Why Aren’t Our Pets Living Longer?

Written by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

Story at-a-glance -

  • Today kicks off our Companion Animal Nutrition and Wellness Institute’s (CANWI) Annual Awareness Week
  • CANWI is a nonprofit I co-founded with Dr. Donna Raditic; our mission is to conduct independent, unbiased pet food research and share our findings with every interested pet parent, veterinarian and pet food company
  • Our study on advanced glycation end products (AGEs) in processed dog food is underway; next up, with your help and support, is a study on AGEs in processed cat food and its potential link to feline diabetes
  • The overarching goal of CANWI is to answer the question, “Why aren’t our pets living longer?”
  • We plan to share all that we learn from our studies with pet parents and the veterinary community worldwide

This week we're celebrating the Companion Animal Nutrition and Wellness Institute's (CANWI) Annual Awareness Week, and today I'm talking with my friend and co-founder of CANWI, integrative veterinarian and board-certified veterinary nutritionist Dr. Donna Raditic.

It's been almost four years since Dr. Raditic and I started our nonprofit. Our mission is to conduct unbiased research on pet nutrition and educate pet parents, veterinarians and others about our findings. As Dr. Raditic points out, we've accomplished a great deal over the last four years, but we've still got a lot of work ahead of us.

CANWI's Nutrition Residency Program

One of the things CANWI has accomplished is to secure funding for a two-year veterinary nutrition residency at the University of Tennessee. Dr. Danielle Conway completed this program this past summer. Dr. Conway has received certification in a wide range of integrative therapies, including chiropractic and acupuncture, rehabilitation therapy and Chinese medicine.

At the moment, she's working to get her credentials as a board-certified veterinary nutritionist and when that happens, CANWI will have two board-certified nutrition experts to help spread the word about common sense nutrition for pets.

Our Processed Pet Food/AGEs Study Is Underway

We've also launched a very ambitious research project some of you may be aware of or may have helped fund, to evaluate the differences between processed pet foods and fresh food diets. I asked Dr. Raditic to bring us up to speed on the progress of our advanced glycation end products (AGEs) study.

"The AGEs study, or the dietary AGE study, is off and running and it's really very exciting," she explains. "We've assembled teams of researchers at a major university that are looking at processed pet foods and comparing them to fresh pet foods and measuring levels of AGEs.

What we're finding from human studies and literature, is AGEs may be an underlying cause of diseases such as osteoarthritis, kidney disease, diabetes, and even cancer.

One of the questions we want to answer is, 'Do AGEs form in processed foods when proteins and carbs come together?' We know most pet diets, dry and canned foods, are highly processed. We want to find out if there are AGEs in those diets. Can they be measured? What are they doing to our pets?

So that study is underway and we've actually accumulated quite a bit of data. We're learning how to measure AGEs in processed pet diets. We're currently evaluating dog foods, and we should be wrapping that up and gathering more data over the next few weeks to analyze and ultimately publish."

One thing I've personally learned through this process, having never been involved with research before, is how much time it takes to put a study together, execute it, collect the data and write up the results for publication. It's quite a long, involved process!

A Question We Want to Answer: Why Aren't Our Pets Living Longer?

One of the things I'm most proud of is that CANWI includes both a scientific team and a research team, so there are many people involved in moving the project forward and ensuring its objectivity. I asked Dr. Raditic to explain how our study results will benefit both the veterinary community and pet parents.

"This is really important information we're gathering because prior studies already show that AGEs negatively impact human health," she replied. "AGEs in the diet can make us unhealthy, and they may be driving some of the diseases people are dealing with today.

There are also studies that suggest dogs and cats may be consuming more AGEs than we do in the typical Western processed diets we eat. Our dogs and cats often eat the same food their entire life. If they're exposed to AGEs in their diet, it may be driving some disease states in pets as well. It goes back to the question, 'Why aren't our pets living longer'?

We're giving them preventative vaccinations and doing titers. We've doing lab work on them. We're giving them all kinds of preventative-type care, but it just doesn't seem like we're extending their lives significantly. In human medicine we've extended life quite significantly. People are living longer, but in dogs and cats, we're still struggling to see some significant extension of their lives.

Our hope is that our AGEs study will be foundational, and provide a way for us to understand how we can improve nutrition for pets to impact quality of life and longevity. We want to answer the question, 'Why aren't our pets living longer'?"

Are Advanced Glycation End Products in Processed Cat Food Contributing to the Feline Diabetes Epidemic?

I'm very excited about our AGEs study, because we know food is a big part of the puzzle when it comes to the health and lifespan of pets. We also know that without this type of independent, unbiased research, we're never going to get the answers we seek. And in fact, that's why CANWI was formed.

I'm very happy to be able to host an entire week of CANWI-related research projects, and to give all my Mercola Healthy Pets visitors an opportunity to help fund our next research project, which will focus on kitties.

We've already discovered through our dog food study that we can measure AGEs in pet diets. Next we want to demonstrate the effect of AGEs in a disease state. In human research, AGEs have been linked to diabetes. Cats, as we know, get diabetes, primarily Type 2 diabetes, which is the most common type of diabetes in humans as well.

"Cats are a model for human Type 2 diabetes," Dr. Raditic explains. "So could we compare healthy cats and diabetic cats, looking at their intake of processed foods and AGE levels in their diets, as well as at blood and urine samples, and see if we can see an effect of AGEs in these cats?

What we'd like to do is take the next step in our study of AGEs and processed diets and see if they play a role in feline diabetes similar to the role they play in human diabetes."

CANWI Is the First and Only Research Organization Conducting Independent Pet Nutrition Research

Dr. Raditic and I are very proud to be the first research organization in the world to initiate these important studies.

"I think we're the first," Dr. Raditic agrees. "It takes a lot of work to put together teams, to find the best researchers and labs with advanced equipment. Most of all, though, we need support. We need everyone's support to answer these types of questions … to figure out how we're going to provide the best nutrition to pets … how we're going to improve quality of life … and how we're going to improve longevity in our cats and dogs.

That takes support; support from all of you who care about what CANWI does and will do going forward. All that we learn and discover will be shared so that every pet parent knows what we know."

The big pet food companies do their own research and don't share their results widely. We'll be sharing our findings with everyone so we can help pet food companies produce better-quality, safer diets. Our research findings will help pet parents and veterinarians better understand how the food they choose for their animal companions impacts overall health and well-being.

Throughout this week, we'll be discussing more details about our newest research project, and we'll also take a look at other exciting things CANWI is doing to help improve the lives of pets through independent pet food research. So please join us, support this important work, and donate now because we can't do it without you. Thank you!