Longevity secrets of readers' pets who lived past 100 'dog years'
- 26 May 2013
- From the section Magazine
Thanks to our dog age calculator, people have been reassessing the age of their furry friends.
It put a new spin on the old saying that the age of dogs could be better understood by multiplying the number of years since their birth by seven.
So we asked the owners of canine centenarians to share the secret to their pets' longevity. Here is a selection of their answers:
"My family's wonderful late Irish wolfhound, Xavier, lived to one day shy of his 13th birthday," says Christopher Katz-Summercorn, from north-west London.
"The Irish wolfhound is the tallest dog breed and one of the biggest of the giant breeds so, based on the calculations that were provided to work out a dog's human age equivalent, Xavier would have been somewhere in his 120s. To have reached the age that he did was a particular achievement because the breed average for a wolfhound is seven years.
"In terms of the secret to such longevity, I think much can be attributed to Xavier being content to laze around for large quantities of time. He wasn't particularly active. The scene in the [above] photo portrayed a fairly typical day for him. Also, naturally, he was part of a loving family and was involved in everything we did. We were very fortunate to have had him with us for so long."
Friday beer and kebabs
Zippy, a parson Jack Russell, is 18 years and two months old. Owner Carol Coulter says Zippy's son, Munky, isn't doing too badly either. He'll be 15 next month.
"Having a 'younger' dog in the house keeps her on her toes," reckons Coulter, from Edinburgh, who says that while Zippy's sight and hearing are failing, her sense of smell and appetite are "amazing". Conventional tonics like fresh air and exercise have played their part in the dog's longevity.
But Coulter reckons a good night out has played a part in keeping the zip in Zippy: "[She] used to come to work with me and on Friday nights, when we all had after-work drinks, she had a fondness for licking out the beer bottles. The kebabs - the dog-biscuit-on-a-skewer type, not doner - are one her favourite treats."
Toxic fish, cowardice and a comfy bed
A "regal specimen" with a name to match, Frogmella Elizabeth Snellgrove was born "in the snow" at Orange, in rural New South Wales, Australia, in May 1998.
Owner Tanya Trevisan, from Perth, Western Australia, reckons a varied diet helped "Froggy" reach 100 in Labrador years (although our calculator would put her closer to 96). Trevisan says: "Frogmella has always loved her food and so through stealth and cunning she has probably tried most things... carpet, Gucci sandals, an entire Stilton and even a regular gorging of West Australia blowfish (toxic) found in various states of decay on the banks of our Swan River.
"She does love exercise although, not beating around the bush, this is mostly because the lady's a bit of a coward. This has meant running away from many things including a pelican, a rocking horse and the ocean. Frogmella's best exercise was done in the spirit of retreat. Definitely not one to sleep outside, she howled the neighbourhood down for three months until we weakened. She has slept on a bed pretty much since that time without so much as a whimper."
Since contributing these comments, Trevisan informed the BBC that Frogmella died shortly after her 15th birthday.
Tough love (but not too tough)
Giant schnauzer Kaiser lived to 14 years and nine months before succumbing to cancer. His owner is sceptical about our dog age calculations but has no doubts about the way to treat dogs.
As well as selecting a responsible breeder to ensure good bloodlines and following advice on limiting food intake and good, long walks (5km a day, even in -40C temperatures), Lim Oilu, from Quebec City, Canada, believes obedience was a key part of the TLC which helped Kaiser's longevity.
"The dog's nature is best served when he understands the pack's rules," says Oilu, before adding: "We assured the right balance with having a reasonable level of obedience and yet had a wing chair reserved for him to sleep on in our bedroom."
Diet and walkies
Border collie Meg had lived a solitary life in a barn - fed only on raw sausage meat - when Tony White bought her in the summer of 1998. She was about six months old.
Since then, a careful diet has kept her fit as she approaches her 16th birthday - four years older than the average collie - says White, from Downham Market, Norfolk. "She's never been a particularly ravenous dog: she's always been choosy about what she eats and I've always been careful about what she gets fed (very little human food, limited salt content and definitely nothing sweet).
"She's never been over-exercised. If she could talk she'd probably say she'd like more because she is always raring to go at the W-word. Put your shoes on by the front door and she's still there raring to go, pulling hard on the lead to go out and sniff the countryside. Despite a stroke about 18 months ago, which she recovered from, she's still going fairly strong. Nobody believes me when I tell them her age. Often I'm asked how old the puppy is."
Fresh fruit and veg
Miki Sugimoto, from Osaka, Japan, lost his wire-haired fox terrier, Rocky, last spring at 18 years and two months (or about 101, he reckons). The usual life span is 12 to 15.
According to Sugimoto, Rocky was keen on his five-a-day. He would climb trees to get at his favourite food: kiwi fruit.
"Rocky also enjoyed harvesting cherries in the spring. The cherries from the yard are fresh and the stone stuck to the stem firmly so that Rocky could eat only flesh and avoid the stones.
"Rocky also munched raw Chinese radish. It seems a common trait of fox terriers."
