Scientists are trying to figure out how to make your dog live longer

Through the new research, they might also learn more about human aging.

Camden Olson / Princeton University / Eurekalert
Fur Babies

My senior dog, Stevie, is one of the best friends I’ve ever had. She’s 13 now and while she’s very spry for her age, I know she’s not going to live forever. If I could do anything to keep her in my life longer, I would. Unfortunately, we haven’t found the fountain of puppy youth, yet, but these pioneering scientists are trying to figure out how to make dogs live longer. And they might learn something about human aging in the process, too.

The Dog Aging Project (DAP) was launched in 2018 in order to examine how aging affects dogs. Today, the interdisciplinary DAP published a report in the science journal, Nature, outlining their plans for the next decade, which is significant because it will be the first long-term dog study of its magnitude. These scientists already have 32,000 dogs of all kinds around the country registered in the study, and they plan to enroll thousands more to sequence their genomes in order to try to figure out what variables make dogs live longer.

Right now, the DAP is still recruiting dogs and puppies from around the U.S. to participate in the study. When a dog enrolls in the study — which the researchers cutely refer to as “joining the pack” — their owners take measurements and cheek swabs for genetic material and agree to participate in yearly surveys for the length of the study (at least ten years), EurekAlert reported. The scientists are trying to decode the biomarkers of canine aging and to determine which lifestyle factors play a role in longevity.

Researchers are hoping to figure out how to help dogs live happy healthy lives, but they’re also planning to use that data to learn more about human aging. “Given that 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,” Daniel Promislow, a professor of biology at the University of Washington and an investigator for the National Institute on Aging grant that is funding the DAP, told EurekAlert.

In other words, because dogs share our lifestyles, we can learn a lot about our own lives from theirs. And because they don’t live as long as we do, we can study the entirety of their lifespans. Scientists hope this will help them figure out which genetic and environmental factors make the biggest differences in their health and longevity and perhaps our own. The DAP be data will be open source, so it will be available to veterinarians and scientists around the world.

The researchers are particularly interested in understanding what factors allow some dogs to live longer than 20 years. They call these canines “super-centenarians” because they live exceptionally long lives. “I find this project exciting because I think it will improve dog, and ultimately, human health,” Joshua Akey, a professor in Princeton’s Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics and a member of the DAP’s research team, told EurekAlert. Me too.