Life Extension for Dogs: The Ultimate Guide

Life Extension for Dogs: The Ultimate Guide

When we did our article on cat longevity last November, tons of you asked us when we were going to write something similar covering life extension for dogs.

Both Rachel and I are dog owners, so we knew we wanted to do justice to the topic of dog longevity (and who can ignore a ready-made excuse to share cute puppy pictures?!).

dog life extension article requests
We heard you!

In fact, one of the first things I thought about when my wife and I got our puppy, Kipling, was how to use my longevity knowledge to help make my dog live longer.

Kipling is a Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, which is a breed known for being incredibly sweet, good with kids, calm, and also adorable.

greater swiss mountain dog longevity
Just the cutest.

Unfortunately, they are not known for living a long time.

“Swissies,” like most large and giant breed dogs, don’t live as long as small dogs, and on average only survive eight-or-so short years. Even the 14-16 years that smaller dogs can live is far too short a time for those of us who love them, a fact that Kipling’s namesake wrote a heart-wrenchingly beautiful poem about.

But we know one Swissy owner who got theirs to 11, and others who have lived almost as long. So I did some basic research on how to have a healthy dog in order to give Kipling the most years possible.

I learned that we probably shouldn’t neuter him too early as it could cause joint problems later in life. I also chanced upon a landmark study done—ironically—by dog food company Purina, that showed 25% caloric restriction from birth led to an average of 1.8 years longer, healthier life extension for dogs.

And so, since he was 10 weeks old, Kipling has been on a 25% calorically-restricted diet (he now gets three cups of healthy dog food a day) and, at three years old, is still intact.

I also started giving him two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil a day, under the theory that it won’t hurt him and, if it acts in dogs like it does in humans, may even help him live longer.

life extension for dogs ultimate guide

But there’s so much more to life extension for dogs that I didn’t know!

So, over the last few weeks I set out to answer my questions, doing deep dives into all of the topics I was curious about. We’ve now published each of those as their own separate articles, and in this dog life extension guide we’re collecting all the best information about how to make your dog live longer into an easy, digestible overview.

Hopefully what I found in my research can also help you give your pup the long, healthy life they deserve.

Note: Save the Dog Aging Project!
One of the best sources for research studies on dog longevity has been the Dog Aging Project, an NIH-funded study of over 45,000 dogs that’s already provided landmark insights into how to make dogs (and eventually people!) live longer. Unfortunately, as of publication in 2024, NIH is threatening to pull the funding for this crucial scientific endeavor. Please help save the Dog Aging Project by signing this petition: You can also donate directly to the project here:

Affiliate Disclaimer: Longevity Advice is reader-supported. When you buy something using links on our site, we may earn a few bucks.

Life extension for dogs: the science

Dog longevity— just like human longevity—is a huge topic, and we could write hundreds of articles on every aspect impacting how long dogs live. From environment, to disease detection, diet, to exercise, to medication and supplementation, mental health, to surgical procedures, to dental health and the microbiome, so many things can determine your dog’s lifespan

With such a large topic space, not only did we break up our dog life extension investigation into a series of multiple articles, but we’ve also had to narrow down what we cover to just the essentials.

To do that I’ve made the assumption that you’re already covering the basics of dog health. For instance, you’re already:

  • Doing annual vet checkups for your pup and getting their preventive shots.
  • Making sure they get a good walk or two a day.
  • Doing basic obedience training to help prevent them doing things like running off into the street.
  • Taking them in for medical care for acute injuries like cuts and broken bones.

That means we can focus a little more on intermediate and advanced actions you can take to help your dog live longer.

And there actually seem to be a lot of ways you can help keep your dog healthy. The additional benefit is many of these can help keep you healthier as well. Not only do dogs share our same environment, but also many of the same comorbidities and chronic conditions.

As they say, “If your dog is overweight, you need more exercise.”

When looking at these comorbidities, I found it helpful to understand just what, specifically, most dogs die from.