Rocky wasn't the only one who helped himself to food, however. A golden retriever who lived nearby once swallowed a whole saury - a type of fish - "like a vacuum cleaner", adds Sugimoto.
A bit of prime-time telly
Heather White is planning a "coming of age" party for her greyhound, T'ai, who recently turned 18 after a difficult start in life.
T'ai was 12 and had been abused by previous owners, with injuries including cigarette burns, when given to White by a vet. It's thought that, after being used to catch rabbits, she was then poisoned in an attempt to kill her. "When I took her on, she was nervous, and frightened of men. I gave her lots of TLC," says White, from Slough, Berkshire.
"We gradually got her used to mixing, walking and playing with her new friends [in the park]. Like all greyhounds, after her walks, she goes off to bed on my settee and sleeps until about 4pm. Then [she] has a good meal of meat, gravy and biscuits, then back to sleep until I turn on the TV during the evenings. Her favourite programme is Strictly Come Dancing, I think it's the bright lights she likes."
John Osborne describes his shitzu Nini as a "creaking gate at 126 [dog] years of age... who should if all went as prescribed, be dead" but says natural medicine has helped her live to a grand old age.
"My wife took on Nini 18 years ago," says Osborne, who lives in The Vosges, eastern France. "This year, old age, heart and lung problems made us take Nini to the vet twice so far to be, we were sure, put down. Both times, despite blood tests that were very marginal, the vet, first with my wife, then me, discussed what natural cures we could use.
"My wife is a magnetism/natural therapist and I a naturopath. So home she came with only her heart pills but varying natural treatments." Despite a recent history of many ailments, including dog Alzheimer's, Nini "is not in pain, nor distress, if she is with us", says Osborne.
A strenuous hike
She may be a canine pensioner at 14-and-a-half years but border collie Sky still enjoys a seven-mile hike in the Pennines, says owner Mike Ashforth.
At the start of May, the pair climbed more than 500m during a four-hour walk from Colne in Lancashire, over the top of Boulsworth Hill towards Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire. "Sky handled it really well and enjoyed some choice titbits when we arrived at the Packhorse Inn," says Ashforth. "Obviously, so as not to wear the poor old girl out, we'd earlier left a car there and drove back."
Sky can't get enough exercise, it seems. "She loves to play ball, fetch a stick and is totally fascinated by cats, staring at our own for hours on end. Her sight isn't great, nor is her hearing but still very intelligent and great fun," Ashworth adds.
Mediterranean diet and seaside holidays
Rough collie Kirki - named after the Greek goddess of magic, Circe - lived to the ripe age of 17 and owner Harissa Kastrioti reckons olive oil had something to do with it.
"She would eat almost everything we ate, from cherries and fish soup to spaghetti and lentils," says Kastrioti, from Athens. "Vets recommend specialised dog food but I can't help thinking her unconventional and diverse diet played a big part in her longevity. She never ate candy or potatoes - not unless she stole them. Perhaps the Mediterranean diet should be recommended for dogs as well.
"Being raised in an apartment in downtown Athens... she did not get much exercise but she did follow us pretty much on every trip. She was most happy at the beach. Sometimes we would wake up horrified to find her swimming alone some way off shore, then we would laugh our heads off as she came back safely with that distinct guilty attitude, tail wagging low, busily looking the other way. Doctors say swimming is good for you, why not for your dog?"
Weight watching and a younger woman
Rescue lurcher Genghis is 16, and owner Graham Shaw puts his good health down to a strict diet.
"We watch his weight very carefully and keep him close to what the vet recommended - 30kg," says Shaw, from Oxfordshire. "He is fed a dog-only diet: dried food in water and dog treats. He's not fed any human food, other than bits of cheese from time to time. He tries very hard to persuade us to give him more but we don't.
"We've had Genghis and another dog, Reya (female), for seven years. Three years ago, we got Hetty. She was about one year old and we think her energy and playfulness made a big difference to Genghis. He likes to chase her and it seems the adage of a 'younger woman' also holds true in the case of dogs."
Mountain climbing and a bit of TLC
When Lesley Hamilton met beagle cross Axle five years ago, he "could hardly walk 100ft without having to lie down". A year later he scaled his first Monroe at the age of 12 and his family have been planning a trip with him across the West Highland Way.
She says poor nutrition and a lack of exercise had left Axle crippled with arthritic pain, and he'd never been treated for a badly damaged front paw. "Exercise has been his holy grail to youth," says Hamilton, from Lanarkshire. "I fed him on chicken, pasta and goats' milk initially to build him up as he was a very thin, scruffy 6kg. Immediately Axle responded to love, care and grass, which he had never seen in his life.
"There were many days after a longer walk he would simply lie down for two days to recover. He started to gain lean muscle, his endurance to exercise increased tenfold... and within two years had more than doubled his weight and gained a very 'young dog' physique not to mention his glossy coat. The way we see it is that he only started living when he was rescued, so being 105 in dog years is definitely not accurate for him."