Science AMA Series: I’m Dr. Matt Kaeberlein, a pioneer of dog aging research, here to discuss how we can have more healthy years with our dogs and cats, including dos and don’ts as they get older and the latest research and innovations that are leading the way. AMA!

Abstract

[removed]

Hi Matt, and thanks for doing this AMA.

Aging is a huge problem, and I am normally a fan of your research. That is why I was a bit startled to see your AMA contain this excerpt:

This research led to two life-changing innovations from Pro Plan for pets age seven and older – BRIGHT MIND Adult 7+ for dogs and PRIME PLUS for cats.

Looking at the product itself, it looks like a pretty generic collection of "nutriceutical" additives - omega fatty acids and some generic vitamins. What about this is "life changing"? What was the science that led to this claim?

More broadly, how do you think about taking the findings from gerontology research and translating them to human health? I have been disappointed that so many in the community are going the nutriceutical route (see Elysium, for example). In my opinion, translational research needs good clinical trials, not these sort of poorly controlled, open label anecdotal studies. It gives the impression of being a money grab and fuels the reputation of the field as being prone to selling snake oil.

SirT6

Thanks for the comment and questions. Among the reasons why I feel comfortable working with Purina is that the Pro Plan line is formulated based on peer-reviewed research. The formulation used in the Prime Plus for cats was shown to increase lifespan by about a year, even when started in middle-aged cats (1), with corresponding improvements in some measures of healthspan. The formulation used in the Bright Mind Adult 7+ for dogs was shown to enhance brain metabolism and improve cognitive function in older dogs (2). I think Purina deserves a lot of credit for applying rigorous scientific research to improve companion animal nutrition, particularly as it impacts healthy aging. They have more than 500 scientists including nutritionists, behaviorists, veterinarians, and immunologists that work to better the lives of pets everywhere.

I also agree with the importance of clinical trials to assess efficacy of translational geroscience interventions. For many reasons, this is quite challenging to do in practice. Creating a model for this kind of double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial for healthy longevity is one of the goals of the Dog Aging Project. We are starting with rapamycin (3), but hope that we and others will be able to apply similar approaches to other geroscience interventions that are safe and for which there is compelling pre-clinical data.

  1. Cupp, C.J., Jean-Philippe, C., Kerr, W.W., Patil, A.R., and Perez-Camargo, G. (2007). Effect of Nutritional Interventions on Longevity of Senior Cats Intern J Appl Res Vet Med 5, 133-140.
  2. Pan, Y., Larson, B., Araujo, J.A., Lau, W., de Rivera, C., Santana, R., Gore, A., and Milgram, N.W. (2010). Dietary supplementation with medium-chain TAG has long-lasting cognition-enhancing effects in aged dogs. The British journal of nutrition 103, 1746-1754.
  3. Urfer, S.R., Kaeberlein, T.L., Mailheau, S., Bergman, P.J., Creevy, K.E., Promislow, D.E.L., and Kaeberlein, M. (2017). A randomized controlled trial to establish effects of short-term rapamycin treatment in 24 middle-aged companion dogs. Geroscience 39, 117-127.


I am the proud mama of 2 Great Danes, ages 2 and 3. Sadly, our first Dane passed from organ failure at age 4, so I am very vigilant when it comes to the health of my current dogs. Is there anything specific about ageing large dog breeds I should know?

HatchetFuckFace

Thanks for the great question! Body size is the largest predictor of lifespan and aging rate in dogs, so it is important for owners of large or giant breed dogs to recognize that a 5 year old Great Dane is similar to a 10 year old Chihuahua in terms of biological age. What this means, is that we should be paying attention to the age-related changes much earlier in large dogs than in small dogs, including changing nutritional needs and increased risk for various age-related conditions. The idea that all dogs go from being an “adult” to a “senior” at 7-10 years of age is a fallacy. This could be as early as 4-5 years of age for a large dog.

Among the most important things you can do for your large breed dog is keep them at a healthy body weight. Obesity is a problem in any dog, but is particularly dangerous for large and giant breed dogs. Not is obesity associated with greater risk for many age-related diseases, but it creates physical stress and damage to joints, tendons, and bones of larger dogs.

