That picture up there is Audrey … Audrey is 12 and she’s still going strong with no health issues or joint pain.
Audrey is the last living member of her litter. Her six other littermates have all died from cancer. All of the dogs from this litter were fed a raw diet and raised holistically. So why is Audrey the lone survivor?
I have a theory …
The families who owned Audrey’s littermates did many things right. But they weren’t all that well educated in the nuances of health. They may have overlooked some details that I didn’t.
Small hinges swing big doors … and small changes can make a massive difference to your dog’s health.
Small changes can literally extend your dog’s life. So let’s take a look at aging in dogs … and the cause of premature aging, called inflammaging.
What Causes Aging In Dogs?
A 2013 report by Banfield Pet Hospitals looked at how long dogs live on average. They found that the larger the dog, the shorter the average lifespan. The average lifespan based on weight was:
Dogs under 19 pounds ………. 11.3 years
Dogs 20 – 90 pounds ……..……. 10.8 years
Dogs over 90 pounds …………..…. 8 years
At 75 pounds, Audrey is already doing well at 12 years. But, like all my Labradors, I expect Audrey to live to 15 or 16.
That means I need to slow down her aging process. To slow down aging, I have to first understand its causes. And there are many factors that can cause dogs to age:
- Molecular Damage
- Stem Cell Regeneration
But the one factor I have the greatest amount of control over is inflammation.
That’s good … because chronic, low-grade inflammation can rob your dog of years. And scientists now have a name for it … inflammaging. The secret is in how to lengthen telomeres naturally.
If your dog sprained her paw or stepped on a thorn, inflammation would follow. And it would be necessary for healing.
Acute inflammation is the swelling, redness and pain at the site of injury or infection. This type of inflammation is a natural part of the immune system. The blood vessels in that area expand and become more permeable. This helps immune cells migrate out and help repair the affected tissues.
But chronic, low grade inflammation is a problem.
Chronic inflammation is an exaggerated and prolonged immune response. If it continues over long periods of time, your dog’s immune function will start to decline.
Chronic, low-grade inflammation is connected to degenerative diseases, autoimmune diseases and diabetes. And most importantly, chronic inflammation can transform normal cells to malignant or cancer cells.
Chronic inflammation will eventually cause organ disease. This is why older dogs have more problems with their kidneys, livers, hearts and other organs.
Chronic, low-grade inflammation is the enemy of old age.
Inflammation and Heart Disease
Researchers now say chronic inflammation is the cause of heart disease in humans (1). When the immune system is constantly on high alert, inflammatory cells circulate in the blood vessels. This causes the dangerous buildup of plaque.
Plaque triggers an even larger immune response. As the plaque grows, the arteries being to harden. This increases the risk of stroke and heart attack.
Inflammaging And Your Dog
Inflammation is a silent killer … you can’t see it. And most vets don’t measure it.
But there are signs of inflammaging you need to watch for:
- Autoimmune disease
- Cognitive decline
- Immune decline
But by the time you see these signs, inflammaging will be running somewhat rampant in your dog. So you need to address inflammaging before your dog develops chronic diseases.
What if your dog already has one or more of these diseases? Fortunately, there’s still much you can do.
So let’s look at what triggers chronic inflammation … and how you can slow down inflammaging in your dog.
The Causes Of Inflammaging
There are a few reasons why inflammaging happens in your dog …
Your dog’s cells are constantly working. Cells continually generate energy, transcribe DNA, transport molecules, make enzymes and divide. These functions all create waste products. Cells need to continually take out the trash or they become tiny junkyards.
Some of the waste is swept under the rugs or can’t be cleaned out at all. Over time, this waste builds up and starts to interfere with cell function.
DNA Damage And Mutations
Your dog’s DNA is bundled in chromosomes inside his cells. DNA carries your dog’s genetic information. It determines the size, shape and function of every cell … and this determines the size, shape and function of every dog.
