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3 Steps to 25-year Old Pets: A Pathway for Pet Life Extension
Dr. Ernie Ward discusses pet longevity and steps veterinarians can take to help their patients live to age 25! Genetic testing can help early prediction.
I believe it's time veterinary professionals seriously consider what we can do to help cats and dogs live to age 25. We also need to ask how long do pets actually live? What are the barriers to longevity in dogs and cats? What can we do to add years of high quality of life for our patients? These questions serve as signposts for Project 25 and guide the evolution of pet care into life extension.
Let’s begin by asking what a reasonable life expectancy for pet dogs and cats should be? Twenty-five years seems attainable, considering the growing number of dogs documented as living 25 to 29 years and cats well into their thirties. But living more years is only half of the story. Life extension is ultimately about providing a healthier, more vital, and disease-free existence. By preventing disease and delaying or reversing the physiological effects of aging, we also extend the years our pets enjoy a high quality of life.
Before you dismiss the notion as fanciful, misguided, or even laughable, I challenge you to remain open-minded and rational. In human medicine and physiological science, the quest for longevity is considered a serious, worthy, and important endeavor. Human life expectancy has doubled during the last century and our “healthspan” (years without disease or debilitation) continues to rise, thanks to advances in nutrition, public health, antibiotics, vaccines, and medical technologies. Even with these impressive gains, billions of dollars in research continues to be conducted each year to further extend both life expectancy and enhance quality of life. But what about our pets?
Paradoxically, this existential question is barely raised within the veterinary profession, and advocates are often dismissed. While critics reject the pursuit of pet life extension, a growing number of pet parents are attempting to add any amount of time to their pet’s life, often resorting to untested and unproven interventions. If nothing else, we owe it to our patients to rigorously investigate these modalities and determine their safety and efficacy.
The majority of veterinary scientific inquiries remain focused on disease treatment, rather than prediction and prevention. Other than immunizations, pet food, and a few emerging diagnostic tests and carryover groups from human longevity companies, there appears little interest in a meaningful pursuit of pet life extension. It’s time for cultural change with regard to longevity in the veterinary profession.
To catalyze this change, I propose three requisite steps the veterinary profession needs to undertake over the next five years: 1) a centralized mortality reporting database, 2) predictive analytics and diagnostics, and, 3) development and approval of therapeutics and interventional strategies.
The first question we need to accurately answer is what is the current life expectancy of dogs and cats? What are the primary causes of death? A national pet mortality database could be established to collect anonymized data on species, breed, sex, geography, weight or BCS, diagnoses and cause of death. Large veterinary corporations could share their data and individual veterinary clinics or pet owners could file an online report along with supporting medical records. As corporate practices expand, their role in aggregating and analyzing this vital data can’t be overstated. This database of life expectancy and cause of death would propel us toward a better understanding of the true “healthspan” and “health status” of our pets and aid us in identifying areas to intervene.
Next, we need better predictive analytics and diagnostics. Pet genetic testing is experiencing a renaissance in both sequencing capabilities and disease catalogs. Over the past decade, pet DNA tests have progressed from, “What is your pet’s breed?” to “What diseases is your pet most at risk for developing?” By incorporating basic lab tests and artificial intelligence, lab companies are now able to predict kidney disease years in advance. Advances in imaging offer a glimpse into disease states at their earliest inception and biomarkers can uncover hidden cancers before they have a chance to grow. Microbiome analysis is deciphering a hidden world of health influencers residing in our pet’s gut, skin, and mouth. Other molecules can guide us in turning on or off physiological pathways to potentially both extend life expectancy and reduce the ravages of environmental damage. We’ve only started the predictive analytics revolution in veterinary medicine, but we need to both embrace and encourage this emerging paradigm shift from disease diagnosis to disease prediction.
Finally, we need proven interventional strategies to reach twenty-five-year pet life expectancies. Research has already identified a wide range of target therapies for life extension from investigational mTor inhibitors such as rapamycin to basic lifestyle changes such as maintaining lean body mass. We know that modalities to extend life expectancy and healthspan exist, yet discussion of these interventions is rarely pursued, much less promoted, particularly among our influential veterinary school researchers.
I hope you’ll join in my pursuit of the 25-year-old pet. Even if we fail, the journey is noble and necessary. The potential benefits to the pets we love far outweigh the ridicule or scorn we may face. I believe 25-year-old healthy and vibrant dogs and cats will become a reality over the next 20 years, meaning the first heirs of these advances will be born by 2027. The first step is to change our mindset about pet longevity. The future of our pets’ health depends on us.
Basepaws Veterinary, a leading innovator in pet biotechnology, is committed to research and discovering new knowledge that will help veterinary professionals provide better care for their patients. We are developing a unique category of screening tools that combines genomic, microbiome and health history data to identify pre-clinical indicators associated with health-related outcomes. Prediction of disease and risk of negative outcomes offer veterinarians greater options in treatment and even prognosis of diseases.