Nutrition & Life Expectancy in Dogs

Ways to increase the life span of our pets: factors influencing pet’s well being
By Joanne Fernandez-Lopez, DVM
 
Dogs and cats do age much faster than humans. As most of you would already know, one year for a human is approximately five to seven years for a dog or cat. Because of this fact, it is very important that owners understand potential factors that may impact how long their pet lives. The lifespan of our pets can be impacted in various ways including quality and amount of nutrition, genetics, if is spayed or neutered, preventive medical care and breed size. In this article, I will go over some of these factors and what can we do to improve our pet’s lives. 

Healthy weight chart for dogs body condition

One of the best ways to improve your dog’s health and possibly reduce their medical bills is to feed them a higher quality food and to feed them less of it.

Reducing the amount of food you give your dog can help. 


You heard me right. Less of it.


I know is hard to not give another treat when little Fluffy is begging for it. But, studies in the last few years have shed new light in the evaluation of nutritional portion control, its relationship with life span and how soon chronic diseases do develop

(Kealy et. al. 2002; Smith, G. K. et al. 2006; Hall et al. 2015). In the Kealy et al. 2002 study, they compared changes in blood markers like they do in people. These are concentration of glucose, triglycerides, cholesterol and thyroid levels in the blood. In a group of 48 Labrador retrievers, dogs were divided by pairs since birth. One group was fed free choice meals and another group was fed only 75% the amount of food that their pair mates consumed*. The body weight was measured weekly, blood work markers analyzed annually, and always evaluated for development of diseases through their years. The study showed that median life span was increased by diet restriction, a.k.a portion control. Lean body mass was significantly higher among dogs with restricted feeding compared to the ones fed free choice food. Decreases in lean body mass occurred at 9 years of age in the group fed free choice and at 11 years of age in the restricted feeding group. In summary, food-restricted dogs weighed less and had lower body fat content, lower triglycerides, insulin and glucose concentration and controlled levels of thyroid hormone.

The onset of clinical symptoms of chronic disease generally was delayed for food-restricted dogs. On another study (Smith G. K. 2006), restricted feeding delayed development of hip joint osteoarthritis in a group of Labrador Retrievers.

Lifetime maintenance of 25% diet restriction delayed onset and reduced severity of hip joint osteoarthritis, thus favorably affecting both duration and quality of life.
 
In regards to obesity, it is now recognized to be an important major medical disease, which can reduce quality of life and increase the risk of chronic conditions like diabetes and joint disease. Still, pets suffering from obesity do have the opportunity to revert the risks and increase their quality of life by losing weight. 

In another study from German et al. 2010, pet owners completed a follow-up questionnaire after their dog had successfully completed a weight loss program, and had reached their target weight.

​The completed questionnaire responses were transformed to scores corresponding to each of four factors (vitality, emotional well being, anxiety and pain), and scored on a scale of 0 to 6. The scores were then correlated with responses to direct questions about quality of life (QOL) and pain. Most owners do report that their dog's QOL improved, and this corresponded to significant improvements in vitality, emotional well-being, and a significant decrease in pain score.
Homemade Dog food with eggs
Now, what ingredients or supplements may I add to increase lifespan? 
When our pets are entering their geriatric phase in life, which is approximately at 7-8 years, ageing process in the body start to unfold. For example, the kidneys, which are the filter in the body like us, might not be able to clear the metabolic waste of the body through the urine as effectively as the kidneys of a young adult dog. This is the moment where we, as the owner, start adjusting the amount of specific ingredients in their food and according to their needs. 

In a study from Hall et al. 2015, geriatric dogs were fed one of three foods for 6 months: a traditional kidney protective food that was energy dense and mildly protein-restricted, or control food with increasing amounts of supplements: fish oil, lipoic acid, fruits and vegetables, and higher quality protein sources.

Geriatric dogs were compared before and after the feeding trial with mature adult dogs. The study found that supplementation of mildly protein-restricted, energy-dense currently available kidney protective foods with functional lipids (fish oil), antioxidants (lipoic acid), carnitine, increasing concentrations of botanicals (fruits and vegetables), and more bioavailable protein sources reversed the age-associated decline in kidney filtration and other blood markers in healthy geriatric dogs.

However, this change in the diet was not able to offset the age-associated decline in lean body percent. The greatest improvements were observed in dogs fed the kidney protective food with egg and wet meat chicken as protein sources and higher concentrations of fruits and vegetables.

In conclusion, supplementation with fish oil, lipoic acid, fruits, vegetables and high quality protein can temporarily reverse the age-associated decline in kidney function and total protein in the body.
vaccinations help prevent common diseases in dogs
Preventive care plays a big role in increase life expectancy.
Similar to human vaccines, animal vaccines are administered to prevent diseases from occurring in animals. Routinely vaccinating animals is often cheaper than paying for the treatment of sick animals, reduces transmission of microorganisms between pets and reduces animal suffering.