Over time, DNA can change and mutate … especially in slowly dividing cells. DNA mutations cause premature aging. And older animals have cells with more mutations.
Mothers can pass genetic mutations to their puppies. These mutations can predetermine how quickly the puppies age. If you want your dog to live a long life, you need to pick the right mother!
At the end of each chromosome is a stretch of DNA called a telomere. Think of telomeres as the hard ends of shoelaces. Telomeres protect the ends of your dog’s chromosomes and stops them from unraveling.
As your dog ages, her telomeres shorten … the older the dog, the shorter her telomeres. Every time a cell divides, the telomere gets shorter and shorter.
Once the telomeres are gone, the cell will do one of three things:
- Self destruct (apoptosis)
- Go rogue (become cancerous)
- Retire (become senescent)
If the immune system is functioning well, it can pick up and destroy the cancerous cells. The body is constantly living with cancer and is well equipped to deal with it.
Senescent cells do the most harm.
One bad apple can ruin the whole cart … that’s exactly how senescent cells cause inflammaging.
They hang around the body and release toxic chemicals. These chemicals start to stick to surrounding healthy cells, causing hem to become senescent or cancerous. The accumulation of senescent cells creates a large amount of inflammation.
A 2019 article summarized studies that showed that removing senescent cells from the hearts of old mice restored heart health and reversed cardiac aging.
Free radicals are molecules with an unpaired electron. Electrons like to be in pairs, so single electrons make free radicals unstable. These unstable molecules will steal electrons from their neighboring molecules. This causes chemical reactions called oxidation.
Antioxidants are molecules that can donate an electron to free radicals without becoming unstable themselves. This prevents free radicals from building up and causing damage to cells and DNA.
If there are more free radicals than antioxidants, inflammation will follow. This is called oxidative stress and it’s a major cause of aging.
So now you know the causes of chronic inflammation in your dog. Next, we’ll look at how you can slow inflammaging down …
Chronic Inflammation Pathways
Chronic inflammation is the result of one of two signalling pathways.
The nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-kB) pathway is a major factor in chronic inflammation (2). It’s activated by nearly 200 different stimuli.
Pro-inflammatory proteins enter the the cell and start this pathway. Once activated, the NF-kB pathway gets into your dog’s DNA and changes how it’s expressed. It controls the activation of over 400 different genes … and when the inflammatory genes are activated, inflammatory proteins are produced.
An activated NF-kB pathway will cause tumor growth and development, metastasis and chronic inflammation.
This pathway is a major factor in decreasing chronic inflammation (3). It regulates over 200 different genes and activates antioxidant genes. It also deactivates carcinogens (cancer-promoting substances) and helps exit them from the body.
These pathways can be switched on or off … and many of the choices you make for your dog will determine which pathway is activated.
Let’s take a quick look at how the Nf-kB pathway is activated.
Dogs (and humans) who are overweight carry inflammatory markers in their fat (4).
An inactive dog is an inflamed dog. Regular activity activates the Nrf2 pathway.
Dogs can often lead stressful lives … including bored or lonely dogs. Chronic stress activates high levels of cortisol. Normally, cortisol turns off the Nf-kB pathway … but chronic stress causes tissues to become less sensitive to cortisol.
The chemicals your dog is exposed to can activate the NF-kB pathway. This is especially true of heavy metals such as lead, mercury and aluminum. The top sources of heavy metals are vaccines and foods.
Some foods are inflammatory while others are anti-inflammatory. We’ll look at anti-inflammatory foods in a bit, but let’s first talk another major cause of inflammaging …
Dysbiosis And Inflammaging
The microbiome is made up of the colonies of microorganisms that live in your dog’s gut. Most of these microorganisms are bacteria. Bacteria have evolved alongside animals and they’re critical to health and disease.
Bacteria are so connected to health that they can control the brain and immune system. They also manufacture vitamins and amino acids. And bacteria can produce inflammatory or anti-inflammatory substances.
