Dogs and Life Span: Help Your Dog Live Longer

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on August 25, 2014
3 min read

If you’re like many dog parents, your pooch is part of your family and may even be your best friend. To help him live the longest life possible, bone up on this advice.

“Keeping dogs trim is the one thing we have great evidence for that leads to an increased life span,” says Deborah E. Linder, DVM. She's head of the Tufts Obesity Clinic for Animals.

  • Step 1: Rethink what a healthy-weight dog looks like.

“We watch commercials and the fat, roly-poly puppies are the cute ones,” says Joseph J. Wakshlag, DVM, PhD, of Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine. But you should be able to feel your dog’s ribs easily.

Your vet can tell you your dog’s body condition. About half of dogs are far above their ideal weight, Wakshlag says.

  • Step 2: Find out how many calories he really needs.

Start a journal and log everything that passes your pooch’s snout, including treats. Extra calories show up in places like rawhides, which can pack 75 to 100 calories. That can add up, Linder says.

Your vet can help you figure out how many calories your dog is getting per day -- and how many he should be getting.

  • Step 3: Figure out a feeding plan.

Switching to the “healthy weight” version of his regular dog food may seem like a good idea, but it may not be enough. The words "healthy weight" aren't regulated. So, one brand's "healthy weight" formula may have more calories than another brand's regular version. On the other hand, there are limits on the amount of fat and calories food labeled “light” can have. So it may be a better choice. Also, talk to your vet before you follow the serving instructions on the bag. “You could be feeding up to twice what your pet actually needs,” Linder says.

Feel guilty about feeding Fido less? Chew on this: A landmark study showed that Labs fed 25% less food than their counterparts lived almost 2 years longer. And if that doesn’t convince you, this might: Thinner dogs may have more fun. In one small study, obese dogs who lost weight scored higher in happiness and vitality measures than ones who stayed stout.

There’s no set of guidelines for how much exercise pups need. But aim for some aerobic exercise every day. “Strong dogs stay young,” says Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, of Tuft University's Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.

Get out the toys. Even older dogs play, says Alicia Karas, DVM, also at Tufts. “The reason they aren’t playing is that we’ve stopped playing with them.”

Avoid trying to do too much at once. Build up to it. “Chasing a ball or Frisbee is actually fairly extreme exercise,” Karas says.

Here are some sneaky ways to get a lazy dog moving:

  • Save some of his meal for treats and have him follow you across the room or house to get them.
  • Spread bits of kibble around the house for him to find.
  • Take him for a swim. If he’s small, you can even fill the bathtub up to his shoulders and let him doggie paddle supervised.
  • Put dry kibble inside a hard, rubber toy and play fetch.
  • If there's no medical reason keeping him from walking, reserve his favorite treat for when he’s outside on a leash.


If his joints hurt, chances are he can’t or won’t exercise. Don't push it. If he limps or seems stiff, take him to the vet. Medication may help him feel better. You can also ask if there’s a rehabilitation center for dogs in your area. There, an expert can give your pooch therapeutic exercise. With medication and therapy, he may get moving again.

Even if your dog seems in good form, don't pass on his regular visits to the vet. Make sure he's up-to-date on all medications and preventative treatments.

Like humans, dogs need to keep their brains active. Take him on walks. Take him to parks and doggie daycare. “It might not increase life span, but it sure will improve their quality of life over their life span, which is arguably as important,” Karas says.