Planning for Fido’s future- telomere length and doggie longevity

We sure do love our pets! For some people a pet is the culmination of everything they seem to want and need in a companion. As a matter of fact some people spend a life time searching for a partner that has the qualities of their pet. With unquestioning love, unflinching loyalty and total obedience to a furry sometimes goofy and very lovable appearance thrown into the mix, its easy to see why we spend billions on “man’s best friend’!

To put this in perspective for you, back in the day when I worked in one of the busiest practices in my city I would often make house calls on my shut in or terminally ill patients. I was always honored to be welcomed into their homes and they loved the fact that “Dr Dave’ son of Dr John who had cared for them for decades was coming to their home. That was a reward beyond anything monetary. And it’s a good thing too because depending on the situation Medicare allowed between $25 and $40 bucks for a house call.

When my Vet visits my home to care for my pets its NEVER under $500! The sad truth though is that in spite of the very best care, our dogs and cats live out their lifespans in a fraction of the time we do leaving us bereft of our best friends and searching for new ones.

But just as human longevity and health span have the potential to extend way beyond their present values, we may soon see the same promise for our pets.
You may have guessed this all centers around telomere length and the rate of loss in specific breeds and species. Speaking of species the main “pet friendly” species that age by telomere loss include dogs, cats, horses some species of birds and fish. As far as the rest of our pet species we really don’t know since most have not been studied.

A recent study in dogs pointed out some fascinating similarities and a few differences between man and man’s best friend in terms of telomeres and aging.

  • In the 15 species of dogs examined, white blood cell ( immune cells) telomere length showed a strong correlation with longevity in that breed. In humans telomere length has also been equated to longevity.
  • In the same species dogs with shorter telomeres had a higher risk of heart disease, just like people!
  • Dogs are inbred, most people are not. People do indeed show variations in telomere length from birth based on both genetic and racial differences but the differences appear to be relatively small. The loss of telomere length due to cellular replication is relatively constant and much of the differences in longevity have to do with lifestyle, environmental and epigenetic differences rather than genetic differences. In dogs the inbreeding leads to wildly different telomere lengths. For example the Great Dane weighs in at 11.7Kb and the beagle at 27 Kb.
  • These wide swings in telomere length are probably the main reason the Beagle lives much longer than the Great Dane on average.
  • Telomere loss in dogs is accelerated compared to humans also accounting for their much shorter live spans than their masters.
  • Breeds that tend to have more health problems than others can also generally be shown to have shorter telomeres to begin with.
  • No studies have been done with TA-65 and dogs and I cannot recommend you start your pooch on it but I do know several people who have usually at a dose of 1 a day mixed in with wet food or given as a pill the way you would an anti-biotic. So far I have heard of no problems but if you want to do this you should run it by your Vet first!

Frankly as long as there are no safety issues I don’t see any reason why it would not work!

Now if you think about it the telomere length of the average dog, even a short lived one, it is a lot longer than the average human. So why do they lose so many more base pairs of telomere length than people do?

Again no one knows the exact answer but if you look at the anti-oxidant defenses of these animals you see that compared to humans they have fewer defenses against free radicals than we do. This makes their telomeres and everything else age faster than in people.

Another factor parallels people as well: lifestyle.

For instance a dog or cat that is strictly “outside” with no shelter or care will die a lot sooner than an “indoor” animal ( diet not withstanding) even when you factor out obvious trauma and disease.*
With all this in mind, there is no reason that improving your pet’s care and at some point adding in Vet certified anti-oxidants and telomerase activators will not help us extend the lifespans of our beloved pets.

So the next time you visit your retirement counselor, you might want to bring Fido with you!



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