In the Banfield State of Pet Health Report from 2013**, they found that preventable diseases such as Heartworm disease and Lyme disease might play a role in a reduced lifespan in certain areas of the country such as the Northeast (Lyme disease) and the Southeast (heartworm disease). Heartworm infection is one of the top three conditions or diagnoses for pets seen in Banfield hospitals in the Southern states including Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, among others. These three Southern states had the shortest lifespan for dogs in 2012. Louisiana and Mississippi were also the bottom two states for lifespan. Is extremely important to prevent infectious diseases. By giving your pet their monthly anti-heart worm medication and following recommendations regarding vaccines schedules, you will help prolong the life of your best friend.
Large dogs have shorter lifespan than small dogs
​Another interesting comparison seen by Banfield Pet Hospitals** is the relationship of lifespan, breed-type, size and disease. Dogs and cats can be prone to certain diseases based on their breed. For dogs, breed size can also put them at an increased risk for certain diseases and have a significant impact on their overall lifespan. Small breed dogs, such as a Chihuahua and Shih Tzu, live 41% longer than giant breed dogs, such as a Great Dane. As a result of their shorter lifespan, giant breed dogs can be expected to reach their senior years much earlier than small breed dogs do (example: 6 years of age rather than 10 years of age), which means they are likely to develop aging associated diseases such as arthritis or kidney disease earlier than small breeds as well. As such, breed and breed size are important in understanding the diseases or conditions to which a dog may be predisposed.
un-neutered male dog
Another significant findings in the Banfield 2013 report include the impact spaying or neutering has on a pet’s lifespan. Spaying or neutering provides several advantages that likely contribute to a longer lifespan. Neutering male pets decreases their chances of developing prostatic disease and eliminates the risk of testicular cancer. Spaying female pets eliminates the risk of pyometra, a life-threatening infection of the uterus. If a female is spayed before her first heat cycle, chances of developing breast cancer drop dramatically as well. Behavior problems are a big problem. Pets that haven’t been spayed or neutered are more likely to exhibit undesirable behaviors such as roaming, urine marking or fighting. The Banfield patient data also show that unneutered dogs are more than twice as likely to be hit by a car or bitten by another animal as neutered dogs.
While it is not possible to predict the lifespan of our pets, there are many preventable diseases and conditions that impact their overall health and well-being, which may influence life expectancy. In this article, I have only addressed few factors that can improve lifespan. More research is needed to identify other ways we can improve our pet’s lives. What is important is to provide the best preventive care through planed high quality portion-controlled nutrition, vaccinate, provide adequate exercise, environmental enrichment's and of course lots of love.
Notes:
*The amount offered to the 24 dogs that previously had been free choice was calculated by estimating the ideal body weight for each dog. These dogs then were fed 62.1 Kcal of metabolize energy (ME)/kg of estimated ideal body weight (ie, the estimated maintenance requirement for large breed dogs). This group of dogs was designated as the controlled-feeding group. The remaining 24 dogs each continued to be given 25% less than the amount fed to their respective pair-mates.
 
**The Banfield State of Pet Health Report captures and analyzes the medical data from nearly 2.2 million dogs and 460,000 cats. This is the largest veterinary practice in the world with a database to compare and evaluate many factors affecting our pet population.
​References:
 
Banfield State of Pet Health Report 2013: Retrieved on July 24, 2016 from http://www.banfield.com/Banfield/media/PDF/Downloads/soph/Banfield-State-of-Pet-Health-Report_2013.pdf
 
Cupp C.J. & Laflamme D.P. (2014) Effect of Neutering on Life Expectancy in Adult Cats. ACVIM Forum, June 2014, Nashville, Tennessee, Abstract, VIN, 2014.
 
German, A.; Holden S.; Wiseman-Orr L.; Reid J.; Nolan A.; Biourge V.; Morris P.; Scott M. (2010) Quality of Life is Reduced in Obese Dogs, But Improves After Successful Weight Loss, 20th ECVIM-CA Congress, Sept 2010, Toulouse, Abstract, VIN, 2010.
 
Hall, J. A., et al. (2015) Nutritional interventions that slow the age-associated decline in renal function in a canine geriatric model for elderly humans." The journal of nutrition, health & aging: 1-14.
 
Hoffman JM, Creevy KE, Promislow DEL (2013) Reproductive Capability Is Associated with Lifespan and Cause of Death in Companion Dogs. PLoS ONE 8 (4): e61082. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0061082
 
Kealy, R. D., Lawler, D. F., Ballam, J. M., Mantz, S. L., Biery, D. N., Greeley, E. H., ... & Stowe, H. D. (2002). Effects of diet restriction on life span and age-related changes in dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 220 (9), 1315-1320.
 
Smith, G. K., Paster, E. R., Powers, M. Y., Lawler, D. F., Biery, D. N., Shofer, F. S., ... & Kealy, R. D. (2006). Lifelong diet restriction and radiographic evidence of osteoarthritis of the hip joint in dogs. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 229(5), 690-693.