Riley was almost 13 years old when I decided to get radical about her health care.
She was an English Staffordshire Bull Terrier that I’d had since she was 7 weeks old and she was faltering. She’d been plagued by mast cell tumors for the previous two or three years and they’d been surgically removed every 6 months or so, leaving the skin on her body looking like a main sail that had been torn and repaired several times over.
She’d gotten arthritic, too. Her gait was halting and unsteady, and most of the time it was all she could do to manage a few obligatory wags of her tail.
But I wasn’t ready to give her over to the canine god of death, not by a long shot, so I started doing a couple of highly unorthodox things.
But First Tell Me How Much Riley Can Bench
Before I tell you about my medical interventions, I need to explain why the heck there’s an article about dog health/longevity on a hardcore weight-training site. My rationale is this: A fair percentage of you probably own dogs and if you care about them half as much as I care about my dogs, you’ll probably want to know about some of the stuff I know.
Besides, since many of you use unorthodox dietary or lifestyle practices yourself, you might just be an audience that’s a little more receptive to some of the stuff I write about in this article, first concerning off-label uses of human pharmaceuticals and later the use of some common supplements.
Others, however, will no doubt think of me as an irresponsible dog owner, that I’m using my pets as lab animals and trying to play God. You could also justifiably trash me for being someone who’s not had any training at all in veterinary care.
Fair enough. I won’t argue with you on any of those points, but there’s no way you could convince me that I did the wrong thing. The ends have definitely justified the means.
A Juiced-Up Dog
Riley had two enemies: cancer and old age. I wasn’t crazy enough to think I could “cure” her of either condition, but I thought that maybe, just maybe, I could throw a monkey wrench into their machinery and postpone their ultimate victories.
I had to first address the recurring mast cell tumors. Rather than treat them as they arose, I tried to figure out something that might stop them from occurring in the first place, something that would turn off cancer’s “on” switch.
The first thing that came to mind was metformin, the diabetic medication that’s been used worldwide for several decades. I knew that in addition to helping people manage their blood sugar, metformin also affects levels of adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK), a chemical that regulates cell growth and replication.
It can literally tell cancer cells to stop drawing energy and once this chemical is activated, cancer cells end up starving themselves because their energy lifeline’s been cut.
This wasn’t just pure conjecture, though. Metformin’s been shown in several observational studies to reduce cancer incidence and cancer-related mortality… at least in humans.
As far as being used as a veterinary drug, there wasn’t much research out there. Metformin is frequently used in cats (for diabetes), but not so much in dogs. Regardless, I took a chance. I did some dosage calculations by analyzing and comparing human and cat dosages and came up with 2 mg. per kilogram of bodyweight, twice a day, mixed in her food (although I suspect 3 mg. per kilogram would still be quite safe).
But I was still wary. What is known about dogs and metformin is that a very small percentage of them could theoretically develop lactic acidosis as a serious side effect, just like humans. So I started at a much, much smaller dose and worked her up to the “therapeutic” dosage.
Next, to combat the debilitating effects of old age, I started giving her very small injections of testosterone cypionate in her hindquarters once a week. Yeah, I know, we’re talking about a female, a female dog at that, but really, what’s the potential drawback? That I’m going to masculinize her? Cause her to grow unwanted hair?
I don’t think so.
I started with 5 mg. a week IM and over time, topped her out at 18 mg. a week (she weighed about 50 pounds). There are no guidelines for canine testosterone replacement therapy, especially for female dogs, so I just used what I knew about TRT in human females and extrapolated a dosage based on weight.
So What Happened to Riley?
Riley never developed another mast cell tumor. Not one.
As far as the testosterone therapy, it rejuvenated her. She regained some of her old muscle mass and energy and while she still suffered from arthritis, she regained her zest for life. She was even able to resume half-mile walks every day. And this wasn’t some placebo effect because dogs, of course, aren’t aware they’re being treated for anything.
It wasn’t my imagination, either, because on those occasions when I had to delay giving her a shot because I was out of town, her energy levels flagged to her pre-test injection levels. When I gave her another shot, she’d quickly bounce back to her new “normal” in a couple of days.
It wasn’t until she was just a few weeks shy of her 16th birthday that we decided to euthanize her. While she still had the occasional good day, her arthritis had advanced to the point where the mornings where she had to drag her hind legs to the breakfast bowl were becoming more depressingly frequent.
