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Dog Aging Project - What It Is and Research Insights

Few people want to grow old. After all, aging isn’t just getting a little wiser. It’s aching joints and a decline of health – but it happens to us all; it’s inevitable, right? Recent research examining the science of aging is putting that hypothesis to the test. In particular, the dog aging project hopes to understand how “genes, lifestyle, and environment influence aging.”

We often talk about “dog years”, which are roughly equivalent to the dog’s human age times seven. So, a 2-year-old puppy is like a 14-year-old child. But aging is a vastly more complicated process. Despite living such vastly shorter lives, the Dog Aging Project hopes to identify the genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors linked to a healthy lifespan.

In this article, we will explore the Dog Aging Project, who’s involved, and explain what the latest insights are from the most up-to-date research.

Let’s get started.

What is the Dog Aging Project?

Founded in 2018, the Dog Aging Project is a long-term longitudinal study investigating aging in tens of thousands of companion dogs of all sizes, breeds, and backgrounds. The goal is to create an open-source dataset for veterinarians and scientists to further study healthy aging, determining which factors have the biggest impact on dogs and humans.

Upon entering the study, dog owners partner with a citizen scientist, who collects extensive survey data, environmental information, vet records, and critical biological information. It’s hoped the genomes of 10,000 dogs will be sequenced by the end of the project – which is expected to last 10 years.

Once all the data is collected, researchers will be able to look for patterns – identifying key genetic markers of aging. This will also provide insights into human aging, as dogs and humans share many similarities, including our shared lived environments.

Of particular interest are the 300 oldest dogs in the “Pack”. “One part of the project that I am super excited about is a ‘super-centenarian’ study, comparing the DNA of exceptionally long-lived dogs to dogs that live to the average age for their breed,” said Alex, a Princeton geneticist involved with the study.

Who’s involved?

The Dog Aging Project is the most ambitious study tackling canine longevity ever. It is funded by a grant from the National Institute of Aging, in a collaboration between the University of Washington School of Medicine and the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine (TAMU).

Due to the size of the study, it’s not just professional researchers involved. In fact, the research is reliant on a team of canine citizen scientists to help understand canine aging. But with the study estimated to continue for at least 10 years, getting involved is quite a commitment.

Chief Veterinary Officer and professor of small animal medicine, Kate Creevy, DVM, MS, DACVIM, heads the project, saying: “There is no specialty of geriatrics in veterinary medicine. Practitioners don’t have access to a large body of information about the aging experience of dogs – including frailty and multimorbidity.” Now, at the helm of one of biology’s most exciting studies, Professor Creevy aims to create just that.

The open-source dataset will be available to all vets and scientists. It’ll form one of the most comprehensive datasets ever created, leading to new insights and further research for years to come.

What does dog aging tell us about humans?

Delving into canine aging is fine by us. We want our best friend’s to live forever. However, as mentioned, the study does have a bigger goal beyond solely teaching us about dog lifespans.

Dogs already experience that same functional decline as seen in people. Indeed, our lifespans, although different in length, are remarkably similar in the general progression. Moreover, dogs have access to veterinary care and all the other perks of modern life – removing one potential difference between us and the rest of the animal kingdom.

Dogs provide a unique perspective of aging. With greater knowledge, scientists may be able to pinpoint why we’re less able to stay active and ward off disease.

Recent research from the Dog Aging Project

Throughout the project’s runtime, the team is routinely publishing new research. After almost four years of research and more than 30,000 dogs included in the trial, the aging insights are fascinating.

In one of the most recent studies, investigators revealed that larger dogs were associated with not just shorter lifespans but accelerated life trajectories. Larger dogs grew faster and died younger than their smaller counterparts. Even cognitive performance declines obeyed a similar pattern across dog breeds [*].

Another study was more specific. It analyzed the use of rapamycin in dogs. Rapamycin in dogs appeared to improve heart function – and, more broadly, boost healthspan and reduce mortality. The study also found “no clinical side effects” from rapamycin in dogs [*].

We can expect further insights into the broad trends and specific factors influencing canine longevity.

Recommendation from recent research

Though rapamycin in dogs needs further research, early studies suggest a potentially life-lengthening treatment for our four-legged friends. But were there any other recommendations from recent research?

Much of the published work has focused exclusively on the broad model of canine aging. However, it was revealed that heart valve disease may go underdiagnosed as it cannot be detected using a stethoscope. It is unknown how asymptomatic valve disease affects dogs’ health [*].

On the other hand, the research gives us an ever-greater insight into diseases like Alzheimer’s. But this is just the beginning. The project is still in the early days, and we can expect further recommendations to become available as more scientists access the dataset.

For now, we’ll just have to wait till we’re a little older and a little wiser.


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