How to Extend The Life of Your Labrador
It’s understood that the average dog will live between 13 and 14 years, but this drops to 11 for our Labradors.
Nevertheless, there is good news – our canine friends can live longer if you alter their lifestyle accordingly.
Unfortunately, this won’t be the case every time, but if you can place emphasis on the following factors you will not only maximise your Labrador’s lifespan, but also give him a much better quality of live at the same time.
It won’t be a surprise to hear that most of us just ignore our Lab’s teeth and merely view them from an aesthetic perspective.
However, there are some scary facts related to this part of our dog, one of which is that any dog over 3-years-old has an 85% chance of contracting some form of gum disease.
The problems don’t stop there, though. Gum disease in Labradors doesn’t necessarily just affect their teeth, but it can spread to other areas. Bacteria can develop in the gums, cause them to open up and bleed, and ultimately pave the way for toxins to enter the rest of the body.
Shockingly, this can affect anything including the heart, liver and brain – so the consequences can be severe.
To put this into perspective, some veterinarians out there have suggested that the typical dog will be able to live up to four years longer if their owner takes proper care of their teeth.
What does “proper care” entail?
As humans, most of us will brush our teeth at least twice per day – some of us more, between meal times. Admittedly, such a rigorous routine doesn’t have to be performed with dogs.
However, you should devise at least some sort of system, with most owners resorting to chew bones.
These are generally made of a substance such as pork hide, which is completely digestible, while many contain solutions that are found in children’s toothpaste so do wonders for your Lab’s gums.
Such solutions include simethicone and poloxamer 407, both of which are able to provide a coat on the teeth which can prevent plaque from surfacing.
As well as bones, some owners will also look to brush their dog’s teeth. We should point out that human toothpaste is not an option in these cases and there are specialist products out there to tackle the problem.
If you do take to the brushing approach, it’s advisable to brush at least every other day in a bid to minimise the plaque and the potentially fatal health concerns that can accompany it.
You can grab a dog toothbrush or complete kits from amazon.
We’ll also end this section with a note on nutrition (something that you’ll find we place considerable emphasis on later in the guide).
There’s a huge section of this lower down the page, but we’ll just stipulate that commercially canned dog food is generally poor for your dog’s teeth.
It tends to stick to the gum line to a greater extent than dry food and this is why you should always consider the alternatives (which will be looked at shortly).
For humans, joint problems usually result in mobility issues. Unfortunately, if our Labrador sustains a problem of this variety, it can completely wreak havoc on their life – so much so that some have to be euthanized because of the pain that their joints are inflicting on them.
Labradors are particularly susceptible to these problems as well due to their size, so this section is worth taking note of.
If you would like a more specific example, hip dysplasia happens to be one of the biggest health complaints amongst every dog breed (mainly german shepherds) – but the number of Labradors that suffer from this serious condition is significantly high as well, due to their size and bone structure.
How can these problems be prevented?
Fortunately, joint problems are something that can be prevented. This isn’t a condition that will spring out of nowhere, it will start to gradually occur in your Labrador’s joints and there are plenty of things you, as the owner, can do to prevent it.
Veterinarians believe that if you can stick to the following tips, you will minimise the chance of joint problems drastically and ultimately increase the lifespan of your Lab.
Tip #1 – Prevent obesity
Just like is the case with humans, an overweight dog will have much more chance of joint problems. It goes without saying that there is excessive stress on the joints, while the ligaments are stretched as well.
Therefore, keeping your dog lean is one of the best tips you can follow and if you want stats to back it up, one study showed that dogs who are kept on restricted calorie diets live almost two years longer than those who aren’t.
Sticking to the average weight doesn’t have to be difficult either. Regularly checking to see that the belly is tucked in, without those infamous love handles, should be the first sign.
Many vets also suggest checking the ribs, which should be felt through the skin but not obviously visible until the dog breathes in.
Tip #2 – Avoid neutering before your MALE dog reaches 1 year
The size of Labradors means that you should avoid neutering them until they are at least 1-year-old.
Due to their increased size in comparison to other breeds, it’s understood that the dogs require additional testosterone so they are able to fulfil their muscular potential and reach proper growth.
If they are neutered too early, there is a chance that they won’t have developed all of the expected muscles. In turn, this results in the skeleton not being supported as well and naturally, this can lead to those dreaded joint problems in the future.
We should at this point say that we’re by no means telling you never to neuter your Lab; there are numerous benefits such as the decreased risk in various cancers and the obvious behavioural improvements.
However, rather than following the so-called guidelines and having it done at six months, try waiting until 16 months when your Lab has fully developed and grown into his body, so to speak.