Another important thing to consider for purebred dogs like Great Danes is that each breed has its own unique risk profiles for different conditions, based on that breed’s genetic makeup. Many breed clubs have extensive information on disease risk, such as this webpage from the Great Dane Club of America. Being aware of the specific risks that your aging dog will face can allow you and your veterinarian to catch any problems earlier.


I've been led to believe that purebred dogs have significant health issues because of their genetics and mixed breed or mutts are generally healthier. Does this hold true throughout aging studies? Is there any advice in terms of raising purebred dogs that can help minimize these risks?

horrormice

Yes, it is correct that purebred dogs tend to live, on average, about one year less than mixed-breed dogs after normalizing for body weight (which is the largest predictor of lifespan in dogs). The exact mechanisms accounting for the shorter life expectancy of equally sized purebred dogs compared to mixed breed dogs is still being worked out, but it likely reflects increased risk for specific age-related diseases due to genetic inbreeding. Breed groups for most of the common pure breeds have extensive health records that can allow owners and veterinarians to watch for common diseases for that breed. I would recommend that owners look into the common health risks for their breed and make sure that their veterinarian is also aware of these risks.

With the expansion of DNA sequencing and other –omic technologies into the veterinary world, these mechanisms will start to be unraveled for specific breeds, which should allow owners and veterinarians to address risks in a more preventative manner. Indeed, identifying the genetic and environmental risks for specific breeds is a major goal of our Longitudinal Study of Aging in Dogs. Hopefully, we are able to get this study funded soon!


Why is it that large breed dogs have shorter lifespans than small breed dogs? Is there a way to extend the life of large breeds or eventually breed them to make their lives longer?

BlackFlash

Great question! This seminal study showed that the largest predictor of body size in dogs is a gene called IGF-1 for “insulin-like growth factor 1”. This is a hormone that, as it’s name suggests, promotes growth. Bigger dogs have higher levels of IGF-1. What is particularly interesting here is that studies of the biology of aging have independently found that higher IGF-1 signaling promotes accelerated aging in all sorts of other animals, including nematode worms, fruit flies, and mice. So, it is very likely that IGF-1 is the primary reason that big dogs age faster than small dogs. Having said that, there are certainly other genes that will also play a smaller role in this relationship, and this is something we want to understand through our longitudinal study of aging in dogs.

At this point, there is no proven way to slow aging in large breed dogs (or small breed dogs), although we hope to change that! In principle, breeding dogs so that they have less IGF-1 should increase life expectancy, but would also make those dogs smaller, since IGF-1 determines body size. One study suggests that caloric restriction, which should reduce circulating IGF-1 levels, may increase lifespan in Labrador dogs, although this has yet to be replicated in other breeds or in companion dogs. It might be the case that caloric restriction would have a larger effect on aging rates in big dogs compared to small dogs, but that is just speculation at this point.

Certainly, keeping dog from being overweight or obese is important for healthy longevity, and is probably even more important in large dogs.


Can you please give your take on the real-food and raw-food diets for dogs? My good friend's 12 year old lab/duck toller was on his way out with a white coat, limp, sores, fatty bumps, and inability to go for long walks. He switched to cooking him beef, sweet potato, brown rice and began seeing improvements fast. He has now switched to a raw food diet for about the last 6 months. His dog is now almost 14 and has no limp or sores, much smaller fatty bumps, a new golden coat, and goes on daily long walks with sometimes even a run. Its pretty amazing! I have an almost 2-year-old beagle and have been thinking of making the switch from kibble. Any thoughts on this?

(edit: *sweet potato)

coldhandses

This is an area that I know people are quite passionate about. Unfortunately, there is little, if any, good scientific data one way or the other to support or refute the benefits of raw food/real food diets. While it is true that dogs don’t eat kibble in the “wild”, it does not necessarily follow that a raw/real food diet is better for dogs, in terms of health or longevity. There are many things in the wild that are harmful!

