Veterinarians are on the verge of enabling their patients to live longer, healthier lives. Here’s how they can cross it.
Content submitted by basepaws, a dvm360® Strategic Alliance Partner
What is a reasonable life expectancy for dogs and cats? Twenty-five years seems reasonable, considering the number of dogs that have lived between 25 and 29 years old and cats that have lived into their thirties.1-4 But living longer is only half the story. Life extension is about preventing disease and reversing aging so pets can enjoy a vital, disease-free existence. The quest for human longevity is considered a serious and worthwhile undertaking. And over the past century, our life expectancy has doubled. Our lifespan (years without disease or impairment) also continues to increase, thanks to antibiotics, vaccines, and advances in nutrition, public health, and technology. Even with these impressive gains, billions of dollars are spent each year on research to further extend lifespans and improve quality of life.
When it comes to pets, however, the subject is barely broached and those who raise it are often shunned by their colleagues. Although critics reject the pursuit of extending the lifespan of pets, a growing number of pet owners are trying to increase the lifespan of their pets, often resorting to untested interventions. and unproven. At the very least, clinicians owe it to patients to investigate the safety and effectiveness of these modalities.
Scientific research in veterinary medicine focuses on treatment, not prevention. We have a few vaccines and diagnostic tests – plus nutrition – in our arsenal, but nothing to prolong animal life. It is time for that to change. Over the next 5 years, the industry must:
- establish a national pet mortality database
- improve predictive analytics and diagnostics
- develop additional therapies and interventional strategies
A national pet mortality database should contain anonymized information on species, breed, sex, geographic area, body condition, diagnoses, and cause of death. Large veterinary companies could aggregate, analyze and share their data, and individual clinics and pet owners could file online reports and supporting medical records. Such a database would help us better understand the health status of companion animals and identify areas where intervention would be successful.
Next, we need better diagnostics and predictive analytics. Genetic testing for pets is experiencing a renaissance in terms of sequencing capabilities and disease catalogs. Over the past decade, DNA testing has moved from revealing an animal’s breed to predicting the diseases for which it is most at risk. By combining blood/urine tests and artificial intelligence, labs can identify CKD long before it manifests itself.5 Biomarkers can uncover hidden cancers before they have a chance to grow.6 Microbiome analysis7 revealed a world of organisms in the gut, skin and mouth that play a key role in host well-being. Certain molecules can switch physiological pathways on and off to potentially extend lifespan and reduce the ravages of environmental damage.8-9 The revolution has barely begun; we must embrace it and encourage it.
Finally, veterinarians need proven interventions to ensure their patients reach their 25th birthday. Research has already identified a wide range of approaches that can extend a pet’s life, from experimental mTOR inhibitors like rapamycinten health-promoting habits like maintaining lean body mass.11-12 But lifespan and lifespan extension per se are rarely discussed, let alone embraced, by influential veterinary researchers.
It’s time to join the quest for the 25-year-old pet. Even if we fail, the pursuit is noble. The potential benefits to beloved pets around the world outweigh the ridicule and scorn that clinicians may face. I believe pet parents will have healthy, vibrant 25-year-old dogs and cats within the next 10 years. The first step to securing that future is to change our mindset about pet longevity. Their life depends on it.
- The “oldest dog” in the world dies at 30 in Australia after falling asleep in his basket. BBC News. April 19, 2016. Accessed January 6, 2022. https://www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-36080853
- The oldest cat of all time. Guinness World Records. Accessed January 6, 2022. https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/oldest-cat-ever
- The oldest dog ever. Guinness World Records. Accessed January 6, 2022. https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/oldest-dog
- The world’s oldest animals: cats, dogs, deep sea creatures and more. Guinness World Records. Accessed January 6, 2022. https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/news/2021/10/worlds-oldest-animals-cats-dogs-deep-sea-creatures-and-more-678003
- Introducing RenalTech. Antech Diagnostics, Inc. Accessed January 6, 2022. https://www.antechdiagnostics.com/laboratory-diagnostics/predictive-diagnostics/renaltech
- Nu.Q Vet Cancer Screening Test. Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences from Texas A&M University. Accessed January 6, 2022. https://vetmed.tamu.edu/gilab/service/assays/nu-q-vet-cancer-screening-test/
- Wernimont SM, Radosevich J, Jackson MI, et al. The effects of nutrition on the gastrointestinal microbiome of cats and dogs: impact on health and disease. Microbiol before. 2020;11:1266. Published June 25, 2020. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2020.01266
- The discovery of the life extension pathway in worms demonstrates a new way to study aging. ScienceDaily. Accessed January 7, 2022. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/03/190326105530.htm
- Mallikarjun V, Swift J. Therapeutic manipulation of aging: reusing old dogs and discovering new tricks. EBioMedicine. 2016;14:24-31. doi:10.1016/j.ebiom.2016.11.020
- Urfer SR, Kaeberlein TL, Mailheau S, et al. A randomized controlled trial to establish the effects of short-term rapamycin treatment in 24 middle-aged companion dogs. Geroscience. 2017;39(2):117-127. doi:10.1007/s11357-017-9972-z
- Kealy RD, Lawler DF, Ballam JM, et al. Effects of dietary restriction on lifespan and age-related changes in dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2002;220(9):1315-1320. doi:10.2460/javma.2002.220.1315
- Lean body mass and protein. Purina Institute. Accessed January 6, 2022. https://www.purinainstitute.com/science-of-nutrition/extending-healthy-life/lean-body-mass-and-protein