Dogs living longer thanks to human-animal bond

Dogs living Longer
Travis and Renea Yates pose for a photograph with one of their dogs, Keegan, a retriever mix who had a spinal stroke two years ago.  Two doctors said she would never walk again, but a vet in St. Louis helped with rehab, and she was walking within 6 months. (H-W Photo/Steve Bohnstedt)
Steve Bohnstedt
Posted: Nov. 7, 2009 5:11 pm Updated: Jun. 2, 2010 9:39 am


Herald-Whig Staff Writer

When Travis Yates and his wife, Renea, were told that their dog, Keegan, was paralyzed because of a stroke and would never walk again, they sought a second opinion.

The retriever mix was an integral part of their family, and they weren't about to give up on her.

"We felt we owed it to her to do everything that we could," Yates said. "We did a lot of research and found a doctor who works with paralyzed animals in St. Louis, Dr. Ava Frick. We started taking her down there for therapy sessions -- underwater treadmill and things like that. Six months later she was walking.

"She's still wobbly," he said of the 9-year-old dog. "But she can live a normal life. We're hoping she has six or seven years left."

He's in the process of writing a book about the experience, titled "Nobody Told Me My Legs Don't Work."

"It was amazing to see how resilient she was," Yates said.

This Quincy couple is not alone in their love for their four-legged friends, and that strong human-animal bond is one reason cited by experts for why dogs are living longer these days.

Better veterinary care and pet nutrition and more responsible pet ownership are other reasons.

"I've seen where the animals are not just outside animals. They're part of the family," said Dr. Joanne Klingele, owner of Klingele Veterinary Clinic, who has been in practice for 23 years.

"When they're inside more, it increases life expectancy," she said. "They're more a part of the family and (owners) are taking care of them like they're part of the family. In a lot of empty nesters, these animals are taking the place of their kids. It has amazed me to what length people will go to make their pet not hurt or save their pet. Most of the time it's not a decision they even think about.

"And it's not just dogs and cats. Even ferrets. I've even seen people do unbelievable things for a pet rat," Klingele said.

And it's not just a longer life, but "they're getting several more years of a quality of life," Klingele said.

When she started her practice, "you brought them in for their rabies shot and that was it," Klingele said, adding that she noticed a change in the mid- to late-1990s.

"We do a lot of preventive care," she said. "A big thing is dental care. Before, nobody ever looked in a dog's mouth. Now when we see them for anything we tell them how their dental care is doing, and we're doing a lot more dental cleaning."

Good dental health is crucial for good overall health, she said.

Dr. Bill Koch, one of three owners of Western Illinois Veterinary Clinic, says vaccines and other preventive measures are extending the life of people's pets.

"What I have seen, and this is my 35th year, is more and more people, and not just your wealthier people, are taking better care of their animals as far as prevention programs," Koch said. "With more vaccine on board across the population, there's less activity of these diseases (such as heartworm) and less epidemic situations."

Koch says better veterinary care and medical technology, in combination with a stronger human-animal bond, also contribute to the longer lifespans.

"Like human medicine, we're doing more and more to save these dogs' lives than we used to," he said. "The old saying was, the guy would bring in a dog hit by a car, the dog was barely alive, and he says, 'Doc, do all you can for $20.' Those days have gone by the wayside."

While mutts tend to have a longer lifespan than purebred dogs, Koch said that even purebreds are living longer.

"Your Dobermans, it used to be that at 8 or 10 years you had an old Doberman," he said. "Now you see Dobermans at 10 or 12."

Small dogs typically live longer than large dogs.

"We had one in the other day that was 20, a small one," Klingele said.

But because even larger dogs are living longer, she and her family are planning to add a Great Dane to their family.

"My family has always wanted a Great Dane," Klingele said. "The bigger dogs, before if they lived eight years you were doing good, but now it's nothing to see them in their early teens. We're going to go for the record."

Yates hopes his three dogs have many years ahead.

In addition to Keegan, he and his wife are "parents" to Canada, an 8-year-old German shepherd mix, and Jedi, a lab mix that they nursed back to health after he showed up on their doorstep.

Yates says it's just natural to want their companionship for as long as possible.

"They're your best friends in the world," he said. "You can always count on them to be waiting for you at the door when you get home. They see you and their tails start wagging. They always want to spend time with you. They really are just a fantastic companion."