This question of optimal diet is one of the important things that we expect our Longitudinal Study of Aging in Dogs to answer. By following 10,000+ dogs eating all sorts of different types of diets, we will be able to correlate nutritional factors with health, lifespan, and disease risk. Really, this sort of unbiased, agnostic approach is the only way to definitively answer these kinds of questions.


We see a lot of ads about the composition of animal food being important, but how critical is it really? I recall that animal food is marketed to humans, humans who project their biases on to their pets often.

nate

There is no question that diet and nutrition are critically important for optimal health of both people and our pets. Research has shown us that dietary modifications can have a profound impact on both healthspan and lifespan of animals. For example, one study found that simply modifying the relative amount of different macronutrients in the diet of mice can change lifespan by about 50% and alter age-related metabolic and functional measures.


As you mention, dogs around the age of 7 are considered senior and begin to experience physical and cognitive changes. What major ailments and illnesses do your foresee being reversible or delayed? For example, in humans, while lifespan has increased, functional mobility and cognitive decline renders individuals into a state that I think is worse than death. So, even if dog life years are expanded, are they inherently diminished quality of life years?

Madeal12

This is a great question because it hits at the root of the problem with the way medicine and biomedical research have approached health. Traditional approaches (20th century medicine) have focused on curing diseases, usually after people or dogs are sick. One consequence of this is that people are living longer, but this is often extra years spent suffering from one or more disabilities or diseases of aging.

Our goal is to maximize healthspan, the period of life spent in good health free of disability and disease. By targeting the molecular mechanisms (“hallmarks”) of aging directly, we have the potential to delay the onset and progression of all of the age-related functional declines and diseases simultaneously.

My view is that 21st century medicine will involve directly targeting the hallmarks of aging in order to extend healthspan. Data from laboratory studies support this, and we are just beginning to take the first steps toward accomplishing the same thing in our pets and eventually in people. In mice, for example, rapamycin treatment has been shown to delay or even reverse every major functional decline that occurs during aging. Please check out our Dog Aging Project website for more information on how we are trying to accomplish this goal.


What is your opinion on this study that claims neutering/spaying dogs does not benefit a dog's health as currently claimed, but instead can have a negative impact on a dog's health.

EselleM

I think it’s important to avoid generalizing based on a single study of only two breeds of dogs. The best study I’m aware of on this topic is this one, where they looked about 80,000 companion dogs representing 185 breeds. The results show a convincing effect of sterilization toward increased longevity – about 14% in male dogs and about 23% in female dogs. Obviously, this may not be true for every dog or every breed of dog and may be impacted by age at which sterilization occurs, but in general, I’d say the best scientific evidence supports the idea that neutering/spaying in dogs is associated with a significant chance of increased longevity.


Are the effects of secondhand smoke on pets similar to those of the effects on humans? Since animals aren't capable of learning about health facts, could they unknowingly become addicted to secondhand smoke and eventually "adopt" the smoker?

GollumCreeper

Great question! Yes, secondhand smoke can cause many of the same health problems in pets as in people.

I’m not aware of any data suggesting that pets become ‘addicted’ to nicotine from second hand smoke, but regardless, if you smoke, don’t do it around your pets!


Is it true that mixed breed dogs tend to live longer than purebreds? And are there known genes that are correlated with long life and good health in dogs? Cause I had this husky mix who lived to like, 17 even though she mostly ate cheap kibble and we didn't give her vitamins or anything. Her health was perfect too, up until the bone cancer at the end. I'd love for my future dogs to be that healthy.

PartyPorpoise

Yes, once you control for body size, it is still the case that mixed breed dogs live about a year longer than purebred dogs. Within specific breeds there are a few genes that have been identified that impact lifespan, but these are all because they affect the risk of a specific disease that is common within that particular breed (such as dilated cardiomyopathy in Dobermans). There are currently no validated genetic modifiers of aging rate in dogs, but this is something that will likely change in the near future through projects like our Dog Aging Project and the Morris Animal Foundation’s Golden Retriever Lifetime study.

