How would you feel if you could extend your dog’s life by a few years? For many people, pets are like family members and they’d do anything to keep them alive as long as possible.
Advanced medical procedures that were originally developed for humans are being used by vets. These can help treat dogs and give them a longer life but they are often expensive and are one of the reasons vet fees and, in turn, pet insurance costs are increasing (find out more about dog insurance costs here).
However, scientists in the USA are conducting a trial into dog health that could extend their lifespan by two to four years simply by giving them a pill.
The Dog Aging Project at the University of Washington began the first of a three phase set of tests in 2017 to see if the anti-rejection medicine rapamycin could help dogs live longer.
The drug has an anti-inflammatory effect and helps cells get rid of waste. It is already used to help humans accept kidneys after a transplant and it has been found to increase the lifespan of mice by up to 25%.
The initial trials were conducted on 24 middle-aged Golden Retrievers, Labradors and German Shepherds and were designed to test if the drug was safe to give to dogs. Following the end of this first phase of testing, scientists found evidence of improvements to the dogs’ hearts.
“The key findings were that there were no significant side effects associated with the rapamycin treatment, and there were statistically significant improvements in heart function in the dogs that received rapamycin relative to those that received the placebo, similar to what has been observed in older laboratory mice,” said University of Washington’s Dr Matt Kaeberlein.
He went on to stress that it was important to keep in mind that this was a small study that requires replication before further confidence can be found in the results.
Dr Kaeberlein added: “It is also important to recognise that we don't have any evidence that the improvements in heart function indicate overall improvements in health or slower aging in these dogs or even what the long-term effects of rapamycin will be."
Phase 1 ended with researchers saying the results were ‘highly encouraging’ and ‘strong justification’ for continuing the trials. In the middle of 2018, Phase 2 of the trial began. This was a one-year trial to assess the effects of rapamycin on the heart function of 50 dogs. The trial also looked at the effects of rapamycin on the cognitive function and activity of dogs.
“In Phase 2, we’re looking at two things”. Dr Kaeberlein said: “First, can we replicate the positive heart function we saw in Phase 1 over a longer period? And second, are there any persistent effects? Do changes last after dogs come off rapamycin?”
Phase 3 (the real experiment) of the study is expected to last five years, with dogs being enrolled during the first 18 months of this time period. The aim of phase 3 is to have a cohort of dogs that are aging rapidly. If rapamycin has any beneficial effects, the results will be seen in Phase 3.
Dr Kaeberlein explained further: “Unlike Phase 1, which is mostly about safety and Phase 2, which is mostly about cardiac function, Phase 3 is about lifespan. And to detect an expected 15% increase in lifespan over a 3-year period, the math said we need 600 dogs aged 7 or older.”
There are examples of dogs living to 29 years old and wild dogs usually live longer than their domesticated cousins, but scientists are unsure why some animals live longer than others. Most larger animals tend to live longer than smaller ones, but that is reversed in dog breeds with smaller canines outliving larger breeds.
Dr Kaeberlein said: “Imagine what you could do with an additional two to five years with your beloved pet in the prime of his or her life. This is within our reach today.”
“We all want our pets to be around for as long as possible so it’s an exciting development that it may be possible in the near future.”
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Dog aging and lifespan facts
How long is a dog’s lifespan?
Dogs tend to live for about 10 to 13 years. However, there are few scientific studies into dog lifespans and life expectancy also depends on breed and size.
Smaller breeds have an average life expectancy of 12 to 14 years. Larger breeds have a life expectancy of 8 to 10 years.
A dog’s life expectancy in human years also depends on their size; on average it is about 60 to 80 years old.
Which dog breed has the longest lifespan?
Cairn Terriers, Jack Russell Terriers, Lhasa Apsos, Miniature Dachshunds and Miniature Poodles have an average life expectancy of 14 years, according to Dr. Kelly M. Cassidy’s Dog Longevity site.
However, the oldest dog on record is an Australian Cattle Dog called Bluey, who lived to 29 years old!
Which breed has the shortest lifespan?
Dr. Kelly M. Cassidy’s list says Bulldogs have the shortest life expectancy, at 6 years. Other lists say Dogue de Bordeaux, which live for about 5 to 8 years.
How to increase a dog’s lifespan?
Improvements to pet food have helped extend dogs’ lifespans, so speak to your vet about the best food for your breed.
If you keep your dog healthy with regular walks and visits to the vet it can help give them a long, happy life.
Pet insurance can help with expensive fees for treatment if they do fall ill or get injured. Lifetime pet insurance means they’ll be covered for any illnesses they develop during their policy for the rest of their life.
Lifetime (or ‘yearly limit’) insurance covers vet fees up to the stated limit every year. This can be a good option if you worry about your pet developing a long-term or recurring illness. So long as you renew a lifetime policy each year, the level of vet fees will reset to the full stated limits that you started with.
With a lifetime product, it is important to note that your premiums will increase each year at renewal. This is different to a “Per Condition” policy, where a particular condition can become excluded once the condition limit is reached. As your pet gets older your excess is likely to increase, too.
Join our pet insurance group to access unique pet cover.
What is the lifespan of a dog with cancer?
Finding out your dog has cancer can be upsetting. How long they will live with the disease depends on factors such as the kind of cancer, the treatment they receive and the age and size of the dog.
It can be tough weighing up the benefits of treatment against the impact on your dog’s quality of life.
Chemotherapy remission can take 12 months, so it may not be fair on older dogs.
However, veterinary procedures have improved in recent years and it may be possible to extend your pet’s life. Treatment can be expensive, which is where pet insurance can help.