Ageing in dogs Print E-mail
News - Rubrieke
Friday, 18 February 2022 18:00
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Dr Liesel van der Merwe is a small animal medicine specialist. Send her your questions: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Dr Liesel van der Merwe

I’ve recently become aware of the Dunedin study (thanks Curiosity Channel!). It’s a fascinating look into how nature and nurture, genetics and environment interact to make us what we are. There is also a new study starting in the US, following and collecting information from thousands of dogs to try and “measure” ageing. I’ve summarised some points for interest.

The Dunedin study has followed the lives of 1 037 babies born between 1 April 1972 and 31 March 1973 at the Queen Mary Maternity Hospital in Dunedin, New Zealand, since their birth. The study is now in its fifth decade and has produced over 1 300 publications and reports, many of which have influenced or helped inform policy makers in New Zealand and overseas.¹

These children were studied at birth (1972-73), followed up and assessed at the age of three when the longitudinal study was established. Since then they have been assessed every two years until the age of 15, then at ages 18 (1990-91), 21 (1993-94), 26 (1998-99), 32 (2003-2005), 38 (2010-2012) and 45 (2017-2019) and it is hoped to continue further assessments in the future.¹

The Dunedin project is set more to understand who we are rather than how long we live, but there are definitely similarities in a new dog ageing study. In 2018, the dog ageing project set out to become the largest research data-gathering program of its kind, seeking to enrol and study tens of thousands of dogs from all backgrounds to gain a better understanding of canine aging and what contributes to a long and healthy life for a dog. Following their launch, researchers at the Texas A & M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS), the University of Washington (UW) School of Medicine, and a dozen other partner institutions began to enrol companion dogs who will be followed over at least 10 years. To date, more than 32 000 dogs have been enrolled.

In a publication in the journal ‘Nature’, the researchers have detailed the methodology of their project and its potential implications on both human and veterinary medicine. “While human studies have clear metrics for healthy aging, including age-related changes in frailty and multi-morbidity, among others, relatively little is known about what constitutes normative aging in dogs,” Creevy said. “Our data will give veterinarians and scientists the tools to assess how well a specific dog is aging, and set the stage for studies on the determinants of normative aging.” ²

The project’s goal is to understand how genes, lifestyle, and environment influence aging. We want to use that information to help dogs and people increase healthspan, the period of life spent free from disease.²

To accomplish these goals, the scientists are working with dog owners who periodically fill out surveys and take measurements of their dogs for the duration of the project; some also may be asked to collect cheek swabs for DNA sampling. The research team is also working with vets who assist by submitting fur, faecal, urine and blood samples of select, enrolled participants.²

Among the specific aims for the project are to identify biomarkers of canine aging with the intent of better understanding the mechanisms by which genetic, environmental and lifestyle variation influence aging; they also will use genomic sequencing to analyse the genetic architecture of age-related traits in dogs.²

As dogs share the human environment and have a sophisticated health care system but are much shorter-lived than people, they offer a unique opportunity to identify the genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors associated with healthy lifespan.²

The varied, rich and complex data collected by the project will allow the team to characterise aging in companion dogs, measurements for which do not currently exist. They also believe their study will lay the groundwork for a canine-specific gerontology field of veterinary medicine.²

A key component of the project is a clinical trial of a drug called rapamycin, an immunosuppressive medication that has been used in humans for decades. At lower doses, it has been shown to increase lifespan, improve heart and cognitive function, and reduce age-related disease incidence in laboratory species.

The dog aging project team believes rapamycin may provide similar benefits to middle-aged, large-breed dogs and are collaborating with vets at universities to evaluate the drug’s effectiveness on hundreds of clinical trial participants.²


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