It is important to keep in mind, however, that genetics is only one component of healthy longevity. Environment plays an important role as well, and this is an extremely complex problem. Diet, exercise, exposure to pathogens, pollution, etc. all contribute to environmental variation that can impact healthspan and lifespan. That’s why we need large longitudinal studies to start to tease apart the most important factors for maximizing healthspan and lifespan.


This AMA seems biased since you openly admitted to being in a partnership with the largest dog food manufacturer in the world.

Can you explain why you are discussing dog health while promoting a food that has brewers rice, corn gluten meal, and wheat as the first ingredients? Do you think it’s mighty convenient that the ingredients that Pro Plan states are healthy for our dogs are the primary by-products of corn, rice, and wheat processing? There can’t be a link there.

Do you think that high carbohydrate diets contribute to negative health implications? Dogs are scavenging (not obligate, oops) carnivores, there is no debating that. Current research of humans is showing that our typical high carb diets are major contributors to all sorts of disease. Do you think that dogs, who can’t process carbohydrates as effectively as humans, experience greater health detriments from these nutrients?

Do you think that research in the field is biased because it is funded by major pet food companies who are looking to make major profits? I have seen research papers come out stating that wheat and corn gluten is healthy when it clearly is not.

I’d love to hear your response.

ilikefishwaytoomuch

Thanks for the comment and questions. Among the reasons why I feel comfortable working with Purina is that the Pro Plan line is formulated based on peer-reviewed research. The formulation used in the Prime Plus for cats was shown to increase lifespan by about a year, even when started in middle-aged cats (1), with corresponding improvements in some measures of healthspan. The formulation used in the Bright Mind Adult 7+ for dogs was shown to enhance brain metabolism and improve cognitive function in older dogs (2). I think Purina deserves a lot of credit for applying rigorous scientific research to improve companion animal nutrition, particularly as it impacts healthy aging. They have more than 500 scientists including nutritionists, behaviorists, veterinarians, and immunologists that work to better the lives of pets everywhere.

Just to be clear and transparent. My research is not, and has never been, funded by Purina.

  1. (2007). Effect of Nutritional Interventions on Longevity of Senior Cats Intern J Appl Res Vet Med 5, 133-140.
  2. Pan, Y., Larson, B., Araujo, J.A., Lau, W., de Rivera, C., Santana, R., Gore, A., and Milgram, N.W. (2010). Dietary supplementation with medium-chain TAG has long-lasting cognition-enhancing effects in aged dogs. The British journal of nutrition 103, 1746-1754.

How can the average pet owner contribute data to pet health research efforts like yours?

lzsmith

Participate! You can sign up to participate in our Longitudinal Study of Aging in Dogs. We are still working on getting it funded through NIH and other sources, but once we have funding, we will begin enrolling dogs.


Why lifespan among dogs and cats have so big standard deviation? Oldest dogs and cats live 250-300% of species lifespan, but oldest woman reached only 150% of French people lifespan.

Ginden

Great question. Dogs tend to be more variable for all sorts of phenotypes than people are, largely due to breeding. Consider body size for example. A giant breed might weight 20 times more than a tiny breed. You don't see that kind of variation in body size in people. Since body size is tightly linked to lifespan in dogs, this probably accounts for the large variation in lifespan across the species.


So as more and more pet parents become educated on pet diets and what sort of things are generally not healthy for them, do you agree that Raw is far superior to kibble in most ways? Why or why not?

Additionally how do you feel about controversial companies such as Nestlè (Purina) maintaining such a huge market share and allegedly valuing shareholder value above the quality being output. You regularly hear in the pet supply industry that Science Diet is subpar as a food, yet nearly every Veterinarian recommends it due to the company’s marketing strategies and agreements with Vet Clinics.

2147_M

There is a ton of information out there on the internet about real/raw diets, but in my opinion, very little solid evidence to support this assertion. If anyone has peer-reviewed literature they can provide, I would be happy to review it.


We lost our beloved Newfoundland this summer to cancerous growths on her spleen and liver. I have two questions for you:

Why is cancer so prevalent in dogs these days, and especially cancer of the spleen?

