the nutritional value.54 The highest quality dog food companies offer freeze-dried, raw food that mimics what your dog would eat in the wild.
Look for a blend of proteins, veggies, and fruits, so you can be sure that your dog gets the full nutritional content they need from every meal.
Have you heard the expression: a tired dog is a good dog? We’ll take it one step further and add that a tired dog is a healthy dog. Big, small, young, or old – dogs need daily exercise. They need it for their mental health and their physical health, just like humans.
Exercise helps your dog’s body run properly.55 Exercise also helps prevent obesity, which is associated with a whole host of health problems for dogs.56
But here’s the thing: you can’t just open your back door and think that dogs will exercise themselves. If you have two dogs that love to play with each other, that might work. But in general, you need to be the one to lead the charge on your dog’s physical fitness.
How Much Exercise Does My Dog Need To Be Healthy?
Depending on your dog’s age, breed, size, and level of health, your dog should be engaged in some type of physical activity for 30 minutes to 2 hours every day.57
Some dog breeds – like hunting, herding, or working dogs – need more exercise than that. Experts recommend that they get 30 minutes of vigorous exercise on top of 1-2 hours of activity.58
If you have a dog who needs a lot of exercise, you probably already know it. Many dogs who need a lot of exercise, but aren’t getting it, become restless or destructive.
Other types of dogs – short-nosed breeds, like Bulldogs, for example – would never stand for that much exercise! For these types, a leisurely walk around the block, paired with some indoor play, is plenty.59 And then it’s back to the couch, thanks.
What About Older or Overweight Dogs?
Don’t let them fool you – ”lazy dogs” and older dogs still need exercise!60 Make sure you go for at least a walk around the block every single day.
- If your dog is overweight or out of shape – don’t push them too hard too fast. Ask your vet to help you develop a fitness plan, and always watch your dog for signs of fatigue.
- If your dog doesn’t want to exercise – and if this is unusual for your dog, call your vet. There may be an underlying health issue.
If your dog appears to be in pain – don’t push them to exercise. Take them into the vet to assess the situation.
As always, talk to your vet to get an expert recommendation for your specific situation.
Watch For Signals From Your Dog
If your dog is pacing and barking at you, it may be time for a walk!
If your dog continuously stops to take breaks, pulls to go back home, or just stares at you when you grab the leash, they may need less exercise than you are giving them.
If your dog is panting heavily, take a break. And in all cases, make sure your dog has access to plenty of water.
What’s the Best Kind of Exercise for My Dog?
There’s an exercise out there for every dog! From traditional walking to agility training, dog frisbee, and Doga (yes, that’s Dog + Yoga), there is truly something for everyone.
Consider What Your Dog Likes
Does Fido go nuts for the ball? A regular game of fetch will fit the bill! (Psst! Fetch is also one of the most efficient ways to exercise dogs. You get to stand in one place and let your dog run it out.)
Does your dog love interacting with other canine buddies? A dog park might be perfect! Does your dog love water? Try swimming!
Consider What You Like
Does something like dog dancing, agility training, or dog cross-country skiing appeal to you? Go for it! Your dog will probably like whatever you like, especially if they get to spend time with you. Learning a new skill with your dog is an incredible bonding experience.
Here are some other ideas:
- Walking. Who doesn’t love a relaxing dog walk?
- Jogging. Work your way up to long distances!
- Swimming. Introduce your dog to water slowly and calmly, they may love it!
- Frisbee. A classic dog-owner game!
- Hiking. Practice off-leash recall before you go!
- Agility Training. Also a great mental workout!
Regular Vet Check-Ups
Put in the work to find a great vet – don’t settle for the first one you find! Ask your family, friends, or breeder for recommendations. Be picky! Whomever you select will be a partner in your dog’s health. You want to feel comfortable calling their office and asking for health advice.
Seek out a veterinarian who takes an integrative approach and addresses the “full-picture” when it comes to pet health. Look for someone who is committed to combining the best of both traditional medicine and alternative therapies, like CBD oil, essential oils, and supplements.
When it comes to your pet’s health, you want a vet who is up-to-date on all of the methods available.
Vet Visits For Puppies
When pups are young, you’ll find yourself shuttling them to and from the vet’s office regularly. They will also allow your vet to monitor growth and check for potential puppy problems, like distemper or parvovirus.
And honestly, when you have a new puppy at home, it can be nice to regularly meet with an expert. Bring all of your puppy and dog health questions. Your vet will have answers!
Most puppies don’t turn into “adults” until at least 2 years of age, but your vet visits will slow down well before that. After your pup turns 6 months old, you’ll likely only need to visit your veterinarian once a year for an annual wellness exam.61-62
What happens during these annual visits? The veterinarian will check in on your pup’s heart, lungs, eyes, ears, skin, and coat health. They’ll check for signs of hip dysplasia, arthritis, kidney failure, or dental disease. They’ll check for ticks, fleas, or skin irritations.
Basically… you’ll get a holistic view of your dog’s health, which is exactly what you want.
After the exam, your vet may offer recommendations for specific types of food, weight loss, exercise regimes, or dental care. Your vet is a partner in your dog’s health. These visits can help give you a roadmap into ensuring your pup lives a happy and fulfilled life.
It’s sad, but true: dogs age more quickly than humans do. Smaller dogs are considered “seniors” when they reach the age of 8. Larger breeds are considered seniors as early as age 6.63
As your dog heads into old age, regular vet visits are more important than ever. Older dogs are more susceptible to some health conditions. Routine health exams may be able to catch problems early on, ensuring your dog stays healthy and happy.
Next up in your quest to keep your dog healthy? Regular grooming. Grooming is more than just a way to keep your dog looking good. Grooming is an essential way to keep your dog feeling good.
Regular grooming also gives these healthy benefits:
- Brushing your dog’s teeth can help protect them against tooth decay, gingivitis, and periodontal disease.64
- Regular ear cleaning can help protect against infection.65
- Nail clipping can help prevent joint injuries.66
- Brushing your dog’s coat spreads out the natural oils and helps keep the fur free of external parasites.
The final piece in the puzzle of your dog’s health is mental stimulation. Plain exercise is great, but it might not be enough to keep your dog fulfilled.
Dogs are incredibly intelligent creatures. Many breeds have been bred for thousands of years to do one specific task – whether that be to hunt, herd, or please their owners. You’ve got to put your dog to work! Here are a few ideas for keeping your dog’s brain stimulated:
- Go to obedience classes with your pup and make sure they have a handle on the basics like sit, stay, down, come, leave it, and walking on a leash. They don’t have to reach service animal status, but they should know the basics!
- Teach Fido a new, fun trick – training shouldn’t stop after puppy days! Learning something new is a great way to exercise your dogs mind. Try working on high five or roll over!
- Play “mind games” like hide-and-seek, toy pickup, and jumping rope.67
- Let your dog sniff when you’re out for a walk – this is how dogs pick up information and interact with the world. It’s vital to their mental health. Don’t deny them!
- Make an obstacle course for your dog in your backyard – there are a ton of YouTube videos out there that can teach you how!
Dogs who are mentally stimulated are way less likely to exhibit behavior issues like digging, barking, and chewing. Plus our dogs bring so much joy into our lives, don’t we want to make sure we bring joy to their lives, too?
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