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Healthy Aging – Dr. Sharon Johnston


Few things get “better” with age in our youth-obsessed society. Wine. Cheese. Antiques. Some say dogs as well. We can all help our dogs get better as they age (to a limit, of course). The “cheap seats” of helping them age well are basic. One: don’t overfeed them. Two: let them exercise.

Hmm, how do we do that at my house? One: Lilah, the queen of chihuahua-ville, guards the food and makes it such that the other dogs have to sneak kibble under the sofa to eat. It helps that they are very small dogs and have higher relative caloric requirements than large dogs making it harder for them to eat enough to become overweight. Ways I could overcome this would include feeding “people food” and encouraging them to eat. Overall, healthy appropriately fed dogs do not need encouragement to eat. Picky eaters who are overweight and don’t have pancreatitis or other illness should not be encouraged to eat. Households with labs or large dogs need to measure food, meal feed, and seriously reduce treats in order to achieve leanness in my experience. I was very impressed the other day with the willpower of a nice lady with a Cavalier Spaniel who controlled his intake appropriately so he was lean on his latest visit. Now he is enthusiastic about his kibble. And on the other side of things, my favorite excuse for having a fat dog is having a human family member with no short term memory. Thus the pooch got untold meals per day.

Two: Doggie door, multiple dogs, and doggie daycare. The doggie door in my slider encourages my dogs to go outside and chase the neighborhood cats across the yard or bark at the chihuahuas across the fence. The young one, Charming Charlie, heads out first and the old lady, Lilah, follows him. The cats cooperate by running away. On work days, the crew tags along with me and plays in doggie daycare for four hours a day. When we get home, they crash on the sofa. Lovely! Tired dogs are good dogs. Yoga dog on the beach

The finer points of healthy aging from what I can gather, mostly for myself, include sunscreen, red wine and dark chocolate (none of which my dogs are treated to). Avoiding unnecessary chemicals, adding anti-oxidants and specialized supplements may also play a role.

Some say filtered water helps by reducing intake of undesirable chemical or metal contaminants. I drink it so my dogs drink it too. (Raspberries to those who make fun of this!) And I refuse to spray my yard with pesticides. Chronic lawn pesticide exposure has been linked to some cancers in dogs. (Better yet, get rid of the lawn, as it is a resource intensive bit of green that doesn’t produce anything, and trade it for a vegetable garden.)

Anti-oxidants are a good idea, so my dogs eat a food with hopefully optimal amounts, designed for healthy aging and Lilah shares blueberries with me when I can find hopefully organic and not exorbitantly priced berries. The others turn their muzzles up at blueberries. Oh well.

Supplements. *Sigh* Big can of worms there. I keep hoping for the pill I can take that will return my eyes and brain and hair to their former glory. And if they make it for my dogs too, excellent! There are some supplements out there that may help with brain aging of dogs and with joint aging. I hear encouraging reports from users that Neutricks helps senior dogs improve their cognitive function and Cosequin or Dasuquin helps their joint health. There are some other new supplements coming per the journals. I hope they have magic in them but know that there is a 40% placebo effect that extends to caregivers. The other issues with supplements of this sort is the cost-benefit ratio. Exercise and getting lean probably have greater effects, and cost much less. Maybe they should just make a pill and tell me it will make me have an irrepressible need to take my dogs out for exercise. And then if I could just remember to take it….