RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Dogs are family members, best friends and companions, but their lifespans are much shorter than ours, and it can be difficult to watch them age. An N.C. State University researcher is studying how dogs age and working to keep them healthy as long as possible.

The love shared with a dog can last a lifetime, but dogs’ lifetimes are measured in years, not decades and the aging process is tough on pets and their owners.

“It could be going for walks; they don’t go for the nice long walks we are used to going for,” explained Dr. Natasha Olby, professor of neurology and neurosurgery at NC State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “Sometimes, it’s that they really lose that bond with their dogs. They’re not interested in playing anymore, or they want to do different things. Sometimes, it’s that they don’t recognize them.”

Honey, a 14-year-old dog, is part of a clinical trial at NC State. “We would really like to make dogs live long healthy lives, and we would really like to reduce the impact of the difficulty of caring for these dogs for owners as well,” noted Olby.

As dogs get older. Dr. Olby says they develop many of the same health problems people do, including mobility issues, kidney problems, cancer and a decline in their senses including hearing, smell and sight. They can also suffer strokes and dementia.

While Dr. Olby’s work won’t necessarily help dogs live longer lives, she hopes that it will help them live healthier lives as they grow old,  giving dogs quality time to build even stronger relationships with the people who love them.

“I think we are going to find out things about exercise regimen. I think we’re going to be able to find how you can change your dogs’ environment to make life easier for them as they age. I think we’re going to start to identify early warning signs,” she explained. “Then, ultimately, we might also find new therapies for things like cognitive decline, which would be wonderful.

Because dogs and people experience similar problems as they age, what researchers learn here could one day help people live healthier lives in their old age, as well.