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Newly published research shows that aging dogs, similar to humans, are subject to increased cellular damage & inflammation


The ageing process in humans has been intensely studied, but limited research has been done into how dogs age.  Visibly they are older and more infirm, but the internal mechanisms of aging are not well understood. That can present a challenge to owners and veterinarians who want to find the best ways for their pets to be healthy and to offer the best possible care for senior pets.

Part of the problem has been the challenge of tracking changes in animals over long periods of time. But now research teams from Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition, UK and Pet Health and Nutrition Centre, USA published the results of a study that followed the biochemical health of dogs over a 10 year period. It’s thought to be the first time ever that a prospective study of this size and scope has been undertaken.

The research team monitored specific proteins in the blood and immune systems of the dogs that are known to be markers of ageing in humans. Samples were taken twice a year and analysed in the laboratory.  This started when the dogs were young adults and continued to the end of their life.

Markers of ageing

The most dramatic results were for proteins associated with oxidative stress. As we age, cells become more prone to damage. The body has developed mechanisms to counteract this, but with ageing, the proteins that undertake these protective duties diminish. So any measurement of the decline in these proteins can be used as a marker of ageing.  In this study the concentration of one particular protein (HSP70), that serves to protect cells from injury, reduced by 86% from six years old to the penultimate year of life. Other findings included a rise in low level, or chronic, inflammation and changes in the immune system.

But what does this mean for our pets?

“We now know that dogs suffer from low level inflammation and cellular damage through oxidative stress as they get older,” says Dr Janet Alexander, Senior Research Scientist from Waltham. “The study identified multiple targets for potential therapeutic intervention to defend against or delay the impact of aging and the new insights can help us to provide more effective life stage support.”

Insights into people who have older dogs

An international survey undertaken by Mars Petcare found that one in five dog owners have older dogs and the majority want to understand their dogs’ needs; additionally:

  • Most dog owners change the way they look after their dogs as they get older (76%) either by changing their food (58%) or taking them for shorter walks (54%).
  • While senior dog owners do not find caring for their pets much harder than the owners of younger dogs (29% vs 25%), 65% would value more information from their vet on how to look after their senior dog.
  • Information on nutrition (68%) and amount of exercise (57%) are the areas where they would value knowing more.