I’m reasonably convinced the metformin and the testosterone were responsible for giving her two or three extra years of quality life. Moreover, it convinced me to become more pro-active, possibly even more radical, in the care of my other senior dog.
(As a footnote, there are now several cancer research studies being undertaken involving canines and metformin, so it seems I might not be so crazy after all, at least in this regard.)
Tommey, an Intact Male
Tommey, like Riley when I first started doing my extreme medical interventions on her, is now 12 years old. He’s also an English Staffordshire Bull Terrier, but a male – an intact male. I stress the word intact because I have some strong feelings on this country’s predilection to neuter virtually all male dogs, some as young as a couple of months old.
Consider that in many parts of Europe, neutering is considered to be “mutilation” and it’s prohibited by law. It’s certainly legal in some European countries, but veterinarians there are often puzzled as to the reason for the owner’s request.
A dog owner – usually a transplanted American – will come to the vet’s office with their male dog and ask for it to be neutered. The vet will often ask why, and invariably the American owner will say something stupid like, “Well, he’s male and you’re supposed to neuter males.”
Sure, we all understand that we don’t want tens of thousands of additional strays roaming the cities and countryside, upending trash cans and dumpsters in search of food, but if your dog isn’t allowed to roam free and is kept on leash when you leave the house, it’s not going to impregnate another dog. More importantly, the evidence is mounting that unneutered males are healthier and live longer.
For instance, hip dysplasia is far more common in neutered males, as is knee ligament damage. Certain cancers are also far more common in neutered males.
The biggest drawback of choosing not to neuter your pet is that ultimately, the prostate – usually after 8 years of age or so – will start to grow. It’s generally not a problem unless it leads to difficulty in urination or defecation.
But that can be addressed the same way as it is in humans, with things like saw palmetto, resveratrol, or ground flax seed. If none of that works, neutering then becomes a sensible and humane solution.
Unspayed females also seem to be healthier overall, but they can be especially challenging because of the mess and their effect on intact male dogs every time they go into estrus.
As such, owners can be forgiven for spaying their female pets, but it’s a good idea for them to wait until they’re at least two years old so that the skeletal structure, along with the tendons and ligaments, are fully developed.
In general, though, spayed females have a higher incidence of knee ligament damage and certain cancers. And while un-spayed females have an increased incidence of pyometra (a potentially life-threatening infection of the uterus) and mammary tumors (of which all but the most aggressive are usually easily treated), the bottom line is that it’s starting to look like intact females, like intact males, have longer and healthier lives.
At the very least, they maintain muscle mass and vitality for a longer period of time.
Tommey’s Longevity Program
I put Tommey on metformin about the same time I did his sister, Riley, but he was about 8 then and was, to the best of my knowledge, perfectly healthy at the time. My rationale in his case is that metformin is probably the first widely available longevity drug.
Aside from possibly helping thwart cancer’s development and prognosis, metformin also reduces obesity, which is a risk factor for more than a dozen cancers, at least in humans. (There’s a 59% increase in the incidence of cancer for every 5-point increase in body mass index, or BMI.)
Metformin’s blood-sugar regulating powers also stymie glycation, which is the bonding of a sugar molecule to a protein or fat – a process that’s responsible for speeding up the aging process in general.
I also started giving Tommey the following “human” supplements:
Omega-3 fatty acids can help with joint inflammation, heart health, dry skin, and even doggy cognitive function. Most high-quality dog foods now contain some amount of omega-3 fatty acids, but not in high enough dosages to be deemed therapeutic, so I add one Flameout® capsule to two separate meals every day.
Most conscientious dog owners will, at some point, start adding glucosamine and chondritin to a dog’s diet in an attempt to stave off future joint problems, but the evidence on those two supplements is sketchy.
The evidence on adding collagen to the diet (at least in humans) is far more solid. The basic biological processes are the same between humans and dogs, so I’m betting a tablespoon of collagen (all at once or in divided doses) mixed into a dog’s food will pay huge dividends in the long run.
Yes, creatine. It’s not so crazy. Alaskan sled dog drivers have reportedly been giving their sled dogs creatine for several years now to increase performance, but my rationale for using it is longevity and health. Creatine will presumably preserve muscle mass in aging dogs, along with possibly fueling mitochondria, which play a big part in how long a vertebrate lives.
