How old is your dog in human years? And what factors contribute to a long and healthy dog life? the dog aging project collects a vast, open-source dataset on canine health and longevity, and is recruiting dogs of all ages—particularly puppies and young dogs—to participate.
For years it has been widely accepted that “dog years” is roughly human years times seven – that a 1-year-old puppy is like a 7-year-old child and an 11-year-old senior dog is like a 77-year-old senior. But it’s actually a lot more complicated than that, experts say.
Part of the problem is that while humans have clear metrics for healthy aging, little is known about the “normal aging” of our four-legged friends. Large dogs tend to age the fastest—perhaps 10 times faster than humans—while small breeds can live to be 20 years, with “dog years” being about five times longer than human years.
the dog aging project, founded in 2018, is by far the most ambitious project addressing the issue of canine longevity, enrolling and studying tens of thousands of dogs of all sizes, breeds and backgrounds to develop a comprehensive understanding of canine aging. Their open-source dataset will give veterinarians and scientists the tools to assess how well a given dog is aging and set the stage for further research into healthy aging – in both dogs and humans.
The researchers detail their project and its potential implications for human and veterinary medicine in a recent article published in the journal nature. One of the most intriguing avenues of investigation is the analysis of the DNS of particularly long-lived dogs, the “supercentenarians” of the dog world.
“This is a very large, ambitious, highly interdisciplinary project that has the potential to be a powerful resource for the broader scientific community,” said Joshua Akey, a professor at the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics in Princeton and a member of Dog Aging The research team of the project. “Personally, I’m excited about this project because I think it will improve the health of dogs and ultimately humans.”
Akey, a dog lover with a 5-year-old rescue dog named Abby and a 1-year-old purebred Lab named Zoey, co-leads genetic analysis at the Broad Institute with Elinor Karlsson.
“We’re sequencing the genomes of 10,000 dogs,” Akey said. “This will be one of the largest genetics datasets ever created for dogs, and will be a powerful resource for understanding not only the role of genetics in aging, but also for asking more fundamental questions about dog evolutionary history and domestication.” respond.”
The Dog Aging Project (DAP) is intended to run for at least 10 years. To date, more than 32,000 dogs have joined the “DAP Pack,” as the researchers call their canine citizen scientists.
“We’re still recruiting dogs of all ages, all breeds –– purebred or mixed breed, all sizes, anywhere in the United States,” said William Thistlethwaite, a graduate student working with Akey at the Lewis-Sigler Institute. “Especially puppies and young dogs up to 3 years.”
When a dog joins the pack, its owners agree to complete annual surveys and take measurements of their dogs for the duration of the project. Some may be asked to collect cheek swabs for DNA samples. In addition, the DAP team works with veterinarians across the country who assist in providing coat, stool, urine and blood samples of selected pack members.
Researchers hope to identify specific biomarkers of canine aging. They posit that their findings can be extrapolated to human aging for a number of reasons: dogs experience almost every functional decline and age-related disease that humans do; the level of veterinary care corresponds in many respects to human health care; and our dogs share our living environment, an important determinant of aging and one that cannot be replicated in any laboratory setting.
“Given that dogs share the human environment and have sophisticated healthcare systems but are much more ephemeral than humans, they present a unique opportunity to identify the genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors associated with a healthy lifespan,” said dr Daniel Promislow, the principal investigator for the National Institute on Aging grant that funds the project, and a professor of biology at the University of Washington (UW) College of Arts and Sciences and Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at the UW School of Medicine.
Specifically, the researchers want to study 300 oldest dogs in the pack to see if they can identify the keys to their longevity. “One part of the project I’m really excited about is a ‘supercentennial’ study comparing the DNA of exceptionally long-lived dogs to dogs that live to the median age of their breed,” said Akey, a Princeton-based geneticist. “This is the first study of its kind in dogs (to my knowledge) and I think it’s a clever way to try to find genetic differences that contribute to exceptional longevity.”
Within a few months, the team plans to open up its massive dataset — fully anonymized — to share with scientists around the world. Researchers from many different fields have the opportunity to contribute to the study in a myriad of different ways, depending on their interests.
“It’s an honor to share our work with the scientific community,” said Kate Creevy, lead author of the paper and DAP’s Chief Veterinary Officer. “The Dog Aging Project creates a resource with the power to transform veterinary medicine, the study of aging, and many areas of scientific and non-scientific inquiry.”
For more information or to learn how to register your dog for the ongoing project, please visit https://dogagingproject.org.