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Can Your Dog Live Longer With a Pill?
March 30, 2024

Can Your Dog Live Longer With a Pill?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Everyone Hopes They Can Give Their Dogs the Longest Lives Possible. One Company Is Banking On It., A study into the effects of an anti-aging supplement doesn’t provide a compelling reason to shell out $100 a month—even for your best furry friend., Dog anti

Most people would go to great lengths to extend the life of a beloved pet or help them enjoy happier and more active golden years. David Sinclair, a longevity researcher, is a co-founder of the dog supplement manufacturing company Animal Bioscience, which claims to help with those goals. Sold under the brand Leap Years, Sinclair’s dog supplements can cost about $100 for a one-month supply and promise ‘more vitality,’ ‘more energy,’ ‘more life.’

There’s even research to prove it. ‘Dog anti-aging supplement study shows cognitive benefits,’ Sinclair announced in February, linking to a paper that tested out the supplements.

Except, when you take a closer look at the data in the paper, that’s not what the evidence suggests overall. If anything, the research shows that there are likely to be no benefits from giving your dog an expensive daily pill, at least in terms of the outcomes measured.

The study was funded by Animal Bioscience and conducted at North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. It has not yet been peer-reviewed. It reports on an impressively rigorous clinical trial of supplement pills to improve brain function in older dogs. Seventy dogs were enrolled in the study and were randomized to receive either placebos, low-doses of the supplement, or high-doses of the supplement, in a blinded fashion. (That is, the person giving the dogs the supplements didn’t know which group they’d been assigned to.) They were then followed for three months to see what happened to their cognitive function.

The authors measured a wide range of cognitive outcomes. A wearable device tracked dogs’ activity, and researchers scored the pets on the canine cognitive dysfunction rating scale at the beginning, middle, and end of the trial. Owners were asked to log other factors, like how happy the canine participants seemed.

Among all of the outcomes, there was just one statistical difference between the groups. That difference showed up in one way of analyzing the CCDR score, where the dogs on the highest dose improved from 39 points to 35, while the placebo group improved only from 39 points to 37. (A lower score is better.) The researchers reported no other differences between groups that were statistically significant.

When you see this sort of outcome—a statistically significant data point among a whole host of insignificant findings—it’s important to remember that if you do enough tests, you’ll basically always end up with at least one positive result, even if it’s a bit meaningless. With the CCDR score, although there was a difference between the placebo and supplement groups from Month 0 to Month 3, there was no difference between those groups from Month 3 to Month 6 of the study. In other words, even if you argue that there was one small benefit to the supplement, that benefit was short-lived.

Overall, this is almost as null a result as you can get. There was no improvement on the vast majority of the measures the authors used, and there was one tiny difference in one way of looking at one score.

Now, you have to be cautious when interpreting findings like these. As the authors note, there were some improvements in secondary outcomes—potential side benefits of the supplement—like owner-assessed happiness. These improvements were not quite statistically significant. With small sample sizes like you see here, a lack of statistical significance doesn’t necessarily mean anything. It’s possible a statistically significant benefit would show up in a bigger trial.

But there were also some non–statistically significant outcomes that were not very favorable to the supplements. At the end of the study, the placebo group was doing better than the low-dose group on some cognitive outcomes. The high-dose group had the biggest decrease in most measures of activity, as measured by the wearable device, which is an indicator of cognitive decline. Although, again, this was not statistically significant.

All of the groups improved on most of the factors tested, which is expected: If you keep taking cognitive tests, you will improve at them. Even if you’re an older dog. Overall, there was little if any detectable difference between the supplement pills and an inert placebo. (A page on the Leap Years website puts a very different spin on the results, choosing to highlight an improvement that was not statistically significant involving ‘nuances observed by the pet parent.’)

All in all, the trial is about as conclusive as a study of 70 dogs could be, and it shows that the supplements basically don’t work. Sure, it’s possible that the pills help dogs live longer—the study didn’t test that outcome. But based on this research, it’s hard to see how they could live up to the hype on Animal Bioscience’s website. The data doesn’t convincingly show that the supplement can ‘slow the effects of aging in dogs.’ If anything, it shows that the supplements likely have little or no benefit for aging in older dogs.

This is not really surprising. Many supplements are interesting in theory but probably ineffective in practice. We’ve seen this before, with everything from resveratrol (the stuff in red wine) to vitamin D. The hypothesized benefits of these pills just rarely live up to the hype. Frankly, dog supplements seem to be the natural extension of the longevity movement, which tends to blend reasonable everyday health advice like ‘Eat well and get a lot of exercise’ with totally unproved nonsense like ‘Microdose psilocybin alongside diabetes medications.’

It’s possible a dog supplement will come along that actually works. But my advice is to enjoy your time with your canine companions and stay away from expensive additives that probably have minimal impact on their health.


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