Our latest in a series of columns on the growth cycle of dogs, from puppy to senior, with a look at the adult years.

It’s probably impossible to pinpoint any time in a person’s life when they were care- and responsibility free. Even those first few years in the so-called “real world” still require apartment leases and car payments. Being an adult may bring new freedoms but it doesn’t mean your absolved from some new responsibilities.

Now apply that approach to your dog. Sure, you trust him enough to leave him home alone each day, you let him sleep where he wants and you aren’t all that concerned with his day-to-day well-being.

That last part? That’s a problem. Of course you love your dog, it’s just that she requires less attention now that she’s older, right? In some cases, sure, but unlike 25-year-old you, who was able to shop for your own groceries and find a comfortable place to live, your dog still relies on others to remain healthy and safe.

 For life

Owners don’t adopt or purchase dogs with a six-year time limit; they’re committing to a lifelong relationship and years of care and attention. Here are a few things to keep in mind as your dog enters his or her adult years:

Care for their teeth: OK, we get it. Despite years of warnings from your vet and groomer, you haven’t paid much attention to your dog’s teeth. But now that her dog breath really smells like, well, dog breath, you figure you probably should do something about it. The problem is you just don’t know where to start. Here’s a thought: Just do it. Like their human counterparts who take some time off from the dentist between dental policies, only to be happy with “only four cavities” at their first visit back to the dentist’s chair after a couple of years, it’s not too late to pay attention to your dog’s teeth. The first step is a visit to the vet, who can give you an assessment of their teeth and gums as well as a plan for treatment.

Respect their choices: Your dog may have been the friendliest puppy on the block a few years ago but that doesn’t mean he’ll be open to meeting every new dog, dog owner or child who crosses his path. It’s OK to let people know that your dog isn’t always friendly while he’s on a walk or that he’s territorial about his own space at home. How they respond isn’t your responsibility. What you need to do is make sure your dog is safe, happy and not put in the position of having to defend himself or his home. 

Food matters: Parents are usually tuned into every morsel of food their young children put into their mouths. Then their kids get older. Those organic vegetables are replaced with microwavable burritos and no one says a word. While you may be tempted to buy the cheap stuff when shopping for dog food or share your late-night pizza with Fido on Saturday nights, don’t. Your dog’s diet continues to be important as she ages. Dogs that feast on table scraps tend to wear their weight, and not in a good way. But the extra pounds aren’t the only problem. Overweight dogs often deal with high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, heart disease, respiratory problems and more. Give your dog her best chance of living a long, happy life by being mindful of what she eats.  

Keep moving: Don’t give up your dog’s activities. A simple walk each day will not only help keep him in better physical shape, it will do wonders for his mental state. The canine equivalent of a couch potato is the dog who sleeps for hours each day barely moves in and out of the house. Maintain a daily walk or play ritual with your dog, or sign her up for a dog-walking service or a little playtime at a nearby dog-care facility. Your dog’s health will improve, she’ll sleep better and she won’t spend the rest of her life staring into space, dreaming of those wonderful neighborhood walks of her past.

 Halloween treats can play tricks on your dog’s health 

Halloween can be pretty scary for dog owners. They know that their dogs shouldn’t indulge in candy but sometimes, especially when making sure their children aren’t sneaking 25 bars of chocolate into bed each night, things often go unnoticed.

As your kids bring home their Halloween booty this year, take the necessary precautions:

Keep candy out of sight (and smell). Don’t put candy in places where you dog can get to it. Even the placement of a half-empty trick-or-treat bag on the kitchen table or a reachable counter can present an all-you-can-eat buffet for your hungry canine. Remind your children, too. They shouldn’t leave a pile of candy on their bedroom floor. It will be gone when they get home from school and they may have to spend their evening cleaning up their pet’s “discarded” wrappers in the backyard. 

It’s not just chocolate: All variations of candy, especially when consumed in massive quantities, can be harmful to dogs. Sugar-free gum, though, can be especially harmful since most sugar-free candies contain xylitol, which can cause seizures, liver failure, loss of coordination and more. 

Keep them inside. It’s probably a good idea to keep your dog indoors on Halloween. Not only will you be doing the parents of tiny trick-or-treaters a favor, you’ll be protecting your pets from open gates, potentially disorienting costumes and those kids from down the block who would love to cover your pooch in shaving cream before the night comes to an end. Also, there’s always the possibility of your dog chowing down on 30-day old pumpkins or burning their curious noses on what exactly is lighting up Jack-O-Lanterns poorly carved eyes.

Our loyal companions have placed so much trust in us. This is why it’s important that we honor that responsibility every day of their lives by being responsible dog owners. Whether it’s continuing a routine to walk them each morning or making sure they aren’t tempted by a bag of candy, our lifelong relationship requires care and attention. And the rewards are always worth the effort.

Jill Showalter owns Yuppie Puppy and Doggie Day Play in Oak Park. She has personally tended to more than 100,000 dogs since 2007 and has shared stories and advice with numerous dog owners.

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