The bacteria living in your dog outnumber his own cells by 10 to 1.
A healthy microbiome is one that has a large and diverse population of bacteria. If the bacteria populations aren’t large and diverse, toxic bacteria can colonize in the gut. This is called dysbiosis and it’s a major cause of inflammaging.
Dysbiosis can also cause leaky gut.
The only thing that separates the contents of the small intestine from the body is a single layer of tiny epithelial cells. This makes it easy for your dog to absorb nutrients … but it makes her gut susceptible to leaky gut.
If your dog has dysbiosis, harmful bacteria can colonize. They produce toxic byproducts, which cause NF-kB activation in the epithelial cells. When the epithelial cells become inflamed, the gap between them will open up. This allows toxins and immune factors to escape the intestines and get into your dog’s body. This is leaky gut.
As your dog ages, her microbiome diversity decreases.
But if you make some lifestyle changes for her now, it doesn’t have to. A 2017 study in China showed that healthy older humans can have microbiomes that are similar to healthy young humans (5).
So protecting your dog’s microbiome plays a key role in slowing inflammaging. Your dog’s microbiome can be harmed by:
- Drugs, chemicals and toxins
- The wrong foods
Feeding your dog the wrong foods can activate the NF-kB pathway … and cause dysbiosis and leaky gut.
Foods That Increase Inflammation
Here are the foods that that will cause the most severe inflammaging in your dog:
Omega-6 fats activate pro-inflammatory proteins, while omega-3 fatty acids can inhibit the NF-kB pathway. Your dog’s ancestors (and yours too) ate a diet that was roughly equal parts omega-6 and omega-3 fats.
Today’s highly processed diets are rich in omega-6 fats. Many human foods contain large amounts of vegetable oils … and the resulting waste products are put into animal feeds.
When oils are extracted from soy and corn, the remaining product is called meal. Meal is still rich in omega-6 fats … so the animals eating meal will also have large amounts of omega-6 fats. If your dog eats these chickens or pigs, your dog will be eating the same pro-inflammatory omega-6 fats.
Omega-6 fats also cause dysbiosis.
High Glycemic Load Foods
Starchy foods have a high glycemic load. Foods with a high glycemic load will elevate blood glucose levels. The higher the load, the quicker insulin is released.
High glycemic load foods trigger the NF-kB pathway. They can also cause dysbiosis.
When insulin is spiked, it converts glucose to fat instead of using it for fuel. So dogs that are continually spiking insulin become overweight. Remember, excess weight is another trigger for inflammaging.
Fruits contain about 6-8% starch, while vegetables and sprouts contain about 4% starch. Meat doesn’t contain any starch, while grains contain the largest amount of starch.
Most commercial dog foods contain 30-60% starch. When dogs eat this amount of starch, their insulin activity will spike and trigger inflammation.
Foods Lacking Antioxidants
Free radicals are a major source of inflammaging. So a steady stream of antioxidants is critical if you want to prevent premature aging.
Kibble contains added antioxidants … usually vitamin E, vitamin C or rosemary. But kibble oxidizes. Once it’s exposed to oxygen, the fats in kibble oxidize quickly. Your dog needs the added antioxidants to deal with the free radicals produced by rancid fats.
Antioxidants are added to kibble to fight rancidity, not to slow down inflammaging. And since food antioxidants are heat sensitive, many of them will be lost during processing.
The Anti-Inflammaging Diet
If you want to slow down inflammaging in your dog, here are some of the major dietary changes you need to consider …
Omega-3 Fats (EPA/DHA)
Omega-3 fats decrease inflammatory markers such as interleukin-1 and interleukin-6. They can also increase balance and diversity in the microbiome (6).
A diet rich in omega-3 fats can also lengthen telomere length. Studies show that the higher the amount of omega-3 in the diet, the longer the telomeres (7).
