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Dogs’ immune systems change as they age, reveals Mars Petcare UK

Dogs’ immune systems change as they age, meaning they will have a reduced ability to respond to infections or stress, says a new study from Mars Petcare UK.

The Mars Petcare Aging Pets Ownership survey ran from 4-12 October 2017 an covered 6,298 adults aged 18+ who owned at least one dog in their household. The study is published today in the Journal of Gerontology: Biological Sciences.

“We now know that dogs suffer from low level inflammation and cellular damage as they get older, similar to humans,” said Janet Alexander, Senior Research Scientist at the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition and lead author of the study.

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“The study identified multiple targets for potential therapeutic intervention to defend against or delay the impact of ageing and the new insights can help us to provide more effective life stage support.”

An additional survey by Mars Petcare explored how UK dog owners care for their senior pets and found that:

  • Around one in five dog owners currently own a senior dog.
  • Over half of senior dog owners surveyed in the UK would value more information on how to look after their pet
  • While senior dog owners do not find caring for their pets much harder than the owners of younger dogs (29 percent vs 25 percent), 65 percent would value more information from their vet on how to look after their senior dog.
  • Nearly half of UK dog owners surveyed say that they find senior dogs are better behaved than younger dogs. According to new research, they may just need a little more support in their old age.

Most dog owners change the way they look after their dogs as they get older (76 percent) either by changing their food (58 percent) or taking them for shorter walks (54 percent). Information on nutrition (68 percent) and amount of exercise (57 percent) are the areas where they would value knowing more.

The study followed 80 dogs for over 10 years and measured a number of parameters to track their ageing process. The study started when the dogs were adults and continued until the end of life.  Some additional findings include:

  • 51 percent increase in DNA damage. The study showed a 51 percent increase in 8-Hydroxydeoxyguanosine (80HDG) levels. 80HDG is a specific marker of oxidative damage to DNA.
  • 30 percent increase in C-reactive protein (CRP).  CRP levels will rise in response to inflammation, showing that ageing dogs can suffer from increased levels of inflammation.
  • 86 percent decrease in Heat Shock Proteins (HSP70).  HSP70 measure ability to respond to cellular damage, and this study shows a significant decrease in this ability as dogs age.

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