By Tim Falk
Published: 03/15/2022, edited: 03/15/2022
Getting old is a fact of life — for dogs and for people. Unfortunately, as we and our dogs age, we face an increased risk of a wide range of health problems.
But did you know that there’s an ambitious canine health study under way to find out how we can overcome the challenges of aging to maximize healthy lifespans for our dogs? And not only will it help our dogs live longer and healthier lives, but it’ll also impact human medicine.
The study is known as the Dog Aging Project, and it’s making headlines around the world. Let’s take a look at what this groundbreaking health study involves and how your dog can take part.
Launched in 2018, the Dog Aging Project is a massive canine health study that will focus on thousands of companion dogs over a period of 10 years or more. Its goal: to get to the bottom of how genes, lifestyle, and environment influence aging, then use that information to help pets and people maximize the period of their life that's spent free from disease.
As it stands, we don’t currently know a whole lot about what represents healthy aging in dogs. Everyone has heard the old cliche that 1 dog year is the equivalent of 7 human years, but this study should give us a much more scientific basis for understanding how dogs age and the factors that influence their health and wellbeing.
You might be wondering, "Why such an intense focus on the health and aging of dogs? And what do dogs have to do with human medicine?"
Well, while our canine companions age much more quickly than us, they also have access to advanced medical treatment, they share the same environment as us, and they’re affected by the same aging diseases we are.
One example of this is doggy dementia — that’s right, just like us, dogs can suffer from a form of dementia. Formally known as canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD), it results in decreased cognitive function as your pet ages. Symptoms include irritability, disorientation, strange behavior and sleeping habits, having toileting accidents, and seeming lost.
CCD is just one of the conditions the study could shed some light on, among many others. Others include issues as diverse as how the gut microbiome affects canine health, how genetics influence the risk of disease, and whether a drug known as rapamycin could potentially slow the aging process. There will even be an effort to find out the "secrets" of dogs that live to a ripe old age.
“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 Joshua Akey, professor in Princeton’s Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics and a member of the project’s research team.
“This is the first study of its kind in dogs (to my knowledge), and I think it’s a clever way of trying to find genetic differences that contribute to exceptional longevity.”
The full methodology and goals of the project were outlined in the scientific journal Nature — check out the full article here.
The Dog Aging Project is headquartered at the University of Washington and Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, but includes scientists and veterinarians from more than 20 research institutions and veterinary teaching hospitals. And all the data they collect, which will be fully anonymized, will be shared with scientists around the world.
As of February 2022, over 32,000 dogs had been enrolled in the project, but researchers are hoping to see that number grow to as many as 60,000. Even better, your pup could be one of them.
Dogs of all ages, shapes, and sizes can participate in the Dog Aging Project. Puppies, senior dogs, purebreds, mixed breeds, and even dogs with chronic illness are welcome.
So if you’d like your dog to be a part of this ambitious project, head to the Dog Aging Project website and click the “Nominate Your Dog” link.
You’ll be redirected to a survey featuring questions about you and the dogs in your home — depending on the number of dogs you have, it could take as little as 2 minutes to complete.
You’ll then be invited to set up your personal portal and complete the 10-section Health and Life Experience Survey, which features over 200 questions about your dog’s health, lifestyle, diet, activity levels, environment, and behavior.
Once you’ve finished the survey, your dog will officially be part of the Dog Aging Project (DAP) Pack. You also have the option to submit your dog’s electronic veterinary records to help researchers compile a complete picture of your pup’s health, while some pet parents will be asked to collect cheek swabs from their dogs for DNA sampling. With the help of veterinarians around the country, some dogs in the survey will also provide blood, urine, fecal, and fur samples.
Next, you’ll be asked to update the Health and Life Experience Survey every year. This will allow researchers to track how your dog’s health changes as they age. For example, are they taking more medications? How have their activity levels changed? What about their behavior?
Your dog may also be invited to participate in additional studies along the way, all in the name of increasing scientific knowledge of aging in dogs.
So why not nominate your dog to join the DAP Pack today? The Dog Aging Project is an exciting initiative that could have a lasting impact on how we understand and manage aging in dogs, and could even make a difference in the field of human health. What pup wouldn’t want to be a part of something like that?
And if you’re the proud pet parent of a golden oldie pooch, we’d love to meet them. Introduce your fur-baby in the comments below, or tag #wagwalking on Twitter or Instagram to share their secrets to a life well lived.
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