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Can Supplements Help Your Dog Live Longer? A Vet Weighs In

We all wish dogs had longer lifespans so we could enjoy their unconditional love for as much time as possible. In pursuit of anti-aging hacks for your canine companion, you may have come across reports of supplements, like those made by Dr. David Sinclair, that reportedly reverse aging in dogs. But what does the science say — can these supplements truly reverse aging in dogs? A veterinarian weighs in on dog supplements and longevity.

Can supplements help dogs live longer?

Whether supplements can help a dog live longer has no simple answer.

First, there isn’t an anti-aging supplement on the market with high-quality, peer-reviewed research showing it increases lifespan. The Leap Years® supplement by Animal Bioscience Inc. (founded by Dr. Sinclair) has undergone one clinical study that tested the supplement on brain function in older dogs. This study did not look at whether the dogs lived longer. The only statistically significant finding was that the supplement given at its total dose minimally improved owner-reported cognitive ratings for dogs after three months of the administration. However, this effect wasn’t present after six months.

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The relevance of one statistically significant result among many insignificant findings, especially short-lived ones, is questionable. More studies are needed to determine if the supplement improves man's best friend's lifespan or overall quality of life. Still, a reliable anti-aging pill for dogs doesn’t exist.

However, supplements may improve your pup's quality of life depending on your dog's underlying health conditions, which could translate into a longer lifespan. For instance, some studies show that glucosamine and chondroitin may benefit dogs with arthritis. Others show that omega-3 fatty acids can help decrease pain in dogs with arthritis, among other effects. However, what works for one pet may not work for another. For most well-known dog supplements, there are studies with conflicting results regarding efficacy. Supplements are not the leading solution for keeping your pets healthy as they age.

For most health conditions in dogs, there are conventional, evidence-based treatment methods with more proven efficacy than supplements. Supplements are only one tool in a veterinarian’s toolbox.

The science behind anti-aging supplements for dogs

We tend to focus on mobility and cognitive function when considering aging in dogs. Mobility is impaired in aging dogs due to loss of muscle and the development of osteoarthritis. Like humans, dogs can also experience cognitive changes, such as disrupted sleep patterns, memory loss, shortened attention spans, and inappropriate social interactions as they age. According to a 2022 study, around 8% of dogs between ages eight and 11 have advanced canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CCDS), which is dog dementia. The percentage of dogs with CCDS increases as dogs age, affecting around 80% of dogs 17 and older. While frailty is commonly considered in human geriatric medicine, monitoring of frailty in dogs is just starting to gain attention. Though some veterinarians utilize human frailty scoring systems in dogs, there isn't a dog-specific standardized frailty scoring system at this time. Veterinarians at Texas A&M are currently developing a frailty instrument to help improve care in geriatric dogs.

Anti-aging supplements aim to slow the process of aging at the cellular level, improving cognitive function and mobility. To achieve these goals, the Leap Years® supplement claims to boost NAD+ production and support the natural clearance of senescent (aging) cells.

NAD stands for nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, a coenzyme essential for metabolic processes in the body. As an animal ages, NAD+ levels decline, affecting the ability of cells to produce the energy needed to fuel bodily functions, resulting in physical aging. The thought behind boosting NAD+ production is that higher levels of NAD+ will improve cellular metabolism, thus slowing aging.

Senescent cells are aged cells that aren’t functioning properly. These cells release chemicals that cause inflammation within the body, speeding the rate at which the body ages. Leap Years® claims to contain a senolytic, which means the product kills senescent cells. Examples of senolytics are quercetin and dasatinib.

The active ingredients listed in Leap Years® are LY-D6™, a novel senolytic and NAD booster, and LY-D2™, a novel NAD booster. LY-D6™ comes in a bag and is to be given on two consecutive days each month. LY-D2 is administered daily afterward for the remainder of the month.

Keep in mind that anti-aging supplements for dogs, including those by Dr. Sinclair, are in their infancy. Studies are in their early stages. For now, there is limited conclusive research on longevity supplements for dogs.

Potential benefits of certain supplements for dogs

There are many supplement options for dogs on the market. For most dog supplements, the general rule is “it probably won’t hurt and might help.” Quite often, the actual peer-reviewed studies have conflicting results regarding efficacy. If you’re interested in using supplements for dogs, discuss them with your veterinarian first.

