How old is your dog? Open-science project is studying how dogs age, and you can join it

We’ve all heard the saying that one dog year is roughly equivalent to seven human years. But new research is working to find out more about how dogs progress through life — and, in turn, teach us about how we, ourselves, age.

Image via Pixabay.

It is true that dogs age faster than humans. However, according to researchers behind the Dog Aging Project (DAP), founded in 2018, the details are a bit murky. Saying that one human year is equivalent to seven dog years is a very broad simplification; big dogs tend to age the fastest, around 10 times as fast as humans, while little breeds age slower, about five times as fast as humans.

In other words, there is still much we don’t know about how man’s best friend grows old. Which is why the DAP was set up.

A dog’s life

“This is a very large, ambitious, wildly interdisciplinary project that has the potential to be a powerful resource for the broader scientific community,” said Joshua Akey, a professor in Princeton’s Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics and a member of the Dog Aging Project’s research team.

“Personally, I find this project exciting because I think it will improve dog, and ultimately, human health.”

The project is the largest undertaking to date that looks into canine aging and longevity. It currently involves tens of thousands of dogs of all breeds, sizes, and backgrounds, data from which goes into an open-source repository for veterinarians and scientists to use in the future. This wealth of data can be used to assess how well a particular dog is faring for their age, the researchers behind the DAP explain and help further our understanding of healthy aging in both dogs and humans.

It is set to run for at least 10 years in order to gather the data required. So far, over 32,000 dogs and their owners have joined the program, and recruitment is still ongoing. The owners of these dogs agreed to fill out annual surveys and take various measurements of their dogs to be used in the program. Some of them have also been asked to collect DNA material via cheek swabs for the researchers to sample. In addition, veterinarians associated with the program across the USA submit fur, blood, and other required samples from the dogs enrolled in the program (collectively known as the “DAP Pack”).

“We are sequencing the genomes of 10,000 dogs,” Akey said. “This will be one of the largest genetics data sets ever produced for dogs, and it will be a powerful resource not only to understand the role of genetics in aging, but also to answer more fundamental questions about the evolutionary history and domestication of dogs.”

The end goal of the program is to isolate specific biomarkers of aging in dogs. These should translate well to humans, the team explains. Dogs experience almost the same diseases and functional declines related to age as humans, veterinary care of dogs mirrors human healthcare in many ways, and dogs very often share living environments with humans. That last factor is very important as the environment is a main driver of aging and cannot be replicated in the lab.

Given that dogs share our environment, age similarly to us, but are much shorter-lived than humans, we have an exciting opportunity to identify factors that promote a healthy lifespan, and to find the signs of premature aging.

The oldest 300 dogs in the program will have their DNA sequenced as part of the ‘super-centenarian study. The team hopes to start this process in a few months. By that time, they will also open their entire anonymized dataset for researchers around the world to study.

If you live in the USA and would like to help, you and your doggo can enroll here.

The paper “An Open Science study of ageing in companion dogs” has been published in the journal Nature.

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