PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - The age-old saying is you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but there is no doubt that today in the United States, there are many more older dogs.
"Since I became a veterinarian about 30 years ago, they are living about 2 years longer on average," says Dr. Mike Hutchison, of Animal General Hospital in Cranberry Township. "We think that is a combination of better preventive medicine as well as better diets."
However, Dr. Mike says about 60 percent of the dogs that come into his clinic are overweight. Keeping Fido fit and trim is his first trick do helping your aging companion.
"It used to be that we accepted a little more fat on dogs, but what people don't realize now is that thinner dogs are living longer. We can actually put 2.1 years on a large breed dog's life by keeping them thin from young dog to old dog," Dr. Hutchinson said.
Keeping the weight off goes hand-in-hand with his second trick: getting them regular activity.
"Exercise is key. Not only are you getting exercise, but you are helping the dogs mental, you know, they are happier when you exercise them," Dr. Hutchinson said.
Ruby is an adopted shelter dog. She is at least 10 years old and going strong. At least three days a week, she takes a 5-mile hike around the lake at North Park. Her owner, Julie Kaigler, sees a difference in her dog when Ruby doesn't get regular walks.
"I know in the winter, you know sometimes we slow down a little bit with how much we walk because of the weather, she tends to put on a little bit of weight in the winter -- so I would say that the exercise keeps the weight off her," Kaigler said.
Yet, Dr. Mike cautions it is important to modify the activity as your dog ages. Joann Walk of the North Hills has seen that with her 6-year-old golden retriever, Buddy.
"He doesn't run as much as he used to because it's bad on him, so only -- and we don't run as long," Walk said.
Christina Avallone has a boxer-beagle mix named Harley. She knows all about keeping dogs for a long time.
"Our previous dog was 18, so I think exercise is huge so not just letting them just be sedentary but making sure they are active," she said.
The third trick Dr. Mike shares for older dogs is to buy them a special place to sleep.
"Get a big plush bed for them. Give them something, pile cushions in there if you have to. Give them something soft to lay on," he says. "They may not have liked it when they were younger. They may have picked that cool tile floor, but you will be surprised at how much they will appreciate that cushion now."
For just pennies a day, Dr. Hutchison says giving your dog Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil will do wonders -- regardless of how old Fluffy is.
"Make sure they are eating the best diet possible. Essential fatty acids. The Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil help reduce inflammation in the dogs. It helps decreases shedding. Makes their coat nice, helps their brain," he said.
Additionally probiotics and digestive enzymes can also help your buddy for less than $100 a year.
There's a lot of different things we can do for our dogs as they get older. Dr. Mike says one of the best things you can do is just hang out with them. To him, simply spending time with your dog is the most important thing you can do. Avallone agrees completely.
"I love the idea of loving them. Just the affection in knowing that they are loved keeps them around and keeping them active," Avallone said.
But it is more than simply being in the same room with your dog.
Dr. Mike's next trick: show them how much you care.
"Give them belly rubs. You just give them attention. You don't just walk by them. You go over and give them a pat. You might pick up a brush and go outside and start brushing them -- something to spend time with them. They are so happy when you do that," he said.
By teaching your old dog these tricks, hopefully you will have them around for many more happy years.
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