Aging is something hard to cope with, whether it is yourself, a family member, or even your pet. As one gets older, certain activities that seemed so simple and easy start becoming tougher and tougher to perform. Yet, the human aging process is so vastly understood by now that we already expect the changes coming, and doctors and specialists have medications to aid some of the ailments that come with the natural aging process, such as pain-relievers for aching joints and such symptoms. But what about the dog aging process; how come, to this day, we still don’t grasp the many elements that come with it and the difference in breeds and size that affect the lifespan of dogs?
These are just some of the questions that drove biologist Daniel Promislow, who not only doesn’t fully understand the implications of dog aging, but also often finds it absurd and non-sensical how smaller dog breeds, such as Chihuahuas, have a significantly higher lifespan than larger dog breeds, such as Great Danes or Newfoundlands. The majority of animals in the animal kingdom work completely the opposite – larger beings tend to live much longer than smaller ones. Take for example, humans and chimpanzees, whales and dolphins, or even tigers and small domesticated cats. The larger beings’ lifespan outlives the smaller ones, it’s simply the way most of it works. So, how come a 5 lb. Chihuahua, who can I’ve up to an astounding 18 years, outlives that 150+ lb. Newfoundland?
As an attempt to answer all these questions, Promislow is now working on a Dog Aging Project at the University of Washington. He, along with his specialized team members, are trying to understand how environmental factors affect aging in dogs, and see if their lifespan could potentially be modified by altering these factors. They are also currently trying and being reviewed to receive a permission grant to conduct a nationwide study on different kinds of dog breeds, with different factors that may affect them, including, but not limited to, owner’s economic background and their geographical locations. The study, if the grant is received, will consist of studying about 10,000 different dogs from all across America, analyzing the different factors within each dog and seeing how their lives progress.
Two of the team members and pioneers of the Dog Aging Project: Matthew Kaeberlein, a molecular biologist, and Daniel Promislow, genetic biologist.
The team is now actively recruiting dogs from all over the country, and are relying on normal owners like you and me to get to their goal of 10,000 dogs. Dog size, breed, or age is not important to enroll, as they want varying types of factors on all dogs to collect more accurate data.
Furthermore, the team is working on a compound called Rapamycin that affects dog’s cardiovascular health and may potentially increase their lifespan. While the compound itself is still in trials, the scientists involved with the study have seen significant improvements on dogs who have taken it. Rapamycin is still in the early stages of trial, but the team hopes it will deliver some answers and improve dog’s overall health and their lifespan.
“People are really close with these animals, and it’s very hard to watch them aging,” Promislow says. “Seventy percent of pet owners consider the dog a member of the family. That’s partly what excites people about this project.”