Advances in veterinary medicine have led to better care for pets. If this has had a visible effect on their increasing life expectancy, genetic diseases could well play the spoilsport…
Dogs and cats have access to the same complex treatments and surgeries as humans. “Scientifically and technologically, we can do a lot more things in 2021 than in 1985 when I started my veterinary studies”, testifies Thierry Bedossa, doctor-veterinarian at the clinic of the bridge of Neuilly. “Today, we can approach the medical care of dogs or cats exactly the way we approach the medical care of humans.”
If care is now the same for humans and animals, is their life expectancy greater than in the past? According to Guillaume Germain, veterinary doctor at the Pont de Neuilly clinic, “life expectancy has increased, with the development of therapeutic techniques, but also with the change in our relationship with animals.” For this practitioner, this is due to the fact that: ”Most owners consult their veterinarian very regularly, which was not necessarily the case 20 or 30 years ago.”
Studies to better understand what prolongs the life of companion dogs
To better understand the factors that can help increase the life expectancy of our pets, research is currently underway at the University of Washington. This study called the Dog Aging Project, conducted over 10 years with 10,000 dogs, brings together dog owners, veterinarians and researchers to observe the biological and environmental factors that maximize longevity. Other studies are underway, notably within the Morris Animal Foundation, which analyzes the health of nearly 3,000 golden retrievers over the age of 12 in order to discover the secret of their longevity.
Variable life expectancy
A dog’s breed and weight seem to be one of the biggest factors influencing a dog’s estimated average lifespan.1. According to the thesisCause of death of dogs at the National Veterinary School of Toulouse between September 2007 and September 2017” conducted by veterinary doctor Mélodie Beaujard, it is estimated at 10.8 years. For dogs over 45 kg, the average age at death is 6.1 years against 12.7 years for dogs under 10 kg. According to another 2012 study, conducted by the agri-food group Royal Canin, for a cat, the average age of death is between 15 and 20 years old. In Doctor Bedossa’s office, it has already happened to meet dogs almost 20 years old and cats 23 years old, an exceptional longevity record for these species.
Genetic diseases and obesity, do they impact the lifespan of our animals?
But for several years, genetic diseases have been multiplying in certain purebred dogs and cats, strongly impacting their potential longevity. “When I was a young veterinarian, there were less than 100 hereditary diseases known in dogs. Today, we are almost at 700! ” alarmed Doctor Bedossa. The increase in diseases of hereditary origin is due, according to the practitioner, to the policy of aesthetics and performance of certain farms. “We do not give the possibility to the circuit of breeding and breeders to make a selection based on good health throughout life”.
According to Mélanie Beaujard’s study, the appearance of “breed standards” caused a significant selection of dog breeds, resulting in a decrease in genetic diversity between individuals of the same breed. Therefore, the races called “pure”, unlike crossbred dogs, are more likely to suffer from a line-borne disease.
The most common genetic diseases in dogs are often due to inbreeding issues. For Dr. Bedossa, the most recurrent diseases are coxo-femoral dysplasia (recurrent in sheepdogs, mastiffs, retrievers and guard dogs), cryptorchidism (only one testicle), deafness (particularly in dogs with white coats) and conformational abnormalities of the skull and brain (recurring in miniature dogs). In purebred cats, polycystic kidney disease (kidney failure) is the most common genetic disease, to the point that it can wipe out an entire line.
Physical inactivity is another factor that can affect life expectancy. Like their owners, today’s pets move less. According to a 2018 IPSOS study, dog owners spend an average of 7.5 hours a week with their dog and only 14% of that time for sports activities. A way of life that promotes cases of overweight and obesity often responsible for diseases such as diabetes, which is the most common risk factor for mortality in cats.
1Thesis “Cause of mortality of dogs at the National Veterinary School of Toulouse between September 2007 and September 2017”, Mélodie Beaujard
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