Life Expectancy and Epigenetics
Epigenetics is the study of how your behaviors and environment can cause changes that affect the way your genes work. Unlike genetic changes, epigenetic changes are reversible and do not change your DNA sequence, but they can change how your body reads a DNA sequence. Check out the CDC’s article on Epigenetics to learn more.
I remember as a youngster wishing my dog would live forever. Alas that was not meant to be and the pain from losing my first dog has been mirrored through the years with each subsequent pet loss. I don’t need to tell you; losing a pet simply never gets easier.
Life Expectancy for Cats and Dogs:
Cats vary slightly by breed, but in general: 12 – 20 years
Dogs vary by size:
- Small dogs (2-22 lbs.): 12 – 16 years
- Medium dogs (23-55 lbs.): 10 – 15 years
- Large dogs (56-99 lbs.): 9 – 12 years
- Giant dogs (over 100 lbs.): 6 – 8 years
What Does Research Say?
These are not exactly jolly statistics for someone longing for a forever dog or cat. And it is obvious from these statistics that the larger your dog, the shorter its’ life. Why is that? Research in this field is ongoing with no definitive answers yet, but Stanley Coren, PhD, DSc, FRSC has written some fascinating articles about this phenomenon and compiling research from reputable sources he notes that in larger dogs “cell division and cell growth… (proceeds at) …a much faster pace of living, with the body working harder simply to reach its normal adult size.” This puts higher stress on a large dog’s body at the cellular level, not visible to us, but occurring nonetheless. One theory about the result of this accelerated cell division and cell growth is that the telomeres which cap the DNA chromosomes shorten with every cell division and thus wear out more quickly in larger breeds. As the telomeres shorten, they eventually die, leading to aging and death of the dog. Coren’s article “The Life Expectancy of 165 Breeds of Dogs” is eye opening. If you search your breed and are getting worried, please don’t panic. Keep reading.
The Role of Epigenetics
Life expectancies are generalized averages of age statistics. They are not written in stone. What can dramatically influence your own dog’s life span is a magic little word – epigenetics. Epigenetics is defined as the study of how your behaviors and environment can cause changes that affect the way your genes are expressed or repressed. You cannot change your genes, but you may be able to change their functioning. For example, if your family has a predisposing history of heart disease you may delay or even avoid heart problems by eating a heart-healthy diet, exercising, and minimizing stress. Your genes haven’t changed, but you have influenced their activity/non-activity.
A Carnivore’s Diet
Let’s talk about epigenetics on a very simple level, our pet’s diets. Many of us have trouble controlling our own diets, but there is no excuse for feeding your dog or cat anything less than a species appropriate diet. It is universally true that optimal nutrition is the key to a long, healthy life. Cats are obligate carnivores meaning they need to get all of their nutrients from a meat diet. Dogs are facultative carnivores meaning their healthiest diet is meat-based but they can survive on a slightly broader range of foods. This is not theoretical news; it is common fact based on their ancestry, their dentition, their enzyme profile, stomach acids, length of their digestive systems, ad infinitum. Although slightly different types of carnivores, both our cats and dogs should be fed as such. This is their genetic makeup, and no slick advertising campaign or trendy fad diet ingredients can alter that.
Help Defy the Odds
The bottom line is if you want your pet to live a healthy life and perhaps defy their predicted life expectancy you will need to feed them a diet founded on his genetic requirements which for cats and dogs is a raw, meat-based, carnivore diet. Northwest Naturals has been producing frozen raw and freeze-dried raw diets for many years in our USDA certified plant. We are committed to the day-by-day health as well as the longevity of your cats and dogs. We cannot promise you a forever pet, but in partnership with a responsible owner, we will come as close to that goal as is possible in 2022. Find all of our products in a store near you!
By Carol Kendig