The biggest risk to look out for seems to be cancer, with malignant tumors accounting for up to half of all deaths of elderly dogs. Cardiovascular disease and, for large dogs, osteoarthritis and related joint issues are also prime killers.

Cancer in dogs is especially interesting because the dogs classified as being exceptionally long-lived suffer from cancer at much lower rates than dogs with normal longevity. According to a 2003 study of 345 Rottweilers, “Only 19% of extreme aged dogs died of cancer versus 82% of dogs with usual longevity.”

This suggests to me that preventing, or at least delaying, cancer onset in your pup may be the most important aspect to increasing their longevity. The good news is that most of the things that will keep your dog healthy generally will also help to prevent or stave off cancer.

So let’s look at each of them.

Dog life extension diet

While my investigation didn’t really turn up anything suggesting that any particular diet was better for dog life extension than any other, it did find that particular eating patterns were.

The key takeaways into our deep dive on the best diet for dog longevity are:

1. Don’t let your dog get overweight

Chubby doggos may look cute, but they live shorter lives, more prone to injury and disease, than lean, healthy-weight dogs.

Since most people incorrectly assess the weight of their dog, be sure to use something objective, like a dog scale, or a validated tool like a dog body condition score, to make sure your pup is staying trim.

2. Feed your dog 25% less

Caloric restriction is the best, most proven method to extend lifespan in dogs, bar none. 

Dogs fed  25% fewer calories from birth live, on average, 1.8 years longer than dogs fed a normal calorie diet. And calorically restricted dogs get fewer diseases, injuries, and cancers, so those 1.8 years are higher quality, too.

Use a pet food measuring cup to ensure you’re not overfeeding your dog.

3. Limit your dog’s feeding window each day

Intermittent fasting seems to provide health benefits for dogs in the same way it may for people. 

Dogs fed only once per day have better cognitive ability, and lower chances of injuries and disorders than dogs fed twice or three times daily.

Note: This may not hold true for large and giant breed dogs, where once-daily feeding is associated with an increased risk for gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), which can be fatal.

4. If feeding a raw or home-prepared diet, ensure proper nutrients

I found no research proving a raw diet for dogs, or even a home-prepared dog diet gave any longevity benefits above commercial kibble diets. The biggest downside to home-prepared dog diets seems to be nutritional imbalances and nutrient deficiencies, which one 2015 review said led to malnutrition and clinical symptoms.

That said, you may still want to give your dog one of these diets for a variety of reasons (better control over the ingredients, flexibility, or concern with commercial food preparation methods).

If so, be sure to use a tool like Balance It, and run your proposed diet by your vet, to make sure you are not causing any nutrient deficiencies accidentally.

5. If feeding a commercial diet, check for quality

Commercial kibble and dry and wet dog foods have their own issues, including high AGE content (especially in wet food), so it pays to do the research before selecting one for your dog.

The criteria I use for selecting a top dry dog food, based on the research I’ve done is:

  1. No canned, wet dog food.
  2. Air dried or dried using a low-temperature method.
  3. Does not contain pulses like peas, lentils, or chickpeas, or tubers like potatoes.
  4. Does not contain other ingredients known to be toxic to dogs, including: garlic, onion, avocados, grapes, chocolate, leeks, scallions, chives, or shallots.
  5. Does not contain unnamed meat products like “meat meal,” “meat and bone meal” or “byproduct meal.”
  6. Contains a named, whole animal protein as the first ingredient.
  7. Does not contain a non-meat filler as the first or second ingredient.
  8. Does not contain artificial preservatives like propylene glycol.
  9. Does not contain opaque and unregulated “natural flavor” ingredients.
  10. Has a statement that it meets Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) standards for a “complete and balanced” dog food.

6. Consider a therapeutic diet if your dog has certain conditions

Certain dog diseases and conditions, like epilepsy, kidney disease, and cancer, have shown some improvement under specific diets.

