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Q&A: Meet the researcher searching for the healthiest and safest dog foods

Aug 25, 2022

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David P. Turner, Ph.D., has always loved dogs. One of the newer members of the Massey Cancer Center research team in the Cancer Prevention and Control research program, Turner’s primary research focus is examining the negative links between advanced glycation end products (A.G.E.s) and human health. A.G.E.s are harmful oxidative compounds that play a significant role in many chronic diseases. Commonly consumed through food, A.G.E.s are extremely prevalent in highly processed foods, as well as foods that are cooked at higher temperatures through grilling, broiling, roasting and frying.

Focusing on A.G.E.s and human health, Turner and his wife, Victoria Findlay, Ph.D., co-leader of the Cancer Prevention and Control research program, founded the Anti-A.G.E. Foundation, a non-profit organization which spreads awareness about the severity of processed foods and their impact on our health and lifespan. With more attention being brought to the molecular impacts of processed food, the next logical step for Turner was to focus on some of our best friends.

Why did you decide to study A.G.E.s in dogs?

For over a decade, my lab has been working to show that A.G.E.s in the diet contribute to the development and complications associated with chronic diseases - especially cancer in humans. Food processing in particular is known to increase A.G.E. levels in our bodies and our research has shown that A.G.E.s consumed in such foods can increase the rate at which cancers grow to make them more aggressive. The vast majority of the foods being fed to our canine friends are much more processed than human foods and they consume them far often, likely with every meal. As a lifelong dog owner, I was very concerned that this heavy consumption of processed foods high in A.G.E. content may be seriously damaging our dogs’ health and affecting their lifespan.

What leads you to believe that A.G.E.s impact dogs in the same way that they impact humans?

I believe that A.G.E.s impact dogs in the same way that they impact humans because of the way that they cause damage to the body. Simply put, excessive levels of A.G.E.s in the body cause a persistent cycle of chronic inflammation in tissues and organs. Chronic inflammation is thought to be a major contributing factor of most, if not all, chronic diseases in both dogs and humans. Chronic diseases such as lymphoma, cardiovascular disease and even cancer are occurring much more often in dogs just as they are in humans. Indeed, our initial experiments in the laboratory support this hypothesis.

What are your next plans for studying A.G.E.s and dogs?

We are currently constructing a database of A.G.E. levels in multiple types of dog foods - including kibble, wet food, homemade and fresh - which we plan to release soon. We are also testing the effects of A.G.E.s on different chronic conditions that are known to impact both dogs and humans but are more prevalent in dogs. The ultimate goal is to use the results of these experiments to obtain significant funding to establish clinical treatment trials for dogs like those being performed in human patients at hospitals across the country.

Most dog owners take their pets yearly for a check-up. By building partnerships with dog owners, veterinarians and researchers, information and biological samples can be collected at each visit which would inform on disease occurrence and characteristics, allowing for a greater understanding of disease development and progression in dogs. Ultimately, this information would improve disease prevention and treatment strategies for our canine companions which would be expected to increase their overall quality of life and lifespan. 

In a perfect world, what should dogs be eating?

This is the big question. Due largely to a lack of available funding for research in this area, but also due to the myriad of unsupported claims and statements in the media and online, everyone seems to have their own opinion which is often driven by feeling rather than knowledge. My honest answer is that nobody knows for sure what the best food to feed our dogs because the independent scientific research has not been done. Research in my lab has only been made possible through philanthropy funding donated by the Bobzilla Foundation to definitively answer this critical question.

Now, if you ask me what I actually feed my dogs, the answer is we home cook their meals using fresher ingredients that provide a naturally balanced diet, just like all humans should be eating. This may or may not be the optimal diet for domestic dogs but it makes sense to me.

Turner hopes to publish the A.G.E.s dog food database later this fall and launch more in-depth research into what dog food is best for our furry friends.

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