Dog aging goes under the microscope

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Elderly dogThis November, the nation's dog owners can nominate their canine companions to participate in an ambitious, long-term study investigating healthy aging in dogs.

The Dog Aging Project aims to enroll 10,000 dogs in a longitudinal study, funded by the National Institute on Aging, to identify the genetic and environmental factors that influence healthy aging.

A small number of these dogs will be chosen for a clinical trial of rapamycin, an immunomodulatory agent and cancer chemotherapeutic drug used in human medicine. Low doses of the drug have been shown to extend the lifespan of mice along with conferring other age-related benefits.

Owners can begin the nomination process by completing a short survey at when the site goes live in mid-November.

Many dogs live past the age of 7, when a dog is considered a senior and age-related diseases are common. Dr. Kate Creevy, a founder of the Dog Aging Project, hopes the study will provide veterinarians with much-needed information.

"Many of our canine patients are geriatric with multiple diseases, and there's not a ton of data to guide us on things like preserving mobility and cognition or how to help a dog who is losing muscle strength or has a declining appetite," said Dr. Creevy, an associate professor of small animal internal medicine at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

As a citizen scientist project, the dog aging study brings owners into the scientific process by allowing them to report their observations about their dog's health and behavior during the study. "We're really excited about bringing the science of aging out of the lab and into homes," said Daniel Promislow, PhD, the study's principal investigator and a professor at the University of Washington, where the Dog Aging Project is headquartered.

Data generated by the study will be made public as an open science project, allowing for additional research by scientists worldwide.

"We recognize that we will collect more data than the team of investigators could possibly analyze in our lifetimes," Dr. Promislow said. "We're a limited number of people, so there's huge value in making the data available to any scientist who wants to study it."

Learn more about the Dog Aging Project and the nomination process for aging study.

Related JAVMA content:

Research targets conditions of older cats and dogs (Aug. 15, 2006)

Veterinary associations offer guidelines on senior care (Aug. 15, 2006)