The most ambitious canine health study in the world is seeking help from veterinary practitioners across the country. The ultimate goal of the Dog Aging Project is to “understand how genes, lifestyle and environment influence aging.” And while nearly 80,000 dogs have already been nominated to participate, researchers say there is no limit to the number of dogs it will enroll.
To that end, veterinarians are encouraged to invite their clients to “join the pack.” Any dog is eligible to participate, regardless of age, breed or health.
Study dogs will be followed for at least 10 years with the goal of identifying “the biological and environmental factors that maximize healthy longevity.” Participating owners will become citizen scientists, filling out surveys about their dog’s health and life experience, taking saliva samples for genetic testing and potentially completing special activities with their dog and reporting on performance.
“We know from previous work done with dog owners that they are motivated to help their dogs live longer, healthier lives, but the response [to the study] has been positively overwhelming,” said Audrey Ruple, DVM, MS, PhD, DACVPM, MRCVS, assistant professor of One Health Epidemiology in the Department of Public Health at the Purdue University College of Health and Human Sciences in an article about the project on the Purdue website. Dr. Ruple is one of more than 40 researchers participating in the study.
Study dogs must receive regular veterinary exams, and veterinarians may be asked to provide blood, urine or other samples from their patients.
Some participating dogs may be selected for further clinical study, such as an exploration of whether the drug rapamycin can help improve health span.
But the project goes beyond canine health and longevity.
“Dogs are good models for humans,” Dr. Ruple said. “They have similar genetics, share our environment, and they also have similar diseases and health issues.”
So, while the Dog Aging Project will attempt to discover some secrets to canine health and longevity, they will also be learning how humans can age more healthily—a One Health approach focused on accelerating medical breakthroughs for both species.
“By studying aging in dogs, we hope to learn how to better match human health span to lifespan so that we can all live longer, healthier lives,” Dr. Ruple said.
Image: Audrey Ruple, a veterinary epidemiologist and assistant professor of One Health Epidemiology in the College of Health and Human Sciences’ Department of Public Health, with Bitzer, a Great Dane. (Image courtesy of Purdue University/Rebecca McElhoe)