08 May 2016

Dog Aging Project Aims to Help Dogs Live Longer, Healthier Lives

Riley, currently enrolled in study.
People tend to outlive pooches.

Yup, one downside of owning a dog is that, typically, humans outlive them by many years.

Now, University of Washington professors hope to temper that sad fact just a tad with a dogged pursuit looking into how canines age and, more importantly, how to add quality years to their lives.

Enter the Dog Aging Project.

Participants, aged six years and up, are placed either on placebos or given an FDA-approved drug which is used to prevent organ transplant rejection.

"What has been learned from basic science studies in the lab is that treating animals with Rapamycin not only extends lifespan but seems to delay many of the diseases and declines in function that come with age,” pathology professor, Matt Kaeberlein told My Northwest.

“Ten weeks of treatment with Rapamycin in an old mouse can cause that mouse's heart to function more like a youthful heart. So we want to assess whether just 10 weeks of this treatment in dogs may be sufficient to improve cardiac function in middle-aged dogs.”

It will also look beyond cardiac function and at what effect Rapamycin might have on everything from kidney and cognitive function to incidences of cancer.

Lab studies have shown a 25 to 30 percent hike in the lifespans of mice, which researchers figure could translate into an extra three to four years in dogs – if the same results are reached.

The professors stress, however, that the intention of the study is to try to give dogs extra golden years but not at all costs.

Instead, they want to see if they can get some extra good quality ones - not simply extend lives which drag on along with chronic and debilitating health issues.

For those with dogs or looking to get one, research has shown the mixed mutt – especially weighing in at about 20 lbs – is going to have the best chance of the longest life.

"Mixed breed dogs tend to live about a year longer than purebred dogs of the same size," says Daniel Promislow, professor of pathology and biology. "And we also found dogs that have been spayed or neutered tend to live about a year longer than intact dogs, both males, and females."

Of course, if the study yields promising results the plan would be to see if and how they can be applied to people.

And given dogs tend to share some diseases with humans and the same environment, it is entirely likely lessons learned in the Dog Aging Project will be applied to both.

"So really, we can learn a lot about dogs, but we can also learn a lot about people,” Promislow says.

The Dog Aging Project is creating a network of pet owners, veterinarians, and scientific partners that will facilitate enrolling and monitoring pets in the Project. 

By Nadia Moharib
Nadia Moharib is an animal lover who has adopted everything from birds to hamsters, salamanders, rabbits, fish and felines. She has written about all-things-pets for years and was a long-time editor of a pet magazine in a daily newspaper which featured a Q & A column, Ask Whit, penned by her pooch (ghost written, of course.) The serial dog owner lives in Calgary, Alberta and most days can be found at a dog park picking up after her rescue pooch, Scoots.

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