Puppy To Old Age The Right Way!8 min read

 In Dogs



Getting a puppy to old age takes a lot of time and energy. Factor in that life is not perfect and accidents do happen.  Even the best intentions sometimes come up short.  This is a road map on how you can get your young puppy to adulthood and senior status in relatively good health.  Doing so will ensure that you have years of companionship and fun with whatever dog you own.  By following basic medical advice and a good dose of common sense, you will be on your way.

The beginning for any animal is in the mother’s womb.  Before the dog is mated she needs to receive a complete physical.  Vaccinations and a fecal worm check need to be performed.  The immunity from those vaccinations will pass into the first milk (colostrum) and provide temporary immunity to the worst canine diseases.  Deworming a breeding female before she mates will prevent parasites from passing in utero, through lactation or from being contaminated by ingesting the mother’s feces (This is known as the oral-fecal route).  Just by implementing these basic concepts the newly conceived puppy gets off to a good start.

Young, unborn puppies need calories like we do. To do that the breeding female has to consume lots of calories for:  herself, her puppies and enough energy for milk production in the third trimester of pregnancy and after whelping.  Calories pass through to the puppy via the umbilical artery.  Embryonic development literally explodes when the conditions are right. With a warm environment and calories a puppy is nurtured inside the womb until the 60th day on average.  Then it is time to greet the world.  This is only going to happen via a successful vaginal delivery or Cesarean Section.  The first part of the puzzle is in place getting a puppy to old age in stride.




A newborn puppy has to be cared for.  To live a long life those first few weeks are so important.   A major problem is temperature.  A puppy is like a reptile until 14 days of age. This means their body temperature fluctuates with the environmental temperature.  Puppies have to be kept in an ultra warm  environment for the first 14 days.  Then it is graduation time:  the eyes open, the ears open and the animal can adjust its body temperature independent of the environment (poikilothermic).  The core body temperature of a dog is 102.0 F.  The animal nurses, gains weight and its immune system develops.  It starts to socialize with its litter mates.  It is full of life and ready to spread its wings.  The second part of the puzzle is in place getting a puppy to old age but the work has just started.




How can you put all those years into several paragraphs?  This is the time for what owners live for.  Living life with their puppy and watching it grow is what it’s all about.  Taking pictures of its first bath and romping with the kids is the beginning of the formation of a kaleidoscope of memories etched into the soul of the family.  Getting from here to there takes some work.

Young puppies are very easy to keep track of.   It is sort of like a young toddler that hasn’t learned how to walk.  Eventually they will want to discover the world on their own terms.  They are fragile and must be protected from harm.  This is accomplished by following leash laws or by a fence that cannot be dug under or jumped over.  This extends a dog’s life many times over by keeping it away from cars.  Hit by cars is one of the most common emergencies that veterinarians see in day to day practice.  Unfortunately, many of them do not survive their injuries.

Finishing the vaccination requirements, getting the dog on heartworm preventative, neutering plus flea control are some of the basic needs that every puppy needs to reach adulthood in tip top shape.  During this period it is important to keep your eye on weight control.  Many animals gain weight after neutering.  Eating lots of dog or human junk food will do the same.  By maintaining a proper weight an adult dog will minimize its chances of developing the debilitating diseases of obesity such as Diabetes mellitus and early onset arthritis or back pain.  These conditions are exacerbated as the animal ages.  Plan on having dental cleanings performed at least once a year.  As I have said for years, oral health equals heart health. Taking care of your dog’s teeth will aid in preventing heart disease later in life.




My mother always used to say that we are all going to die from something some day.  She was correct but my job as a veterinarian was to ensure that the older animal was capable of living life to its fullest.  The sad affair of life is that an animal advances from puppy to old age status in the blink of an eye. It truly is tragic.

Vaccinations are still important and all dogs should be immunized against rabies.  Tailoring a vaccine protocol for each senior dog is important.  One size does not fit all when deciding whether or not to vaccinate for infectious diseases.  Older dogs may be immuno-compromisedThis is caused by any condition that weakens the animal"s immune response. Many diseases are capable of this such as: diabetes mellitus, cushing"s syndrome, many cancers and more. No one knows what type of immune response to vaccines the animal gets in these situations. The best thing is to do periodic vaccine titers. The weakened immune response to viral pathogens in the environment is also suppressed opening the animal up to secondary bacterial infections. and unable to respond well to any vaccine.  Vaccines keep your immune system in shape.  This will aid the animal when it’s immunological defenses are called into action.

The key to your dog living a healthy life in it’s senior years is by visiting your veterinarian more frequently than when your dog was younger.  Dogs age rapidly.  Frequent physical exams and annual blood work can pick up many conditions that can be treated before the conditions advance.   Examples of this are:  heart disease (mitral valve insufficiency), diabetes mellitus and hypothyroidism.  Blood work that was performed over a year ago is too old and should be repeated.

Almost all senior dogs will develop some form of arthritis.  This is most commonly noticed in the hip joint, knee and lower spinal column.  Improve the quality of life of your older dog’s life by putting it on a version of glucosamine/chondroitin BEFORE the onset of signs of arthritis.  I personally take glucosamine/chondroitin myself every day.  I usually recommend you also get the version with MSM.  This sulfur compound has been shown to help in arthritic patients.

No matter what veterinarians do, we cannot extend lives indefinitely.  When your dog develops arthritis or cognitive deficiency syndrome (similar to Alzheimer’s in people) be kind to him or her.  Be careful of slippery tiles or wood floors that can injure your pet.  Watch out for the dangers of slipping on ice and snow in the winter.  If your dog still enjoys daily walks in the winter, buy him a winter dog jacket to keep him warm.  His insulating fat layer is decreasing year by year.  I wrote a detailed description of this in Senior Pet Comfort.

Getting a puppy to old age successfully requires lots of work and a little bit of luck.  Always live in the moment with your dog.  Treat your older dog with the dignity it deserves. It has repaid you many times over with love, companionship and loyalty.

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