Veterinary and basic science have come a long way in maximizing canine health in recent years. And we’re lucky for it — after all, our furry pals feel like part of the family. So it’s important to know how to keep them healthy and thriving for as long as possible. Keep reading to learn five surprising insights and tips — spanning from grooming to nutrition — that will help your canine companion reach his or her full potential for health throughout their life.
1. Aim for optimal movement.
A lot of dogs are literally held captive in the home. They get one walk around the block twice a
day, but they’re never allowed to move their bodies and build their muscle tone, or get rid of all that nervous energy, decrease cortisol (a stress hormone), and lower their blood sugar. And that leads to both physical complications and behavioral complications, according to veterinarian Karen Becker, DVM, co-author of The Forever Dog. Becker notes a correlation between the longest-lived dogs in the world and the amount of exercise they had — at least an hour and a half a day.
2. Encourage foraging.
Many trainers say that you should try to feed your pet with a food puzzle — a toy that makes the pup work to release food — as often as possible, even daily. Idealists among them believe that, especially for working dogs and other very intelligent breeds, the bulk of their eating should be through food puzzles, so they can in a sense earn their keep like they traditionally have through the millennia. Food puzzles can be fun and build confidence, plus they may stop your pet from overeating by wolfing everything down too fast.
3. Detox your dog.
“Sometimes our dogs are in such toxic environments that no matter how clean you are as a human, you are unable to scrub their bloodstream of all the chemicals they’re carrying,” Dr. Becker says. But “there are supplements that can pull those toxins out of the bloodstream. There are foods that can specifically detox cancer-causing toxins in dogs.” If you live in a highly polluted environment, you need to get a good air purifier that removes particulates. If you’ve got black mold, you need an air filter. If you live in an area with a known water contaminant, filter your dog’s drinking water (and your own!).
4. Watch out for damaging odors.
Do not surround your dog with overwhelming scents or wash away natural smells. Do not wash your pup with sanitizing shampoos or douse them with perfumes and scented lotions. For a creature whose identity is so firmly rooted in scent, this could cause them to lose their sense of self. While you should generally keep your home free of invasive smells, a study in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science found four scents that can relax your dog: vanilla, coconut, valerian, and ginger.
5. Eliminate stress.
We all know that stress can literally make humans ill — but your inner anxiety can sicken your dog, too. Remember, your dog can smell the stress hormone, cortisol, that your anxiety has produced. “They can analyze your entire day,” says Rodney Habib, co-author with Becker of The Forever Dog. “You could have fought with somebody in the morning and been over it in the afternoon. Yet when you come home in the evening, your dog can smell that fight.” The second your dog smells your stress, according to researchers, they become that stress. Instantly, their own cortisol levels go up. So if you can do nothing else for your dog, keep yourself balanced and reduce the stress of life through exercise, yoga, or even cooking.
A version of this article appeared in our partner magazine, Inside Your Dog’s Mind.