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(Updated 19/8/01)

New food may lengthen dogs' lives
by Nick Mays

DOGS ANDS CATS could live longer thanks to an experimental pet food which can reduce the damage to genetical material linked with the diseases of ageing.

The announcement at the WALTHAM International Symposium in Vancouver, a gathering of some of the world’s top veterinarians, academics and nutritionists, follows a major new breakthrough, which for the first time has allowed animal experts to measure or test for DNA damage in cats and dogs.

Now a team working at the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition, in Leicestershire, England, has used the test to develop and validate a unique antioxidant blend (for which a patent is pending) for cats and dogs, proven to promote longevity and resistance to disease.

Proof of the efficacy of the test, known as the Comet Assay in humans but known as the ‘WALTHAM DNA Health Index’ in cats and dogs, follows two years of research and nutritional trials conducted among cats and dogs.

Less damage

The results of the study revealed that dogs fed on the WALTHAM blend for only two months incurred 26% less DNA damage than dogs eating a conventional diet. Cats fed the blend displayed 17% less DNA damage than their peers eating a conventional diet.

Scientists have linked damage to DNA, often known as the ‘blueprint of life’, to both the aging process and to age-related diseases in pets including cancer, arthritis, heart disease, and canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome, known as ‘doggy Alzheimer’s’.


DNA damage in cats and dogs is caused by the presence of free radicals, highly reactive compounds produced naturally in the body and externally from pollution, medication, radiation etc. All free radicals are very unstable because they have an unpaired negatively charged particle (electron) in their chemical structure. As a result they rob other chemicals in the body of electrons, including DNA, in order to make themselves stable. It isthought that the resulting damage caused by free radicals contributes to the development of degenerative diseases such as cancers, heart disease and cataracts. It is estimated that each DNA molecule in the body receives up to 10,000 free radical attacks per day.

The body has defence mechanisms to protect its DNA. These include antioxidants, which mop up free radicals, and DNA repair systems, which either cut out or fix damaged DNA. Considering the high number of free radical attacks, it is surprising that so much DNA manages to stay healthy for so long.

As with humans, cats and dogs have defense mechanisms to protect their DNA. The primary defenses are antioxidants - these are either special enzymes or ‘scavengers’ such as vitamins E & C, which mop up free radicals. The secondary defenses are dedicated DNA repair systems, which either cut out or fix damaged DNA.

Problems can occur if these defense mechanisms are overwhelmed or if damaged DNA is not recognized. Over time, there is an accumulation of faulty DNA, which is a crucial part of the general aging process.

Age-related diseases in dogs and cats include cancer, arthritis, cataracts, diabetes, kidney disease and weakening of the immune system (the latter is very important to cats as they are particularly susceptible to viral infections).
Addressing the WALTHAM International Symposium In Vancouver last week, Dr Roger Batt, Head of Research at the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition, said the WALTHAM DNA Health Index represented a significant step in the battle to slow down the aging process in cats and dogs and in the fight against many age-related diseases.
He said: “The WALTHAM DNA Health Index allows veterinarians, academics and nutritionists for the first time to test for DNA damage in cats or dogs.

“At WALTHAM, the index has already provided the scientific proof we need to demonstrate the importance of nutrition on the longevity and quality of life of cats and dogs. The new WALTHAM blend represents a hugely exciting breakthrough in helping cats and dogs live happier, longer and healthier.”

Scientists believe DNA is critical to maintaining the health of both cats and dogs. It is thought that around 80-90% of human cancers are due to DNA damage (Doll & Peto,1981).

Dr Batt adds: “The DNA in every cell of a cat or dog’s body is damaged every second and it only takes damage or mutation to a single cell to cause a cancer. That makes a reduction of 26% in DNA damage a major step forward for the longevity and well being of our pets.

“Yet this is only the start. Thanks to the WALTHAM DNA Health Index, I would confidently expect veterinarians and academics to demonstrate a clear link between the food cats and dogs are eating and the impact it has on specific age-related diseases and the aging process within the next 5 years.”