But it’s important to buy a high quality source of omega-3 fats. Both EPA and DHA can quickly oxidize, so your dog’s omega-3 fats should be in capsules or a glass bottle. Fish and krill oil may be a good source of omega-3 fats … but they’re also a source of PCB, heavy metals and plastics.
Safer choices for omega-3 fatty acids include green lipped mussel oil and brain from grass-fed animals. About 15% of the fat from brain is DHA (8).
Broccoli and Broccoli Sprouts
Of all the substances you can feed your dog, nothing activates the Nrf2 pathway more than sulforaphane. Sulforaphane is also a powerful antioxidant and liver detoxifier.
Sulforaphane is found in all cruciferous vegetables like bok choy and cabbage … but it’s found in highest concentrations in broccoli. Broccoli sprouts contain even more sulforaphane, as do the seeds.
If you feed your dog broccoli or other cruciferous vegetables, be sure to mulch it and not cook it. Heat will destroy the sulforaphane and myrosinase, the enzyme the converts in in the body.
Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, also activates the Nrf2 pathway and decreases the Nf-kB pathway.
Polyphenols are compounds that are only found in plants, especially berries. Polyphenols down-regulate inflammation by inhibiting the Nf-kB pathway. They’re also powerful antioxidants and prebiotics that help maintain a healthy microbiome.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that colonize in your dog’s gut. Probiotics help increase the diversity and balance in your dog’s microbiome.
Look for a probiotic that contains at least 10 strains and 30 billion CFU (colony forming units) to be sure there are enough bacteria to colonize. Soil-based probiotics are less fragile so you can choose one or two strains and your dog will need less than a billion CFU.
Prebiotics are foods that feed beneficial species of gut bacteria. They’re made from undigestible fiber and resistant starches. Some of my favorite prebiotics for dogs include:
- Fermented foods
- Dandelion root
- Burdock root
Slowing Aging Down
Inflammaging is a complicated process with a lot of key causes. But you can increase the odds that your dog will live longer than the average lifespan if you:
- Remove inflammatory triggers from your dog’s life
- Add anti-inflammatory foods to her diet
- Build a diverse and healthy microbiome
If you pay attention to just these three things, your dog is well on her way to a better (and hopefully longer) life.
- Libby P, Theroux P. Pathophysiology of coronary artery disease. Circulation. 2005 Jun 28;111(25):3481-8.
- Lawrence T. The nuclear factor NF-kappaB pathway in inflammation. Cold Spring Harb Perspect Biol. 2009;1(6):a001651.
- Ahmed SM, Luo L, Namani A, Wang XJ, Tang X. Nrf2 signaling pathway: Pivotal roles in inflammation. Biochim Biophys Acta Mol Basis Dis. 2017 Feb;1863(2):585-597.
- Ellulu MS, Patimah I, Khaza’ai H, Rahmat A, Abed Y. Obesity and inflammation: the linking mechanism and the complications. Arch Med Sci. 2017;13(4):851-863.
- Gaorui Bian, Gregory B. Gloor et al. The Gut Microbiota of Healthy Aged Chinese Is Similar to That of the Healthy Young. ASM Journals/MSphere. Vol 2 No. 5, September 2017.
- Costantini L, Molinari R, Farinon B, Merendino N. Impact of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on the Gut Microbiota. Int J Mol Sci. 2017;18(12):2645. Published 2017 Dec 7.
- Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Belury MA et al. Omega-3 supplementation lowers inflammation in healthy middle-aged and older adults: a randomized controlled trial. Brain Behav Immun. 2012 Aug;26(6):988-95.
- Weiser MJ, Butt CM, Mohajeri MH. Docosahexaenoic Acid and Cognition throughout the Lifespan. Nutrients. 2016;8(2):99. Published 2016 Feb 17.
- Jordan et al., Dietary Intake Regulates the Circulating Inflammatory Monocyte Pool. Cell 178, 1102–1114 August 22, 2019