As Danny starts to get a little older, I am in the process of overhauling some of his diet, exercise and supplements, looking ahead to a long and healthy life. He is only 8, but this is the time to start thinking about what changes we might implement to help ensure longevity and quality time. Much of this is not news to my fellow doglovers, but I think it is always good to revisit what we know and share with those who might be new to natural dog care. What can be done to help a dog age gracefully and live a full lifespan? Here are some foundational ideas.
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Daniel at 8, is going a little grey in the muzzle, but still strong, fit and active. We walk 1- 2 hours a day, so he’ll be starting on some fatty acids, joint support and anti-inflammatory herbs to ensure he doesn’t start to feel sore or tired after his usual activity.

 

1) Evaluate the Diet
Of course, I feel that nutrition is foundational, and for me, optimal nutrition is based on three core ideas. One, all nutrients must be provided for your dog at levels that meet or exceed his or her requirements. Two, the best quality foods and supplements should be used to provide these needs. Three, the type of diet, the macronutrient balance must be suited to the individual dog. I don’t take a stance that raw is superior or cooked is always ideal, because we don’t have the science to support such claims-  and extensive consulting experience and research shows me that dogs do well on cooked and raw, with some leaning one way or the other, and many can do both. The real science of nutrition is clear that no one method of feeding is always “superior” or optimal. That said, the three pillars of my approach – nutrient adequacy, wholesome foods and attention to bioindividuality, are key.
Important to remember that while we now know that older dogs often benefit from increases in protein, this won’t apply for dogs dealing with specific health conditions, or whose protein levels are already very high. Fiber, much vilified and misunderstood, is extremely important for colon health and preventing constipation. Macronutrients – protein, fat and carbohydrate – should be adjusted according to the individual, and not to adhere to any one notion of what dogs should all be fed.Micronutrients – vitmains and minerals – may require some restriction in cases of renal and cardiovascular disease.

2) Add some – carefully selected – herbs (and maybe supplements as well)

To be clear – all home prepared diets need to be balanced correctly, and this will mean *some*supplementation. For an idea of what you might add to a home cooked recipe, check this sample here: https://www.thepossiblecanine.com/grain-free-cooked-recipe-for-a-50-pound-dog. Multis won’t balance a recipe, and what you need to add depends on what ingredients are in a given recipe; in other words, aside from calcium, it varies.
Essential nutrients are best added individually, so you avoid  shortchanging your dog in any way, but extras -such as herbs – can go a  long way to help maintain health. What’s the Number One mistake I see people make? Following the trendy, commercial herb and supplement advice without any guidance from an experienced herbalist or vet. Not every dog benefits from or can even tolerate things like cinnamon, coconut oil, apple cider vinegar – your dog is a unique individual and whatever you decide to add, from antioxidants to joint support, to a herbal formula for arthritis or cardiovascular support, needs to be personalized! I have some information here on how to do this, and much more to follow this year. Takeaway message: herbs and supplements are  very supportive of health but will be far more powerful if selected carefully. Don’t “just do it” – do some study, consult with a trained expert, and ask your vet. Check my herbal columns at www.herbmentor.com, and at PlantHealer Magazine (next issue features an article on herbal care for geriatrics). Consider a consultation as well: http://www.thepossiblecanine.com/wp/product/herbal-consultation
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Cultivated organic dandelions, an amazingly helpful plant which can be used in formula for liver support and anti-cancer actions, or more therapeutically for dogs with edema related to heart disease or other conditions. Part of plant used, preparation and dosage all change the type of effect we will see from this powerhouse herbal remedy.

3) Evaluate and modify your dog’s exercise program
While exercise is incredibly important, it’s a mistake to think that more is always better, or that all dogs of all ages should engage in the same type and amount.  I encourage anyone with an older dog to have a cardiovascular check up, and generally make sure your dog is fine to increase exercise, if that’s your plan(and it’s a good one). Consider how much cardio your dog can handle and think about adding some anti-inflammatory supplements to help her feel good while increasing output. Stretches are important for dogs just as they are for us; I’ll be going into this in greater detail in my Obesity e-book out later this month. I encourage people to use exercise wisely with dogs – a basset hound does not require, nor should he have the same amount and type as a whippet..or a Bouvier…or a Dane…or a puppy!

