I bet just about every dog owner asks, “How can dogs live longer?” We love them so much but it seems our time with them is so short. Lifespans vary and smaller dogs generally outlive larger dogs. Whether mutts live longer than pure breeds or visa versa depends on who you ask. You also might want to know that the longest living dog on record is Bluey, an Australian Cattle Dog who lived to the age of 29 years and 5 months (1910 to 1939). He was a working dog who lived in Victoria, Australia. That’s pretty awesome!
But, at least for now, don’t expect your pooch to get anywhere near that age. However, that may change. Enter Drs. Daniel Promislow and Matt Kaeberlein, professors at the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington USA. They are the directors of the University of Washington’s Dog Aging Project. The project’s motto is “Longer, Healthier Lives for Dogs.”
How it started
Dr. Promislow was already working on the relationship of size and lifespan. He noticed that in general, larger species lived longer than smaller ones. For example, Orcas can live up to 80 years and a Bowhead whale can live to a whopping 200 years! Conversely, small animals such as rats live only 2 to 5 years. What was interesting is that it seemed to be the opposite with dogs. Big dogs like Great Danes might only live 8 to 12 years whereas small breeds such as Chihuahuas could live up to 18 years.
He witnessed this in his own dogs. One of their family dogs, Silver, a 70-pound Weimaraner, had slowed down considerably by age 7 or 8. Whereas their 40-pound mutt, Frisbee, was still lively at age 12.
Dr. Kaeberlein explains that since grad school his research has focused on the biology of aging and trying to understand its biological mechanism.
Thus, the Dog Aging Project was first conceived about 4 years ago over the course of about 6 months when dog lovers Drs. Promislow and Kaeberlein started talking. Dr. Promislow already had a grant from the National Institutes of Health to create networking groups to discuss using dogs as a model for aging.
Part of the reason for using dogs is that it takes a relatively short time to study aging due to their relatively brief life span.
Dr. Promislow worked at the University of Georgia before coming to the University of Washington. At the University of Georgia, he collaborated with Dr. Kate Creevy. They were able to find a large data set on the age of death, breed, size and sex of dogs. Their landmark study provided the first comprehensive look at causes of death of more than 80 breeds of dog.
Two Projects Created
One project is a study to understand how genetics and the environment impact the aging process in dogs. They expect this to provide a vast amount of information on the aging process. Further, it will hopefully uncover more information on whether certain diets are associated with longer lifespans. The other is a series of intervention trials aimed at preventing disease and extending dog longevity. They have been analyzing existing data and then will develop their own. Dr. Promislow is submitting a proposal to fund a large-scale study which would be the first comprehensive study of aging in dogs. He says environmental factors and hundreds of genes affect lifespan. He goes on to explain that you need a population where genes, environment and aging all vary. This new study plans to enroll 10,000 pet dogs from across the country.
Rapamycin is an immunosuppresive drug that prevents organ rejection. At low doses, it slows aging and extends lifespan in several organisms, including mice, with few or no side effects.
Phase 1 is called the Rapamycin Intervention Trial.This phase has been completed. It successfully enrolled 40 dogs in the Seattle area. 24 dogs finished the study. Unfortunately, some dogs were excluded because of preexisting conditions. Currently, they are analyzing the data. However, the key findings indicated there were no significant side effects associated with the Rapamycin treatment. Also shown were significant improvements in heart function.
But, since the sampling in this study was small, more needs to be done. The results are encouraging and provide justification for continuing to the next phase
Phase 2 will enroll dogs for a one-year study at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, USA. In this phase of the study, they will enroll middle-aged dogs into a longer-term, low-dose Rapamycin regime designed to maximize lifespan. There will be studies of cognitive function, heart function, immunity and cancer incidence.
Researchers intend for this phase to include dogs from all over the US and possibly the rest of the world.
Phase 3 is the five-year study that will answer the big question: Will taking rapamycin increase lifespan and delay age-related disease?
How can dogs live longer? These are exciting studies and they may provide answers to that very question. I know that if I could spend an extra few years with my best friend I would be extremely excited. I’m sure you would too!
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