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.
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.
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.
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.
*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.
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.