How to care for your aging pup
Sound nutrition is the foundation for a long and healthy life in any animal, two legged or four, furry and non-furry, winged, pawed or with opposable thumbs. Learn to read labels. Most nutritional information labels are written to be confusing and confounding, mainly to hide poor quality -- and sometimes downright dangerous ingredients and woefully inadequate nutrition. Educate yourself on which ingredients are to be avoided and make a preliminary evaluation of a food based on how many -- if any -- and which red flagged ingredients are included.
Substances like propylene glycol (the toxic substance also found in antifreeze), menadione, blood meal, grape pomace (grapes are known to be toxic to dogs) various and sundry hulls and digests should clue you in pretty quickly to put that bag of kibble down and keep looking. Proper exercise, appropriate to the different stages of your pet's life is another building block to a long and healthy life. When you bring home a puppy, don't allow your puppy to play the big dog, jumping and playing high impact games on hard surfaces.
Walks should be shorter but more frequent (helps with house training, too) and on softer surfaces, like grass, rather than hard sidewalks. Cushion those young, soft bones and joints and give them a chance to grow develop without taking a beating. Kittens are a little easier to manage and their lighter bone structure is better suited to jumping. Most cats also have, even at a very young age, a better sense of self preservation than dogs. Unless they decide to climb a very tall tree and forget how to get down. As your puppy grows and develops, approaching maturity, activities can safely become more involved and energetic.
Higher impact play can be allowed. Longer walks, running, the introduction of more structured activities, beginning agility, even weight pull training can begin -- within reason, and, as with growing humans, very moderate resistance and weight bearing exercises can stimulate good bone and muscle growth. The key is to do so carefully, never approaching your dog's load capacity. Save that for when your dog is a well conditioned, mature adult. During the first year and a half to roughly two years of your dog's life you are laying strong foundations for the rest of your lives together.
Supplements can be an important part of your pet's health regimen, just as they can be part of yours. Joint supporting supplements are an area of preventative health care we have become more aware of for our pets as we've become more accustomed to using them ourselves. Chondroitin combats the breakdown of ligament fibers while glucosamine is useful in the synthesis of new cartilage. Non-acidic vitamin C is also on the short list of supplements considered to be supportive of joints and connective tissue.
While you are being careful to not over stress your young dog's developing skeletal and muscular system it is still beneficial to make sure you provide plenty of the right kind of exercise to build cardio-vascular stamina and strength. Chasing a ball on a grassy lot or wrestling on the bed (provided things don't get too rough and result in injuries) will provide necessary exercise and amusement for both of you.
As your pet ages, adjust activities appropriately. Hard surfaces are hard on older joints and most older dogs appreciate walks that take them off the sidewalks and onto the good earth. If you live near a beach, the sand is perfect and there is nothing quite like a dip in the ocean to make an older dog young. Even without a beach, swimming is a nearly perfect exercise for an older dog, provided your dog can swim!
Sometimes there is nothing that will roll the years back for an older dog quite like a puppy or even an adolescent dog to play with. You may have a ten year old dog at home and bring in a year and a half old pup and realize you now have a three year old and the pup! Then you have to figure out if you're in good enough shape to keep up.