I will keep adding to these articles as I write them, hope someone gets something out of them- please also check out the First Aid and Bloat/Other Emergencies tabs
Aging in GSMD: How can we get our dogs to live as long as possible?
Aging in dogs is as complicated as it is in humans. The only statistically proven method for keeping dogs healthy as long as possible is to keep them lean and muscular. Multiple studies of similarly raised dogs that were overfed vs. kept trim showed drastically longer healthy life in trim dogs. This is consistent across the board- puppies, adolescents, adults and elderly dogs all need to be fed and exercised well to keep them as healthy as possible. In a Labrador study, 77% of overweight dogs had arthritis by age 8, only 10% of trim ones did.
In a recent study of 100,000 dogs across England, cancer accounts for the majority of death/euthanasia (16.5%) in canines across breeds and orthopedic issues (11.3) and neurologic (11.2%) are next highest. Neutered dogs lived on average a half a year longer, but purebreds and insured dogs lived on average a year less. Each 10 kg larger in weight the dog breed, dogs lived a half a year less. This is consistent with most of what we see everyday- smaller dogs live much longer than larger ones. The insured group was small and may have been insured because of previous health issues. Certainly insurance is often very beneficial, but if you choose not to use insurance, here is your evidence!
The longevity studies that were done with Rottweilers linked exceptional longevity to females with their reproductive tissues, but this was a small sample size with multiple related dogs, and was really aimed at guiding human health decisions more than canine. Similar studies have not shown the same correlation. Many owners do well with older intact females, but the risk of pyometra increases with age, so owners need to be prepared for the emergency surgery should the need arise. Most people find that spaying girls after a few heats or litters to be more advantageous.
Genetics obviously can play a huge role in aging and health issues, and we applaud the breeders whose pups have made it to these pages. Tracking the pedigrees of exceptionally long lived Swissies and promoting those genes should continue to improve the length of time we spend with these wonderful dogs.
Good preventative dental care is immensely important, because the bacteria in the mouth can lead to heart and kidney problems. Screening tests can catch cancers as early as possible while they are treatable. There are many newer cancer treatments that are highly specific and effective. Kidney disease can be managed with diet and supplements if caught early.
There are many arthritis medications on the market currently that can keep dogs comfortable and moving as long as possible. Traditional non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) include carprofen (Rimadyl), Deramaxx, Previcox and Meloxicam. These medications are similar to Ibuprofen (never give that to your dog!) in humans and are effective long term as well as short term. Complications from these medications include stomach ulceration and kidney/liver issues, and bloodwork should be checked regularly if they are taking the medication long term. Never give these to your dog if they are not eating or vomiting. There have been no studies saying one medication is consistently better than another- all have side effects. A newer similar medication Galliprant is marketed as safer for the liver and kidneys but studies have not proven this. Other pain medications include Tramadol, which works on opiate and serotonin receptors. It is effective (although newer studies debate this) and has very few side effects, but does not have any anti-inflammatory effects. The biggest issue is that it is now a controlled drug, meaning that veterinarians are only allowed to write a prescription for short periods of time, it must be documented fully, and prescriptions must be used exactly as written. Gabapentin is another frequently used pain medication that works on GABA receptors. It is most effective for nerve pain but can be useful for arthritic pain as well. It does cause sedation, but can be combined with other drugs as well.
So what can we do? Keep our dogs at a healthy weight life-long, treat them for illnesses and injuries as needed but also consider screening tests- checking senior bloodwork, good dental care, and keep them moving. Omega-3 Fatty Acids help to decrease inflammation in the joints and kidneys and can be very helpful supplements-discuss this with your vet to calculate the correct dose for your dog based on their current diet.
Kealy RD, Lawler DF, Ballam JM, et al: Evaluation of the effect of limited food consumption on radiographic evidence of osteoarthritis in dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc 217(11):1678-1680, 2002.
Aging Cell. 2009 December; 8(6):752-5. David J Waters, Seema S Kengeri, Beth Clever et al
Longevity of Dogs Attending Veterinary Practices in England, British Small Animal Veterinary Congress 2013, D. O'Neill1; D. Church2; P. McGreevy3; P. Thomson4; D. Brodbelt5
Acta Vet Scand. 2016 May; 58(1):29. Vicki Jean Adams, Penny Watson, Stuart Carmichael et al
Q: How often should I bathe my Swissy?
A: When they stink! Some dogs keep themselves very clean and never really need bathing, some go wading in cow manure and need bathing weekly. As long as you are using a regular conditioning pet shampoo, bathing too frequently is not a problem. Often even weekly or twice weekly bathing with medicated shampoos can help skin issues immensely without having to take pills. The harsher shampoos and skunk formulas should not be used too often as they can dry out the coat, and take care to not get them in the eyes. That said, if anyone ever needs it, the skunk off formula is 1 TB Dawn Dish soap, 1 cup Hydrogen peroxide and 1 cup baking soda, mix well, apply to wet smelly dog, rub in well for about 10 minutes, rinse, repeat. Dawn Dish soap can also work wonders to remove grease or other gross things your dog may have gotten into.
Q: When can I start working my puppy?
A: GSMDCA has a lovely conditioning guide for pack hikes and similar advice should be taken for any working events- in general, it is best to let your puppy exercise on their own schedule until the growth plates are closed at about 18 months. Hiking and possibly jogging can be attempted earlier but much care should be taken in not letting the puppy keep going past when they are tired. Most people do not recommend more than 20 minutes of strenuous activity 3 times a day for growing dogs and certainly minimizing any strain on joints. It is never too early to start all the obedience training your dog needs to know for any dog sports! And although it is hard to do anything without your pup, feel free to exercise without them so you can keep up once they are bigger!