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Chocolate Havanese

Life to the fullest

Optimizing your pet's life

According to Guinness, the largest living dog is a Great Dane measuring an impressive 42.2 inches tall, the smallest a 4-inch tall Chihuahua. The heaviest Mastiff tips the scale close to 300 pounds, the tiniest Chihuahua barely over one pound. The two shown here, although not the world record holders, graphically illustrate the wide size variance of canines sharing our lives. The diminutive chihuahua "Chomper", owned and loved by Lindsay Boyechko and Travis Routhier, measures a scant 7.5 inches at the shoulder (the height of an unsharpened pencil) and weighs just over 3 pounds. "Neiko" the Great Dane, beloved companion of John and Pam Reipsa, cuts an imposing figure at 170 pounds and 37 inches tall (a fingerwidth taller than a yardstick or just above the height of an average doorknob). Is it any wonder that there is no one-size-fits-all formula for estimating life expectancy and aging? Why some dogs live longer than others is a fascinating question. There may be several factors influencing why this is so.

Smaller dogs tend to live longer than larger dogs (the life expectancy of a Chihuahua more than double that of a Great Dane); however, size is not the only thing that matters. Some breeds have shorter lifespans because of genetic tendencies to develop certain disorders and diseases. Emerging health concerns may shorten life expectancy while advances in breeding knowledge and inheritance may increase it. Smaller is not always better; some especially tiny "pocket" sized dogs have very short life expectancies while some large dogs have longer ones than you might presume.

Some researchers indicate a link between life expectancy and head/body structure believing that shape is an indicator of anticipated longevity. There are three basic head/facial shapes; "Dolichocephalic" long and narrow ie:Borzoi/Greyhound, "Mesocephalic" medium width and length with approximatley equal muzzle/top skull ie:Labrador/Beagle and "Brachycephalic" wide with foreshortened muzzle ie:Bulldog/Pug. A dog with a moderate, equally proportioned face may live longer than one with a shortened or flat face though there are exceptions. Body structure studies note that wolflike body shapes and light to moderately boned dogs seem to live longer than heavy boned, heavily muscled ones.

Why small dogs tend to live longer is a long debated question. Extensive speculation has brought forth no single convincing hypothesis. One popular theory is that large dogs have more bulk to support. While certainly true in regards to mass, it makes sense that larger dogs also have bigger bones and heavier musculature; however, differences go beyond muscles and bones and involve the organs, metabolic processes and more. Another theory brought forth is the relative size of major organs. Consider a 200-pound Mastiff and a 10-pound Havanese. Though the body mass is 20 fold, the heart size may only be 3-4 times the size. Proportionately, the Mastiff heart is quite small in comparison to its bulk, and a toy dog's heart quite large. Is the difference in life expectancy as simple a fact that the heart works harder to support a large body and therefore wears out faster? It is an interesting thought.

There are many reasons beyond the above why individual dogs may not achieve lifespan predictions for their particular breed and size. Neglected and poorly cared-for animals live significantly shorter lives Recurrent or untreated infections can lead to serious complications Many diseases, including cancer and diseases of major organs, can severely curtail life Poorly fed dogs may have shorter lives because of malnutrition, overfed pets because of increased health risks caused by obesity Unsafe or harmful environments are just as detrimental to dogs as to humans When left alone with little human or animal contact, dogs do not live as long Those lacking in basic training get into more trouble and are prone to more injuries and accidents. Dogs with behavioural problems are frequently euthanized Too little exercise can contribute to obesity and associated problems; too much exercise can lead to injury and joint/muscle conditions, both may shorten life. Outdoor dogs tend to live shorter lives than house pets Homeless, free roaming animals face greater risks of malnutrition, disease and injury Accidents cut short the lives of many dogs.

Genetics play a significant role in a breed's or individual dog's longevity. Responsible breeding practices are vital to minimise health concerns; however, once a dog is born, the die is cast and the particular heritage of that individual dog cannot be changed. Even so, many things may optimize a pet's life.

VETERINARY CARE: Regular veterinary checkups are an important part of keeping your dog healthy. Dogs of all ages benefit from annual veterinary checks (biannual for seniors). Budding problems are easier to treat than established/advanced ones. Preventative maintenance is an easy way to increase overall health.

VACCINATIONS: The advent of vaccinations has saved many lives by protecting against numerous canine diseases and illnesses. General vaccination puppy series are the recommendation for most dogs, while adult boosters and/or immunity titers follow varying protocols. Emerging studies indicate that annual vaccinations are generally unnecessary and may even be detrimental. Check with your veterinarian to determine what is best for your dog.
Other immunizations may be recommended according to diseases prevalent in certain geographic locations and/or for specific circumstances; vaccination against Lyme disease in tick prone areas or heartworm prevention where mosquitoes abound. Protection against disease and parasitic infestations can prolong life.

DISEASE RESISTANCE: The healthier the dog, the lower his risk to infection and disease; basic health care is only one of the foundation blocks to optimizing longevity.

