In my last column I mentioned that my 15-year-old German shepherd Zumi passed away just before Christmas.
There where many emails from readers expressing their condolences which I am very thankful for. But there were also emails asking me what it is that I had done to prolong the life of my dog for so many years past the predicted lifespan of the breed.
This is not as easy a question to answer as one might think. There are many things that contributed to Zumi’s long life and all of them reflect how I care for my own life and my mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health.
Many of you following my columns over the decades know that I was born and raised on a farm and much of how I care for my myself and my animals comes from that agricultural and spiritual foundation that I feel very blessed to have received while growing up. And one very powerful lesson I learned from watching and nurturing the growth of plants and animals is that physical longevity requires one to care for the body for the years to come, not just for right now.
Zumi was fed a raw diet her entire life, in fact her parents were raw fed dogs which I truly believe played a big part in her overall health. A raw diet for dogs is basically raw meat and vegetables. There are a number of versions of a raw diet for dogs and I can’t say that one version is better than the other. Over the years I have experimented with them all and have found that for Zumi, she did best on a high protein, high fat, low vegetable ratio.
In the past my other dogs seemed to do best on a more balanced ratio of equal parts meat to vegetables. Whenever I introduced a high starch food such as rice, potatoes or yams into their diet, they put on weight dramatically, their stools where irregular and their moods less stable. What you can take away from this is that fresh is best. If you are interested in feeding your dog a raw diet then educate yourself on a fresh is best diet for your dog. There is a plethora of evidence as to the benefits of a raw-based diet for dogs as well as an equal amount of contradicting information. Find what works best for you.
Another big component of Zumi’s longevity is that she was not vaccinated. I’m not an anti-vaxer as I do believe there is a time and place for vaccines, but I also believe that our dogs are over-vaccinated.
Besides her initial vaccines from the breeder and a one-time vaccine for distemper after a titer test before she was a year old, she never had one single vaccine. Yes this is a highly controversial subject but again, I did my homework and made the choice and frankly, I believe it was the correct one.
Genetics can certainly be said to have played a part in her long life, but genetics also created a very active dog meant to work as a service dog but found her way on my couch instead of chasing bad guys, which leads to another big part of her excellent health; her daily exercise and activities. Each and every day, rain, sleet, snow or shine my dogs get out for walks with me, not a walker, and not just around the block but a good hike that allows them to stretch their legs and lungs. Walks that raise their heart rate and cleanse their muscles of lactic acid, walks that promote healthy digestion and restful sleep.
Their walks change every day. We do not go to the same place twice in a week so that not only do their bodies get stimulated their minds do as well. They return from their walks peaceful, calm and balanced, mentally, physically and emotionally.
Longevity is not one particular thing. It is not genetics, a pill or a fad diet. It is however, a lifestyle. A lifestyle that promotes a long life by making quality healthy choices in the present that steward a brighter future.
Joan Klucha has been working with dogs for more than 15 years in obedience, tracking and behavioural rehabilitation. Contact her at email@example.com