Things like a ketogenic diet, low-protein renal diet, and high fish oil anti-cancer diet may help your dog improve their lifespan and health. If your dog suffers from a chronic issue, talk to your vet about potential therapeutic diets that can help.

Dog dental health

Canine oral care is an important, but often overlooked, aspect of dog life extension.

Tooth decay and periodontal disease puts your pup at increased risk of infections, cardiovascular disease, cognitive dysfunction, and increased mortality.

And the solution is actually pretty simple: brush your dog’s teeth once daily (similar to us humans!).

Certain canine dental treats also seem to help (though not as much as tooth brushing) so you can consider adding treats like Hill’s Prescription Diet Dental Care Chews, Greenies dental treats, and Veggiedent Fresh chews to your dog oral care routine.

Dental bones for dogs also seem to help remove plaque and tartar build up. So long as your dog is not the kind to chip their teeth, consider also giving them the occasional bone to gnaw.

dog longevity
This is Rachel’s dog Orla, and she’s a sweetheart.

Exercise for dog life extension

Just like humans, dogs need to get outside and move their bodies to maintain health. Not only does it improve their behavior and mood it can also help them live longer. 

But you need to make sure you’re providing your dog the right kind of exercise, otherwise they risk increased injury and joint disease.

Here’s what I found out in my investigation into the best exercise for dog longevity:

The best exercise for puppies

Contrary to some unfounded opinions, puppies can (and should!) exercise.

Especially off-leash and outdoors where possible (puppies stuck inside for the first few months of life are at higher risk of osteoarthritis than those allowed to play outside). That said, chasing balls and walking on stairs before three months old is associated with higher risk for hip dysplasia later in life, so the type of exercise is important.

A 1988 study showed that an hour a day of running uphill on a treadmill did not cause damage to even young (15 week old) puppies’ joints.

So for puppies the best exercise is likely:

  • Long walks
  • Off-leash play (especially if outside, like with a fenced-in yard)

The best exercise for older dogs

Unfortunately for you ball-throwers, there’s some evidence that fetch, but especially intense agility competitions like flyball, can increase dog injuries and lead to joint issues like arthritis later in life.

That’s why the best longevity exercise for older dogs may be:

A dog exercise warning: heat exhaustion and EIC

Dogs, like humans, can suffer heatstroke, which is fatal in 50% of cases. Unlike humans, most dogs wear a thick fur coat on them even during the summertime. That means even if it doesn’t feel too hot for you, it may be too hot for your dog.

Pay attention to signs of heatstroke when exercising your dog. These include:

  • Collapse
  • Extremely rapid and shallow breathing
  • Bleeding
  • Disorientation
  • Seizures
  • Stupor
  • Coma

Additionally, some dogs suffer a genetic abnormality that can cause them to collapse and sometimes die after strenuous exercise. This is called exercise induced collapse (EIC).

There are several dog DNA companies that can test for this now, including:

But, as with heatstroke, you should monitor your dog when they exercise for any signs of EIC including:

  • A rocking or forced gait
  • Collapse of the rear legs
  • Sudden lack of coordination including dragging rear legs while running

Dog medical procedures: DNA tests, Cancer tests, and neutering for longevity

Dogs need health check-ups just like humans do.

In addition to doing the annual vet visit, you may also consider some specialty dog health tests that have become available in recent years.

Dog DNA tests

I mentioned dog DNA tests above in relation to detecting EIC risk, but they can also check for other potential health issues and disorders like hemophilia, which may increase surgery risks. Knowing if your dog has one or more of these disorders can allow you to communicate with vets and come up with a plan to mitigate them.

Dog biological age tests

Other types of DNA tests exist now which can measure your dog’s biological age. This is different from their chronological age, and can tell you how well they are aging relative to other dogs their age.

This can be a useful tool to measure if what you’re doing for their health is having an impact.

Several of these tests, which use an easy saliva swab, include:

Dog cancer tests

Last in terms of testing, but absolutely not least, are several new canine cancer detection tests on the market.