NUTRITION: Proper nutrition is not only essential to puppy growth and development, it is just as important for all life stages. Choose the best food you can afford whether commercial or homemade. Check your dog regularly. Body condition is more important than actual weight. You want to be able to feel the ribs easily but you don't want a skeleton. A well fleshed out body is healthy, too much extra padding is not. Lean dogs live longer lives.

ENVIRONMENT: Look beyond living quarters. Is there exposure to toxic chemicals? Household cleaners, garden fertilizers, pest control products, garage fluids and medication are all harmful substances; even small amounts can be toxic or lethal. Keep these locked up and inaccessible. Is your yard secure and safe? Can your dog get out? Can other animals get in? Are there any hidden dangers lurking? Check the yard thoroughly every month and patrol regularly to make sure it is safe and secure. A broken bottle tossed over the fence can puncture a pad or tear up a mouth. Rotting garbage can cause tummy upsets. Are any garden plants toxic? How will you keep the dogs away? Certain foods are toxic to dogs; chocolate the best-known one. Be sure to keep pantry and cupboard doors closed and the garbage inaccessible. Do you smoke? Just as second-hand smoke can affect other people in proximity; it can also affect your pet. Certain cancers, lung infections and respiratory problems show up more frequently in pets that live with smokers. Look around. Keep the environment safe and prolong your pet's life.

FAMILY: Dogs are social animals that need and thrive on companionship. Your Havanese wants and needs to be with you and your family who form his pack. You don't have to spend every moment of every day interacting with your dog. Just sharing space is important too, whether he is curled up with you to watch TV, snoozing under your desk or going for a car ride. Depriving a dog of human companionship is detrimental to emotional and psychological development, also negatively affects physical health, and ultimately shortens life. Provide your dog with plenty of time and attention; an emotionally secure and mentally well-developed dog will live a longer life.

TRAINING: All dogs benefit from basic manners. A well-behaved dog is a joy to live with; a poorly behaved dog can be a terror. Training goes a long way towards keeping your dog safe; a dog that walks nicely by your side is less likely to dart into traffic, a polite and gentle dog will be welcomed at many places. Training increases the human/animal bond and can give your dog purpose in life whether fetching your slippers, doing tricks for guests or playing with the children. A trained dog tends to live a longer life than an untrained one.

EXERCISE All dogs, regardless of age, breed or size benefit from regular exercise. Withouth needing hour- long jogs or extended runs, Havanese always appreciate a walk and the stimulus of new territory to see and explore. A neighbourhood jaunt or stroll in the park will be good for you both. A rousing game of fetch, quick bout of hide-and-seek, rehearsal of trick repertoires or some basic training are other ways to exercise your Havanese and easily done at home when inclement weather keeps you indoors. Lack of exercise may contribute to boredom, anxiety and obesity. Too much is as bad as too little. Excessive exercise, especially in the first two years of development can put damaging stress on the joints and bones of a growing body. What happens in early life is a foundation to the future. Too much exercise places excessive demands on the body leading to strains, sprains and injury. The best way to approach higher activity demands of competition or other pursuits is to increase exercise gradually as stamina and strength improves. If your dog is out of shape, start with short games and walks. Even seniors benefit from exercise. A brief stroll around the block will do wonders for mental stimulation and help keep an aging body active and in good condition. Fitness optimizes a healthy cardiovascular system, good immunity, well- developed senses and reaps benefits of the ongoing sensory and mental stimulation that comes from training and exercise. A fit dog may live longer than a bored, overweight, lazy couch potato.

HOUSING - Havanese are companion dogs meant to be house pets. Outdoor and yard dogs that spend most or all of their lives outside of a family and home can develop many issues. Isolated dogs often develop behaviour problems and bad habits. Bored dogs may bark, chew or become destructive. Unsupervised dogs may escape enclosures without notice. Sadly, outdoor dogs are often less a part of the family and miss the benefits of strong family bonds. They tend to receive less overall care which in turn shortens life as small problems can go unnoticed and become less treatable big problems.

SAFETY - Accidents and injuries are significant causes of shortened lives. Keeping your dog safe helps him live a long and healthy life. There is more to safety than sensible environmental precautions. A safe, secure yard and home is only the first step. Is your Havanese trained not to run through open doors or is he a little scamp that dashes out between your legs? Will he wait patiently for a command to exit the car or hop out undirected? Is he safe and secure for car rides or sitting in your lap with his head out the window? A harness, booster seat, crate or carriers are all options for car safety. Does he walk nicely by your side without pulling, or dash about madly at the end of a long lead or tangle around your legs tripping you up? A leash for public outings is essential, ideally use a shorter leash for walking on streets and busy areas and save the longer leashes and extendable leads for parks and other open areas. A safe dog will live a longer life.

The care given to canine companions throughout their lives can make a huge impact on how long they live. Many dogs remain happy, healthy and energetic well into their senior years. The tender loving care, time and attention you provide everyday will go a long way to ensuring your beloved companion is with you as long as possible.

Suzanne McKay Email:mckay55@mts.net
Previously published in OUR HAVANESE May/June 2009