The Dog Aging Project

Dog Aging Project image

Robert Louis Stevenson once said “You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before any of us.”

Unfortunately, this is all too true. Dogs are valuable companions for humans and have been for ages. Yet, the lifespan of a dog is far too short for many dog lovers.

That’s why the University of Washington has begun soliciting funding for something called the “Dog Aging Project.” The research of the biology of aging has progressed immensely in the past few years, so scientists at the University of Washington want to take advantage of the new information. They’re trying to begin studies that could potentially extend the lives of beloved canine companions.

Dog owners shouldn’t worry that the University of Washington is trying to extend the often strenuous older years. The goal of the Dog Aging Project is to add in more years during the prime of a dog’s life. The Dog Aging Project scientists believe that it could be possible to add between two and five years into the best years of a dog’s life.

The study has two components to it. First, a longitudinal study of aging in dogs. The goal of the nationwide study of various dogs throughout their lives is to better understand the effect of biological and environmental factors on the lifespan of dogs.

The second portion is an intervention trial, in which middle aged dogs will be given small doses of the drug Rapamycin over an extended period of time. Then, these dogs will be studied over the course of their lifetime to discover if the drug has produced the desired effect.

Rapamycin has been known to have adverse effects when given in large doses. However, when given in the lower dose planned for the Dog Aging Project study it is unlikely to cause any adverse effects at all, let alone any serious ones.

Nearly fifty laboratory studies have shown that Rapamycin is capable of delaying the onset of some diseases. Rapamycin has also proven it can slow down degenerative processes in the body as well. The drug works by neutralizing a protein that encourages cell growth, thereby slowing the spread of cancerous cells.

Rapamycin has also been shown to reduce inflammation and increase cardiovascular health. This effect could greatly benefit larger breeds of dogs, such as German Shepherds, Newfoundlands and Dobermans, which are prone to untimely deaths due to heart failure.

Eventually, this study could produce results that could shed some light on the process of human aging as well. Longitudinal studies on humans take decades, while the study on dogs takes just a few years.

While this study is very promising, it is likely not a quick fix. Should the University of Washington and the Dog Aging Project receive their funding and begin the trials, it could still be several years before enough information is accumulated to get results, and even more years before collecting enough information to begin making this drug available to veterinarians.

Still, the good news for all dog lovers is the possibility of extending their lives. While it could still be a few years, the future is looking very promising.

Photo Credit by Trevor Hurlbut

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