It likely helps heart function, too, along with increasing the formation of osteoblasts that help build or repair bone.
I mix a little over one gram of creatine into his food every day. (He weighs just under 50 pounds, which is one-fourth the weight of a 200-pound man, for whom the regular dosage is 5 grams. That works out to be a little over 1 gram.)
This polyphenol is nature’s corticosteroid, without the negative side effects. One capsule a day of quality curcumin can plausibly reduce inflammation, relieve arthritis pain, treat gastrointestinal problems, and maybe even thwart or treat cancer.
I first got interested in resveratrol as a dog supplement when I read a study that had used the compound to successfully treat degenerative spinal disease in rabbits. Spinal degeneration is eventually a problem in just about every breed of dog, so I reasoned that it was worthy of a roster spot in my dog’s nutritional arsenal.
Besides, resveratrol, as I mentioned earlier, appears to play a role in hindering prostate growth, in addition to possibly preventing certain types of cancer and possibly increasing the canine lifespan.
(While resveratrol is typically derived from grape skins and grapes in general are poisonous to dogs, it’s not an issue here because resveratrol isn’t what makes grapes toxic to them.)
I give Tommey one capsule of Rez-V™ every day.
So How Do You Get Your Dog to Eat This Stuff?
You’re probably wondering how you’d even get Fluffy to swallow any of these things, given how he balks at swallowing even the smallest pill from the vet. Luckily, most of the things I’ve listed dissolve easily, have no taste, or actually add flavor to a dog’s food.
Here’s how I prepare the main meal of the day:
- I measure out a serving of kibble.
- I then add:
- I then pull apart a capsule of Curcumin and sprinkle half to two-thirds the contents over the food. (Amazingly, dogs seem to enjoy the curry-like taste.)
- I finish off the meal by pouring a little low-sodium chicken or beef broth over the kibble and supplements (to provide a soluble solution for all the powders) and then mix them thoroughly.
I’ve had no problem in getting him, or any other dog, to eat this mixture. They gobble up the fish oil capsules intact, along with the resveratrol capsule, and the rest of the ingredients either don’t detract, or actually enhance, the flavor of the food.
Later on, I’ll give him another Flameout®, another teaspoon or two of collagen, and another 50 mg. of metformin mixed into another meal or snack (again with a little low-sodium chicken or beef broth).
Note: You’ll need to get the metformin from an open-minded vet. The pills are 500 mg., so you’d need to pulverize them and measure out an appropriate amount.
At What Age Should I Start Feeding Fido All This Stuff?
Let me quickly say that you’re not a bad dog owner if you don’t want to do all or any of the stuff I’ve written about (especially the metformin and the testosterone). Admittedly, most of its theoretical, and even the stuff I gleaned from experimentation has a very small number of test subjects from which to draw conclusions.
Alternately, you might want to try some of this stuff when your dog gets old and starts to exhibit some of the problems I’ve written about.
My best, my most conservative, advice would be to at least start using the collagen, Flameout®, and curcumin at about age 8 (assuming the average lifespan of your breed is 12-14 years old) and continue to do so throughout your pet’s life.
You may, of course, want to adopt some of the more “extreme” measures as he or she gets older. Ultimately, the goal is to be able to give the following reply when asked what we say to the canine god of death:
“Not today. Woof!”
- M. D’Altilio, A. Peal, M. Alvey, C. Simms, A. Curtsinger, R. C. Gupta, “Therapeutic Efficacy and Safety of Undenatured Type II Collagen Singly or in Combination with Glucosamine and Chondroitin in Arthritic Dogs,” Toxicology Mechanisms and Methods, Pages 189-196 | Received 07 Jun 2006, Accepted 18 Jul 2006, Published online: 09 Oct 2008.
- Fuming Zi,1 Huapu Zi,2 Yi Li,3 Jingsong He,3 Qingzhi Shi,1 and Zhen Cai3. “Metformin and cancer: An existing drug for cancer prevention and therapy,” Oncol Lett. 2018 Jan; 15(1): 683–690.
- Kiziltepe U1, Turan NN, Han U, Ulus AT, Akar F. “Resveratrol, a red wine polyphenol, protects spinal cord from ischemia-reperfusion injury,” J Vasc Surg. 2004 Jul;40(1):138-45.
- Canine cancer study aimed at improving survival for humans and dogs. Press Release, Canadian Cancer Society, 16 April 2014.