How could we have learned of her cancer earlier? She was a therapy dog and so had 2 vet checkups each year. Her checkups were always positive and we were told she had the health of a two-year-old. And she certainly seemed happy and healthy, even the night before she died.

We'd like to get another puppy soon so I would like to know what I might do differently to both prevent and watch for cancer.

corybantic

Thanks for the question. I'm not sure there is really any good data that cancer is more prevalent in dogs today than it was say 20 years ago. Veterinary medicine has gotten much better at detecting cancers earlier in dogs, so it gets diagnosed (and fortunately treated) more often.


Hi, Dr. Kaeberlein,

Thanks for doing this AMA! I'm a local living in Bellevue (a suburb of Seattle), and a graduate of the University of Washington where you work. Go Huskies!!

My questionas:

What is the brand and product of food that you provide to your three dogs, and what other things do you feet them, and in what quantities? How did you settle on your selection?

Also, if you could tell dog owners one thing to do differently to increase their dogs' healthspan, what would that be?

laseralex

My two senior dogs (Chloe, 12 year old Keeshond and Betty mixed breed rescue of unknown age) have been on the ProPlan Bright Mind 7+ for about a year now. As a scientist, I was impressed that Purina had developed a senior dog food nutritionally optimized based on peer-reviewed research such as this paper. The biology behind this research makes sense with what I know about how brain metabolism changes during aging. Both dogs are doing great.

We are just now transitioning my 5 year old German Shepherd onto the Bright Mind 7+. A 5 year old GSD is already making that transition to senior adulthood (big dogs age faster!), so we felt this was a good time to make the switch.

There are several obvious things that owners can do to give their pet the best chance at a long, healthy life. Keep your dog at a healthy body weight, give them regular exercise, etc. The one thing most owners don’t do that could have a big impact is to pay more attention to your dog’s teeth. There is compelling data that periodontal disease is associated with greater risk for a variety of other age-related disorders. Unlike (most) people, dogs don’t brush their teeth regularly, so it’s up to us to make sure that our dog’s teeth get cleaned and their oral health is maintained. This becomes even more important as our dogs get older.


Hi, great AMA. How much can genotyping disease markers help increase canine lifespan through preventative measures such as better nutrition?

tTenn

This is an area that is still in its infancy, but which holds great promise for future predictive and preventative veterinary medicine. Now that full genome sequencing is common and relatively cheap, it will be possible to obtain massive amounts of genetic data for different dogs and dog breeds (and cats too!). In fact, one of the goals of our longitudinal study of aging in dogs is to genotype more than 10,000 pet dogs in order to correlate different genetic markers with healthy longevity and disease risk. We intend to make these data freely available to the scientific community so that other data scientists can also mine the information and make new discoveries.


Matt with all the buzz of senolytics (drugs that target senescent cells which are thought to contribute to aging and shortening healthspan), do you soon think we will see studies where animals are treated with these compounds?

Also is it difficult to get good endpoints or measurements of health span in dogs because of breed-specific pathologies?

hawkeye807

I hope so. We need more data to be sure that senolytics are safe before we start testing them in pets, but I think that will come soon. I also think a veterinary clinical trial for NAD+ precursors in pets should be done. Of course, these things all require funding, and that's the limiting factor right now.

The breed-specific pathologies are only a problem if you limit yourself to a single breed or if your sample size is too small. There are many designs you could consider to minimize this, including only studying mixed breed dogs and/or excluding certain breeds of dogs.


Hi Dr. Kaeberlein, I've seen a lot of questions in this thread about dogs specifically and would love to hear your thoughts on nutrition for cats. Specifically, does the type of food (wet vs dry, not the quality) impact feline lifespan?

I have heard from many different sources that an all wet food diet is optimal for a cat to stay lean and hydrated. But I've also heard that dry food is essential for dental health and preventing certain oral illnesses. What is your opinion on wet food vs dry food in terms of health and longevity?

Lunabeanknox

Thanks for the question, and I’m sorry to the cat folks that this has been such a dog-heavy discussion. I don’t know of any convincing scientific evidence that wet food is superior to dry food in general for cats. Dental health is absolutely important for both dogs and cats, and as most vets will tell you, is generally neglected by owners.

