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Pets bring a lot of fulfillment to our lives. In fact, some experts believe that pets make our lives healthier. Is that why we seem a little obsessed with helping our four-legged pals live their longest, best lives?
You’ve probably heard the old belief that one dog year is equal to seven human years. That means your 1-year-old puppy is about the same age-wise as a 7-year-old child, while your 10-year-old dog is like a 70-year-old elderly adult.
However, experts say the measurement of a dog’s age is a lot more complicated. This is because while humans have clear markers for healthy aging, much less is known about what’s normal in aging for dogs.
One thing that’s clear is that big dogs tend to age very quickly — possibly 10 times faster than humans, meaning their 8 years are equal to 80 years in humans. And smaller dog breeds can live to be 20 years old, meaning each of their “dog years” equals five human years.
If you’re a dog owner, you may be wondering how you can most accurately measure your dog’s age and what factors contribute to making your dog’s life a long and healthy one….
Project explores the secrets of your dog’s true age
That’s the mission of the Dog Aging Project, founded in 2018 to develop a full picture of dog health and aging. The project is enrolling and studying tens of thousands of dogs of all sizes, breeds and backgrounds to develop a complete understanding of canine longevity.
The Dog Aging Project is providing their open-source database to veterinarians and scientists so they can have the tools to assess how well a specific dog is aging. The information gathered by the project will also form a foundation for further research into healthy aging in both dogs and humans.
“This is a very large, ambitious, wildly interdisciplinary project that has the potential to be a powerful resource for the broader scientific community,” says Joshua Akey, a genomics professor at Princeton University and a member of the Dog Aging Project’s research team. “Personally, I find this project exciting because I think it will improve dog, and ultimately, human health.”
The Dog Aging Project expects to run for at least a decade. So far, more than 32,000 dogs have joined what the project calls the “DAP Pack.” Researchers continue to recruit dogs of all ages, breeds and sizes across the United States, paying particular attention to puppies and young dogs up to 3 years old.
Owners agree to fill out annual surveys and take measurements of their dogs for the duration of the project, as well as cheek swabs for DNA sampling. Researchers also are working with veterinarians across the country, who submit fur, fecal, urine and blood samples of select Pack dogs to the project.
“We are sequencing the genomes of 10,000 dogs,” Akey said. “This will be one of the largest genetics datasets ever produced for dogs, and it will be a powerful resource not only to understand the role of genetics in aging, but also to answer more fundamental questions about the evolutionary history and domestication of dogs.”
The goal is for the researchers to identify specific biomarkers of canine aging. They also believe their findings will translate to human aging for several reasons.
“Given that dogs share the human environment and have a sophisticated health care system but are much shorter-lived than people, they offer a unique opportunity to identify the genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors associated with healthy lifespan,” says Dr. Daniel Promislow, a University of Washington professor and the principal investigator for the National Institute on Aging grant that funds the Dog Aging Project.
The researchers are especially interested in studying the 300 oldest dogs in the DAP Pack to see if they can identify the reasons behind their longevity. They plan to compare the DNA of these “super-centenarian” dogs to that of dogs that live to the average age for their breed.
If you’re interested in enrolling your own dog in the Dog Aging Project, you can do so by visiting https://dogagingproject.org.
Extending your own dog’s longevity
We all know our pets won’t live forever. But there are steps you can take to ensure a long, healthy life for your dog.
For instance, experts recommend you ditch the cans and kibble and feed your dog a fresh, raw diet with foods like beef, chicken, lamb, peas, spinach, carrots and blueberries. This type of diet can support your dog’s heart health, increase their energy level, make their coat shiny and improve their breath, eyesight and bowel movements.
Whatever you feed your dog, make sure you don’t give them too much of it. If your dog becomes overweight, it can cause health problems and strain on their joints.
Also, don’t forget about water. It only takes a 10 to 12 percent decrease in hydration to cause serious illness in your dog. Make sure you always have a fresh, clean bowl of water available for your dog, especially in the hotter summer months.
Keep your dog active by taking them on daily walks in the morning and evening and tossing them a ball or Frisbee in the park or backyard. It’s also important to allow them time to play freely with other dogs at a friend’s home or at the local dog park. This keeps your dog occupied and happy as well as active.
However, you have to be careful not to overdo it with exercise, especially as a dog gets older. Too much exercise can lead to injuries like bruising, strains and sprains. An elderly dog will still want to run, so it’s up to you to know their limits.
There are also supplements you can give your dog to help protect their joints and vision, as well as keep their coat and nails strong and healthy. Just make sure you check with your veterinarian before starting your dog on any supplement.
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7 Things You Can Do to Help Your Dog Live Longer — Preventive Vet
Preventing Summer Dehydration in Pets — Nutrena
Athletic Injuries in Dogs — Wag!