 

4) Oral health is foundationally important for dogs of all ages, and just as with humans, dogs range from those who build up plaque easily and are troubled with gum issues (even despite good hygiene) and those for whom nice white teeth seem to be more easily achieved. With regard to oral health, you have many options. I encourage the use of raw bones for dogs who can handle them – never start feeding raw bones to a dog with gum disease and bad teeth, but start your pup off early, and be sure to monitor their sessions.  Brushing can work, but it isn’t always possible – in this case, you may need regular cleanings, and that’s much better than the potentially systemic consequences of bad teeth and gum disease.
I’ll be talking about how herbs and supplements can support oral health and offset the potential for systemic issues related to gum disease, in February’s e-book on Oral health.  Because the health of the mouth impacts on and reflects the health of the whole body, this is worthy of your attention, and a deeper look at what you can do to help.
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5) See your vet at least once a year for bloodwork and other evaluation.
This is simple common sense – as with humans, early detection of illness can make all the difference to your dog. In addition, it’s important to perform regular assessments on your own – go over your whole dog to check for new lumps or bumps, especially important as they age or if they’ve had any issues with abnormal growths in past. I check Danny every few weeks, even thought his Mast Cell tumour was very low grade, I’m still vigilant. Check gum colour, ears – especially with longhaired or thick-coated dogs who may not show irregularities of the skin so readily.Check teeth! Most of us are aware of our dog’s digestion and elimination habits, but keep an eye on thenes who urinate far fom sight, in case of blood. A yearly vet check is important, but problems that arise in between visits are also best apprehended early.
It’s not my place to decide for anyone what to do about vaccinations, despite strong feelings of my own. What I do encourage people to do is become mindful and aware of the options and controversies. Yearly vaccinations are no longer considered necessary or even safe – however, some of us still vaccinate periodically and selectively. Arming yourself with a wide range of knowledge, not all gleaned from one source, will help you make the decision that is right for your own dog.

Which leads me to….

6) Develop strong critical thinking skills. Did that come as a surprise?  In my work I see cases every day where well-intentioned owners who deeply love their dogs have been feeding truly dreadful diets, because they were sold to them “by someone on the internet”. Let me stress it again; terrible advice ABOUNDs in this world and because someone has a flashy site or a lot of followers IN NO WAY means they are skilled or even competent. Some things to watch for include generic prescription of one diet for all dogs, or recommending the same supplements over and over, without individual assessment; hostility to science and making claims about expertise that are not entirely honest are also red flags. I’ve written about what to look for in a nutrition advisor here but the same sort of critical evaluation applies to your choice of vet, herbalist, trainer, pet store.  One of the aims of this blog is to equip people with factual information, not hype, and help you to learn your options(and there are many).

So, instead of me saying “here’s what I believe about vaccinations (raw diet, various supplements) hence it is correct” I will say “here’s what I believe about vaccinations etc – and here’s WHY. Now you look at the science, and decide for yourself”.
Because there is more than one right way to care for dogs, and  people need information, not diatribes and rhetoric. 🙂
Takeaway message: As your dog goes through life, dietary needs change, exercise needs and tolerance change, and disease can be slowed down or prevented with veterinary care, oral hygiene and herbs/supplements. The power is in your hands to help your unique individual, and I am here to help you find the choices that are right for you, with courses and consultations that represent the best of the science and a wealth of personal and professional experience. Watch for e-books and a newsletter this year.   ThePossible Canine is growing and will always offer you the best of information and options.

 

 

Resources: Jean Dodds vaccination and thyroid information http://drjeandoddspethealthresource.tumblr.com/post/34024828409/dodds-canine-vaccination-protocol-2012#.VK1NGcker0w