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Are We Shortening Our Dogs’ Lives?

Dogs don’t live long enough and we humans have a lot to do with that, as Ted Kerasote demonstrates in Pukka’s Promise: The Quest for Longer-Lived Dogs.

This hefty book is now available in paperback and should be required reading for every new dog parent. Thanks to a promotional copy provided by Ted’s publisher, we are sharing our thoughts about this book with you.

Searching for the Anti-Aging Switch

Before Ted opens his heart to another animal after his heart dog Merle succumbs to old age, he begins a careful examination about the state of domesticated dogs’ health and what we may be doing to inadvertently shorten it.

What he uncovers are hard facts that will make you question (and hopefully change) many aspects of the life we share with our dogs.

“And although we may be able to extend their life span by improving their nutrition, inbreeding, can care, it’s almost certain that dogs will never live as long as we do. Yet, across this bittersweet divide, which separates us so finally from them, we reach out – again and again and again.”

Is there a “Well-Bred” Dog?

Pukka’s Promise opens by taking a closer look at dog breeding and how irresponsible behavior and lack of regulation in this profit-motivated industry is much of the reasons for genetically linked diseases that cause premature debilitation and death in millions of purebred dogs every year.

“I also had to wonder why in an age when products such as electrical appliances, automobiles, pharmaceuticals, home furnishings, and toys must meet safety standards before being sold to the public, dogs are still sold without any regulations concerning their quality and health.”

As he does throughout the rest of the book when examining factors that adversely affect our dog’s health, Ted provides viable alternatives for us to avoid them. This time as an alternative to the American Kennel Club, he suggests working with a dog breeder through the United Kennel Club when seeking a pure bred dog.

Formed in 1898, the UKC is comprised of breeders who will only breed lines based on the physical stamina, strength and longevity for dogs of any size, versus breeding primarily for outward appearance. The UKC also welcomes mixed-breed dogs into many of its competitions under a Limited Privilege program.

It is our firm belief that the right balance between performance and conformation results in healthier happier dogs for everyone. We are proud that we share that same philosophy with our growing number of dedicated participants. –United Kennel Club

When agonizing over whether to choose a pure bred or a rescue dog, Ted also takes a closer look at the animal rescue movement, public animal shelters and the causes and effects of pet overpopulation. While this discussion was emotional and upsetting to read through at times, it’s critical reading for all pet parents in order for us to do our part to advocate for the health and welfare of all dogs.

A Look at Your Dog’s Environment

After carefully choosing Pukka, Merle’s successor, Pukka’s Promise goes on to provide vital food for thought for every dog parent today. He discusses how the shortened life spans of dogs may also be the result of the endless amount of toxins we expose them to:

“We, and our dogs and cats, swim through a vast chemical ocean. We swim through it each and every day of our lives, and our dogs and cats are far m ore affected by its harmful ingredients – carcinogens, neurotoxins, and endocrine distruptors – than you or I.”

Ted devotes a large section of the book to “putting up dikes” to protect our dogs from environmental contaminants, from carefully choosing certified non-toxic toys like those from Planet Dog, to using minimal chemicals and treated fabrics in the home.
The book also covers how diet plays into our dog’s longevity and practical things we can do to ensure peace of mind when feeding our dogs. For example, buying “grain free” isn’t necessarily healthy if it contains artificial preservatives in it like BHA and BHT, both of which have been linked to cancer in laboratory test rats.

Always educate yourself and read labels, always consider the true cost of what you’re purchasing: feeding a dog the healthiest food you can afford will cost you just a few more cents each day and perhaps save you thousands in vet bills over the course of your dog’s lifetime.

The Spay Neuter Dilemma

Other dog health discussions that Ted embarks upon include a closer look at vaccines and why we should question them, cancer treatments and holistic therapies (that most members here will be well familiar with already), and finally perhaps the most controversial topic that I was surprised to learn about: how recent studies are finding that spaying and neutering dogs at any age adversely affects their health, stamina and longevity.

For example:

  • Neutered males have a 2 to 4 times greater risk of getting prostate cancer
  • Are at increased risk for osteosarcoma
  • They are are 2 to 4 times more likely to develop bladder cancer
  • Have a 160 percent higher risk for hemangiosarcoma
  • Are at greater risk for orthopedic injuries, hip displaysia and more prone to a weaker rear end because their back muscles aren’t as well developed as those intact dogs, who have the muscle-building benefits of testosterone.

When it comes to spayed females, their situation is a little more complicated but they too are at greater risk for certain cancers, including a five times greater risk of developing hemangiosarcoma.

While questioning the positives of spay and neuter, Ted presents the option of canine vasectomies and tubal ligations to several institutions and veterinarians, most of whom thought he was completely nuts for calling into question the spay neuter dogma.

“Such quick and easy techniques could have wide application in animal shelters interested in reducing the costs of spaying and neutering. Yet not one of dozens of shelter workers and directors with whom I spoke, and almost none of the veterinarians whom I interviewed, had ever considered any method of canine birth control other than spaying and neutering, a testament to how the spay neuter mind-set has overshadowed the teaching of other pregnancy-preventing methods in North American veterinary training centers.

“Only one veterinarian, Dr. Robert McCarthy, a veterinary surgeon specializing in orthopedic and soft-tissue surgery at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine…when I asked him why his and other veterinary training schools weren’t teaching vasectomies and tubal ligations, he laughed, a bit ruefully. “The reason they’re not being taught,” he said,, “Is habit. Spaying and neutering were taught a hundred years ago, and so we continue to do it that way today. It’s only recently that we’ve started to accumulate data showing that loss of hormonal function may have consequences.”

Ted presents such a good case for the argument against spay/neuter that you can’t help but wonder if he’s right. There’s so much food for thought like this in Pukka’s Promise, that no pet parent should be without it. Our dogs will thank us and we’ll get to enjoy them for much longer than ever before.

“The breakthroughs in human medicine will increasingly be applied to veterinary medicine and will extend the life spans of our dogs, especially if a master genetic switch, one that determines the rate of our aging, can be found and eventually turned off. What a welcome day that will be: no more stiff joints, no more graying hair, no more wrinkles, no more botox. Not eternal life, but one with more youth and less pain.

While the search for this master aging switch goes on, there is yet another way to produce longer-lived dogs, albeit one that may take sometime. We can change how we breed them, selecting first for longevity instead of for coat color, height, or the shape of the skull. In this way we could reset the evolutionary clocks of dogs – the clocks of danger that we spoke of in chapter 2 – so that dogs no longer resemble their short-lived ancestor, the wolf.”



2 Responses to “Are We Shortening Our Dogs’ Lives?”

  1. Thanks for the link from the blog about raw food diet July 2014

    I ordered 2 of the books on raw from there and now Im going to order this book,!

    And I love what the UKC is doing! BRAVO!

    And I saw from one of your other links about the spay/neuter “controversary”. I thought I was doing the best thing by letting my females go through a heat, and neutering my males around one year.

    Now I need to weigh the pros and cons of maybe NOT spaying
    My Pal Myrtle!

    Okay, gotta go GOOGLE CHASTITY BELTS FOR DOGS!!! 🙂

    A million thanks for always posting such INVALUABLE information!

    Sally and Happy Hannah and My Pal Myrtle!

  2. Thank YOU for reading Sally! I hope it helps Myrtle stay strong and healthy for a long, long time.

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