By Janet McAfee

Our pets are part of our family, and we want to do everything possible to help them live long and healthy lives. With good care, cats can live 20 years or longer. Small dogs can easily live for 15 years or more. Large breed dogs have a life span of 12 to 15 years. What are some of the things you can do to increase the time your treasured pet spends on this earth?

Pets that are fed a high quality pet food have shiny coats, healthy skin, and bright eyes. They have a stronger immune system, good intestinal health, better mental acuity, and healthier muscles and joints. Some pet owners are opting to make their own pet food. Healthy recipes are available on the internet by Googling “healthy pet food recipes”. With so many commercial brands to select from, you may want to consult with the staff at specialty pet stores. PetSmart and Petco carry a wide variety of pet foods. Find a knowledgeable staff person to recommend some of the healthier brands. Some dog owners are switching to “grain free” products which they believe lessens the risk of food allergies. Grain free dog food more closely mimics a dog’s ancestral high protein diet. Avoid some of the “cheap grocery store” brands.

Overweight cats and dogs are at higher risk of disease and health issues. Obesity puts a strain on joints, and causes severe knee and back conditions. The risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other serious illnesses medical problems is increased for overweight animals. Don’t give in when Fluffy pleads for extra treats. Not all animals can monitor themselves when you “free feed”.


Ensure that your pets receive their annual vaccinations. An annual visit to your vet for a routine examination may uncover unknown health issues that need to be treated, and an early diagnosis will enhance your pet’s recovery.

Oral health issues can cause your pet pain and make it difficult for him to eat. Untreated oral issues can lead to heart and kidney disease. Teeth cleaning, performed under sedation by your veterinarian is an option if you can afford it. Meanwhile, pick up a toothpaste and brush kit made specifically for cats or dogs and learn to brush their teeth. Seek advice on what dental treats to purchase.

The life expectancy of cats is greatly reduced if they are allowed outside. Pets that roam the neighborhood are susceptible to many dangers including predators, theft, automobile accidents, exposure to poisons, and exposure to contagious disease.

John Unger and his 19-yr-old shepherd mix dog Schoep (photo above) became an internet and Facebook sensation due to this lovely photo. Schoep loved his dips in Lake Superior, and the warmth and buoyancy of the water soothed his arthritis. John asked his friend Hannah Stonehouse Hudson to take a photo as a tribute to the dog because he feared the end was near. The photo of Schoep in John’s arms touched the hearts of animal lovers everywhere, and donations poured in to provide Schoep with expensive laser treatment and daily glucosamine pills. The new medical regime gave Scheop a new lease on life, and once again he enjoyed their long walks through the Wisconsin woods with a renewed spring in his step. Scheop lived another 20 months. Facebook friends were saddened when in July, 2013, John posted, “I breathe, but I can’t catch my breath. Schoep passed away yesterday.” There were remaining donated funds, so John and his vet set up the Scheop Legacy Foundation to help low income pet owners.

State of the art medical care helped extend Schoep’s life. The dog’s longevity is also a result of the loving bond that John and Schoep shared. Provide your pet with loving attention, and the bond you share will nurture his spirit and keep his body healthy.