[One study] )]( http://www.jarvm.com/articles/Vol5Iss3/Cupp%20133-149.pdf) that looked carefully at diet and lifespan in cats, is the one that forms the basis for the formulation of the Prime Plus cat food, where it was found that a blend of ingredients extended the life of cats age seven and older by about a year, compared to cats fed a complete and balanced diet alone.


I came to this thread excited, but then I saw that the AMA was endorsed by Purina, and that really threw me off. It seems he does a lot of solid research but I can't see how much of that is funded by Purina. Very disappointing, Dr. Kaeberlein, to be holding hands with this massive corporation of subpar quality dog food. And then to not answer anything for 4 hours? You might wanna just cancel.

JDaddyFly

None of my research is funded by Purina. I'm sorry there was confusion about the starting time for the AMA. It was 10 AM PT.


How close are you to curing death in dogs vs for cats?

janirobe

I think it’s a mistake to talk about “curing” death. What we know is that the rate of aging can be modified in laboratory animals such that healthy lifespan is extended by 20-50%. Everything I know about biology tells me the same thing is possible in pet dogs and cats. If sufficient resources were put toward the research, I absolutely believe that we could increase healthy longevity in pets by several years within the next decade.


What about hamsters?

Only live 2-3 years.

Can you change that?

fydel

Yes, it's very likely that the same interventions that increase lifespan in mice will increase lifespan in hamsters, dogs, cats, etc.


Hi Matt. Thanks for doing this work! Im going to read about it after my flight. What would you say is the single easiest thing I can do for maximal benefit to my six year old dog?

SoSticky

I wouldn’t pick one, but here is a short list. Not surprisingly, these are the same things that work for people.

Keep your dog at a healthy weight. Beyond this, consider a food that is nutritionally optimized for older dogs, such as Bright Mind 7+. Depending on your dog’s size, 6 years old could already be a senior dog in terms of biological age.

Make sure your dog gets regular exercise.

Clean your dog’s teeth! I know most people don’t do this, but oral health is a major predictor of other age-related conditions (including diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease) in people and probably in dogs.

See your vet regularly.

If you have a purebred dog, make sure you and your vet are familiar with the specific conditions that your breed is at risk for. This allows for preventative approaches and the likelihood of catching any problems early.


Hello Matt, can you tell me what is the healthiest food to feed dogs in their later years in life (10+ years old)? Do certain types of food cause fatty deposits? Is a raw food diet better for older dogs?

MissGrizz

I can't tell you with any certainly what the healthiest food is, because the answer is that we don't know. I haven't personally seen any convincing data that raw food diets are better than other types of diets, although I know many people strongly believe that is the case. As I've said elsewhere, if people want to send peer-reviewed scientific literature that they think addresses this point, I'm happy to review it.

As I've also said elsewhere, I feed my own dogs the ProPlan Bright Mind 7+ because it is supported by peer-reviewed scientific literature.


I really hope he addresses one of the raw food diet questions, even if the answer is "that's not my area of expertise."

bostongirlie13

Reposting here, since I think this is a particularly important question and there is a ton of misinformation out there.

This is an area that I know people are quite passionate about. Unfortunately, there is little, if any, good scientific data one way or the other to support or refute the benefits of raw food/real food diets. While it is true that dogs don’t eat kibble in the “wild”, it does not necessarily follow that a raw/real food diet is better for dogs, in terms of health or longevity. There are many things in the wild that are harmful! If anyone can point toward peer-reviewed research that addresses this question, I'd be happy to review it.

This question of optimal diet is one of the important things that we expect our Longitudinal Study of Aging in Dogs to answer. By following 10,000+ dogs eating all sorts of different types of diets, we will be able to correlate nutritional factors with health, lifespan, and disease risk. Really, this sort of unbiased, agnostic approach is the only way to definitively answer these kinds of questions.  


Additional Assets

License

This article and its reviews are distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and redistribution in any medium, provided that the original author and source are credited.