Tip #3 – Switch off from the nutritional marketing spiel
We will come onto the long subject of your Lab’s nutrition in a moment, but for now we’ll urge you to follow a short tip on the subject.
Wander through most supermarket aisles and you will almost certainly find commercial dog foods that are supposedly aimed at large breeds, or even more specific in the form of large breed puppies.
Suffice to say, these are complete gimmicks and just basing your nutritional decisions on this is not going to do your Lab’s joints any good whatsoever.
It’s understood that companies have jumped on the bandwagon and started producing these breed size-specific dinners because of a study that was performed years ago.
In the study, Labrador retrievers were split into two groups; one which had a restricted diet of puppy food, and the other which ate the same amount of this food as well as having access to any other food they desired.
There appeared to be great amazement that the secondary group became more susceptible to hip dysplasia – even though they were consuming far more calories.
In other words, you don’t need to base your dog food buying decisions based on the breed size, but rather on the nutrients in it.
To do the above, you need to be scrutinising the ingredients label. Finding a packet that has a ratio of 1.2:1 of calcium phosphorus is particular important and will aid with the development and maintenance of bones.
If you can get your hands on a brand that satisfies the above levels of calcium phosphorus, you can ignore all of the marketing spiel which creates a different product for each separate size of dog.
It’s worth mentioning that unless you are paying a small fortune (and we mean prices that even the supermarkets would refuse to market), it’s just not possible for commercial pet food manufacturers to include high amounts of quality supplements into their products.
Instead, you need to look for that magic concentration of calcium phosphorus, as well as a brand that includes at least some cartilage which can aid with joint repair.
This is hopefully one of the most obvious suggestions out there, but keeping up-to-date with your dog’s vaccinations is another sure-fire way to increase their lifespan.
In fact, failing to obtain the necessary vaccinations in their first year can result in serious health repercussions.
However, even though vaccinations are absolutely essential, it is still possible to over-vaccinate. Again, we’ll relate this example to humans and there are very few of us out there who will have undergone every single vaccination under the sun.
The reasons are simple; we don’t need them all, and they all carry minor risks that we simply shouldn’t subject our body to.
The exact same logic applies to dogs and there have been cases of dogs being susceptible to a whole host of nasty side effects from some vaccinations, including blindness.
As your dog starts to age, some sources suggest limiting vaccinations that they have been used to for years as well.
For example, even if they have been receiving a parvo vaccination for the past decade, one could suggest that by the time they reach their advanced years they are well and truly protected. (parvo is a lethal disease that occurs mainly in the first few months of the dog life, and the vaccination of the mother in this case is crucial)
Rather than subject them to some of the risks that we have outlined, it is suggested that a safer option is to use this money for annual tests to determine if any health problems actually exist.
Of course, we should reiterate that this example only focusses on older dogs and if we return to the parvo vaccine, this is something that should be administered regularly amongst younger ones.
High Quality Nutrition
This is probably one of the most important parts of the guide in maximising your Labrador’s lifespan.
As we touched upon at a previous point in the article, there is a lot of marketing spiel around that attempts to bamboozle the typical dog owner and it can be easy to be conned by the science which is splashed across all of the packaging.
Additionally, the internet rarely helps (although we hope this guide goes against the norm), with different nutritional perspectives being thrown upon us from a whole host of angles.
Something which has come to prominence over recent years is dehydrated dog food.
As the name suggests, this involves the moisture being taken away from the food during the preparation phase – which effectively “locks in” all of the nutrients and goodness.
Whether it is vegetables or meats, they are prepared normally before being dehydrated.
In the case of the former, this results in approximately four times as many nutrients, vitamins and minerals as you would expect to find in your standard fresh fruit and vegetables.
Dehydrated meat is also hugely advantageous for our dogs, with the removal of moisture said to provide almost 300% more protein than the fresh variety.
Of course, you’re certainly not handing your Lab a bowl fool of dry food. The basis that all of these dehydrated foods work on is “rehydration” – where you, the owner, add water to the meal just before it is served.
This brings back the taste and small that all dogs love; thus satisfying the best of both worlds.
An example of one of the more popular types of dehydrated dog food is Pure Pet Food. This tends to be backed by vets, with studies showing that it improves digestion by 79%, body weight by 60% and general well-being by 74%.
This is hardly surprising, with dehydrated food known to aid with all of the above as well as benefiting your pet’s appetite, reducing the reliance on medications and improving the condition of their skin.
