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Large Dogs Could Soon Be Living Well Into Their Teens

Veterinarian Reviewed by Dr. Janice Huntingford, DVM on April 4, 2017
Posted in Dogs

Large dogs age faster and therefore die younger than smaller ones. A Yorkshire Terrier has a faster metabolism than a Great Dane but will most likely live at least thirteen years, whereas the Great Dane could die before its eighth birthday.

A 2013 study found that every 4.4 pounds of body mass on a dog takes about a month off the animal’s life. Large dogs more often develop cancer than smaller ones because cancer is caused by the growth of abnormal cells, and the accelerated growth of large dogs leaves more room for this to occur.

But thanks to new research and advancements in veterinary care, it could soon be relatively common for large dogs to live well over ten years.

In a study conducted at Colgate University last January, two undergraduate students revealed that cells from large breed puppies contain more molecules known as “free radicals” than puppies of smaller breeds. “Free radicals” are defined as unstable molecules with an uneven amount of electrons. They steal electrons from stable molecules, creating more unstable molecules that damage cells and lead to the emergence of cancer.

Antioxidants can neutralize free radicals but unlike smaller breed dogs, large breed dogs have far too many free radicals for antioxidants to effectively neutralize. This suggests that if large breed dogs were given extra antioxidants as puppies, cellular damage wouldn’t begin at such a young age, allowing them to age at the same rate as smaller breeds.

Regardless of breed, you can extend the lifespan of your dog by giving him or her plenty of exercise and a balanced diet. It’s extremely difficult, however, for older, larger dogs to exercise when movement evokes severe pain. The musculoskeletal system of large dogs deteriorates at a faster rate, resulting in degenerative arthritis.

Dr. Erin O’Conner, owner of Vitality Chiropractic Center in Boston, is one of many veterinarians who has managed to offset this pain with chiropractic adjustments. In addition to consistent weight management, she recommends an adjustment every few months.

“Many people think that it is normal for dogs to significantly slow down as they age, lay on the bed all day, or avoid the stairs…it’s not!”

she writes on her blog.

“They are trying to tell us that something hurts.”

Among Dr. O’Conner’s patients is a large breed dog who was able to retain normal joint mobility at nineteen years old.

Animal chiropractors are often strong advocates of adjustments for human beings. Dr. Tasha Wilson of Rochester, New York feels the same way about acupuncture, so the veterinarian and licensed acupuncturist began performing the alternative therapy on pets last June. Her first patient suffered from hip dysplasia, another age-related disease that causes muscle spasms and inhibits mobility. These spasms occurred multiple times a week but after just a few sessions, the canine began experiencing them just twice a month. Acupuncture is painless for most pets, Dr. Wilson says, noting that they usually relax immediately after the first needle enters their skin.

Aside from alleviating painful inflammation, Dr. Wilson’s utmost goal is weaning pets off pain medication, which can have harmful side-effects. A great deal of dogs who find success with alternative therapies as well as chiropractic adjustments do not respond to traditional therapies or are so old that the side-effects could prove fatal. Dr. Wilson also provides nutritional services and counseling for pet owners, since acupuncture or adjustments cannot extend the life expectancy of a dog on their own.

“Many people don’t realize that diet can help decrease the progression with issues like kidney disease, so their pets can be around longer,”

she told local media.

Despite the rise in pet obesity, Dr. Wilson is optimistic about future generations of pets due to the evolving bond between pet owners and veterinarians. No matter the purpose of the visit, most conversations she has with pet owners typically revolve around the same topic: dietary restrictions.

Read also: How to Get the Most out of Your Vet Visit

Our Expert

Dr. Janice Huntingford
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan

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