These use an easy blood draw to tell if your dog may have one of several potentially fatal cancers. 

Early detection can increase cancer survival rates for dogs, since it allows treatment and things like therapeutic diets (for instance, a diet high in fish oil and arginine increased survival time by three months for dogs with lymphoma) to have an effect.

Most tests are recommended to start around age 4-6 depending on dog breed.

These tests, which your vet can order for you, are available from a couple different companies:

Dog neutering for life extension

The other big medical procedure that most Americans (though not most Europeans) will do for their dog is neutering/spaying.

However, the science is mixed on whether neutering actually improves dog longevity.

For instance, many studies indicate neutering increases osteoarthritis risk, obesity risk, as well as risk for certain types of cancer, especially in larger breed dogs.

While some population studies suggest neutered dogs live longer, the study authors admit this could be explained by the fact that owners who neuter their dogs are more likely to provide good veterinary care for their dogs in general. In other words, neutering may not be the cause of longer lifespan, but instead a proxy for good care.

dog longevity medical procedures
Good dog owners take pups to the vet when they get an ouchie.

And other studies, particularly in large-breed dogs like rottweilers, found that intact animals lived longer than neutered ones.

That said, smaller dogs, and female dogs at risk of pyometra infections, may have better health outcomes if they are neutered/spayed.

Given all this, the science does not seem settled on neutering for life extension. I think this comes down to a personal decision that each dog owner, taking into account their dog’s breed and individual health and personality traits, needs to make for themselves. 

We have not neutered our three year old Swiss Mountain Dog and don’t currently intend to, but may change our minds if he develops something associated with being intact like testicular cancer.

Top dog longevity supplements

There are no supplements that have been proven to extend the maximum lifespan of your dog (yet!).

But there are several dog supplements and medications that show promise for improving your dog’s healthspan, and may increase their survival rate with certain diseases like cancer.

They are:

1. Fish oil/omega-3 fatty acid

A diet with fish oil seems to increase survival rates (by about three months) of dogs with cancer.

Fish oil for dogs also seems to improve cardiovascular health, lower inflammation, and protect against osteoarthritis.

2. NAD+ boosters like NMN

Some recent research suggests dog supplements like NMN, which increase NAD+ in the body, may improve cognitive health and mobility in older dogs.

Some sources of NMN for dogs include:

3. Green-lipped mussel

This supplement has some research suggesting it can improve joint pain and function for dogs with osteoarthritis.

4. Deprenyl/Selegiline

This cognitive dysfunction medicine seems to prolong dog lifespan when taken for at least six months. However, it does require a prescription by a veterinarian.

5. Rapamycin

This medication (which also requires a prescription) has been known to extend lifespan in just about every animal model it’s been tested in so far.

In dogs, it’s been shown to be safe to take at prescribed amounts, and to improve metabolic processes in dog cells.

A longer study of rapamycin for dogs is underway, and you can enroll your dog as a subject!

Dog longevity supplement honorable mentions

A full life extension plan for dogs

As you’ve seen, dog longevity can be a pretty complex and overwhelming topic. But it really boils down to ensuring you get just a few key things right.

If I had to summarize what I think are the most important elements you should include in your plan for dog life extension they would probably be:

  • Feed your dog 25% less, only once or twice a day, of a high quality, nutritionally-balanced dog food.
  • Include some salmon oil in their diet as often as you can.
  • Make sure you get 1-2 hours of vigorous walking each day, possibly with a weight jacket.
  • Brush their teeth once-daily.
  • Do annual cancer test checks after age four.
  • Do a DNA test early in life to prepare for potential future health issues.
  • Explore adding some additional supplements and medications like NAD+ boosters or deprenyl as your dog ages.

That’s all in addition to the basics, like pet insurance, annual vet check-ups etc., but I think it’s a pretty good overview on the basics of life extension for dogs, and hopefully not too overwhelming!

What have you found seems to improve the health and longevity of your pup? Share that (and any cute doggo pics!) in the comments!

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