The major downside here is that Pure Pet Food is currently only available in the UK, although there are similar brands that can be purchased in the US that you can turn to as an alternative. (Look for labels such as “Dehydrated food” and “Human quality food” )
The point we’re trying to make is that its products such as Pure Pet Food that are the market leaders, so if you do decide to opt for a dehydrated food, try to at least compare it to this one.
Regardless of whether or not you opt for a product of this type, there are umpteen guidelines to follow when it comes to making your final decision.
While we may have recommended Pure Pet Food in the previous paragraph, the focus of this guide isn’t to review each and every dog food manufacturer out there so we shall instead pinpoint several guidelines.
We’ll start with things to avoid and unfortunately, one could write a whole dissertation on exactly what to look for in a quality nutritional product for Labradors.
We’ll now take a look at some of the ingredients which shouldn’t be included in modern pet food.
Analyse the food labels and if you see a product going against these rules, it’s time to move onto the next one:
Corn: Considering the fact that this is one of the biggest allergens known to dogs, it’s incredible to see just how many products corn is included in. As well as this, corn contains very little protein and is difficult to digest.
It’s the latter fact, regarding digestion, which makes corn have such a negative impact on a lot of Labradors. The dog’s liver has to work particularly hard to digest the substance and this results in a whole host of complications.
During the break down of corn, a large amount of nitrates are released and this put considerable strain on the kidneys, which can prompt premature aging.
The reason most commercial dog food manufacturers use this ingredient is because it is cheap.
It is often “combined” with mainstream components such as chicken and beef, to effectively fool the buyer and make a product look as though it is made up of better quality components than it really is.
The fact that animals in the wild don’t “hunt” corn, says everything that you need to know about it. It’s something that needs to be avoided and unsurprisingly, most of the established dehydrated food brands completely ignore it.
Wheat, soy and white rice – These fall into a very similar category to corn, with all of the above three components regarded as “fillers” in the industry. They have very few nutrients and are often the reason behind poor stools.
As well as looking on the back of the packet at the list of ingredients, there is a more practical method to distinguish just how much wheat, soy and white rice is contained in a dog food.
If you soak the food for around fifteen minutes, those products that are made of the above three components will start to enlarge and become a “spongy” texture. It goes without saying that such foods are best kept out of your Lab’s stomach.
Sunflower oil – Here, we have picked one of the most prominent cancer causing agents but unfortunately, sunflower oil isn’t the only one out there.
However, to focus on this one, many commercial pet food manufacturers still rely on this ingredient even though studies have highlighted that it increases the risk of cancer in dogs by 69%. As such, it’s another example in which you should avoid like the plague.
At this point we should probably make a special mention to all of the pet food chains which tend to stock these commercial foods.
It should probably go without saying that most of these products are mass produced and the fact that so many pet foods of this variety have been recalled over recent times says everything you need to know about the sector’s reputation.
Most of the shelf lives of these products are around two years, meaning that many spend months, if not longer, stuffed in a warehouse.
It means that they rely on countless preservatives and artificial ingredients – the exact components that we should be looking to keep out of our Labrador’s stomach.
If you are looking to purchase food from the high-street, and don’t happen to be based in the UK to take advantage of the Pure Pet Food product we mentioned previously, the best advice is to visit smaller pet grocery stores.
The manufacturers of these products usually demand that they are sold within a month of being delivered to the premises, which highlights in itself just how much more quality ingredients are included in there.
We will end our guide with probably the best, but hardest advice that a Labrador owner can follow.
As we showcased with the dehydrated pet food that was touched upon previously, the best way to care for your Lab from a nutritional sense is to provide them with food that retains its nutrients.
It doesn’t get much better than natural food and if you have the time and finance, providing fresh meat and vegetables in a completely holistic diet is one of the best approaches you can follow.
Unfortunately, following the above is nigh on impossible for the average owner. We all have jobs, and a lot of us struggle to invest in our own food, never mind that of our dog as well.
As such, it’s just not practical to purchase and prepare natural ingredients day-in, day-out.
Considering the fact that the oldest documented dog to have lived, an Australian cattle breed from Australia who lived to 29 years and 5 months, consumed a completely natural diet based on kangaroo meat and emu it is disappointing that such drastic courses of action are the only way to significantly lengthen our dog’s life.
The big plus point in relation to the above is recent developments in the dog food manufacturing industry. The emergence of dehydrated food means that it is now possible to provide our Labs natural food that doesn’t take an age, or cost an absolute fortune, to obtain.
It’s the closest thing yet to preparing dinners “from scratch” – and it will most likely bear similar, life-longing effects.
Check out our comparaison between dry food, wet food and dehydrated food.