Commonly used supplements in veterinary medicine include:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids. Fish oils are thought to help with joint health, improve skin health, support healthy hearts, and help with brain development.
  • Glucosamine and chondroitin (sometimes with methylsulfonylmethane or MSM). This supplement is aimed at improving joint health.
  • Probiotics. These supplements contain microorganisms important for gastrointestinal health. They are commonly used in pets with diarrhea, especially after antibiotic therapy.
  • Cobalamin (vitamin B12). This supplement is used for dogs who are deficient due to chronic gastrointestinal conditions or exocrine pancreatic insufficiency.

There is growing interest in supplemental CBD oil as a treatment for anxiety, seizures, skin conditions, cancer, and more. Studies are still underway. Make sure to discuss CBD oil with your veterinarian before using it for your pet.

Importantly, if your dog is fed a well-balanced diet approved by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and/or compliant with the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) feeding guidelines, you do not need to supplement with multivitamins. Your dog's diet is formulated to meet all of their nutritional requirements.

Important considerations before giving your dog supplements

Significantly, supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which means they don’t have the oversight that FDA-regulated drugs have. This means the supplements don’t necessarily have to prove that they contain what they say they do. Companies don’t have to confirm the quality or efficacy of their supplements. The National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) is a non-profit organization that puts its quality seal on animal supplements. It shows that they undergo third-party testing every two years and meet other NASC standards. Consider only choosing animal supplements with the NASC seal. Animal Bioscience Inc. is listed on the NASC member site but has not yet earned the right to display the NASC seal.

You should also consider that dosing will vary based on your pet's size and underlying health conditions. For example, the recommended (extra-label) dosing of omega-3 fatty acids for dogs with kidney disease differs from the recommended (also extra-label) dosing for dogs with arthritis. In both cases, the dosing is based on the pet's weight.

Some supplements can also interact with prescribed medications. For example, glucosamine/chondroitin combinations have been reported to decrease the efficacy of insulin. Administering probiotics with antibiotics may decrease their efficacy. You should always let your veterinarian know if your pet takes any medications or supplements to avoid negative interactions.

Some supplements may be covered by comprehensive pet insurance as long as the veterinarian prescribes them to treat a covered condition. Some insurance companies may consider supplements as an alternative therapy, either not providing coverage or only providing coverage if the pet owner selects holistic/alternative therapy packages. General health supplements, such as ones meant to slow aging, are usually not covered by pet insurance companies.

Potential side effects of supplements

Although side effects are generally rare when given at appropriate dosing with veterinary guidance, there are potential side effects of dog supplements, including:

  • Digestive upset causing diarrhea or loose stools, vomiting, nausea, stomach pain, and excessive gas
  • Allergic reactions causing itchy skin, hives, facial or limb swelling, or anaphylaxis
  • Drug interactions
  • Increased bleeding risk

Side effects differ between different types of supplements. Some supplements can be toxic if given without veterinary approval or if overdosed. For example, calcitriol (a vitamin D analog) overdose can cause increased calcium and phosphorus levels that result in vomiting, diarrhea, excessive thirst, excessive urination, and damage to the kidneys.

The Leap Years supplement lists no known interactions with other medications or supplements, and they report no adverse effects in dogs receiving 10 times the daily dosage.

Alternative ways to promote healthy aging in dogs

Rather than relying on supplements alone to counter the effects of age, consider these evidence-based approaches to promoting longevity in dogs:

  • Proper diet and nutrition. Choose a high-quality food approved by AAFCO that meets the requirements for your dog’s life stage and medical needs. Prescription diets are available for dogs with unique dietary needs
  • Regular exercise. Obesity may shorten lifespan in dogs by as many as two years. Maintaining a healthy weight and activity level promotes longevity in dogs.
  • Preventative veterinary care. Regular wellness exams and screening tests allow for the early detection of diseases. Earlier intervention improves outcomes for many health conditions. Vet-recommended vaccines and preventives protect your pet from potentially deadly infectious diseases and parasites.
  • Mental stimulation. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) recommends regular environmental enrichment, including new toys, cognitive games, tasks, and agility (if mobility allows) to combat cognitive decline.

While the anti-aging effects of supplements for dogs are inconclusive, some might offer health benefits when used appropriately under veterinary guidance. Rather than focusing on anti-aging and extending life, it may be more appropriate to center your dog’s quality of life as your end goal. Rather than seeking a magic anti-aging pill, focus on a holistic approach to healthy aging by providing your dog with a proper diet, regular exercise, and regular veterinary care.

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