Dog Aging Project

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Logo for the Dog Aging Project

The Dog Aging Project is a scientific research study in the US focused on understanding the biological and environmental factors that contribute to healthy aging in dogs.[1] It is led by researchers Dr Matt Kaeberlein and Dr Daniel Promislow, and is a collaborative effort from several institutions, including the University of Washington School of Medicine, Texas A&M University, and the University of California San Francisco.

The project aims to collect data from tens of thousands of dogs of various breeds, ages, and lifestyles, including both purebred and mixed-breed dogs. Through a variety of methods, such as genetic testing, blood samples, and surveys, researchers hope to identify the key factors that contribute to healthy aging in dogs, as well as the underlying molecular and cellular mechanisms.

The Dog Aging Project also seeks to promote the health and well-being of dogs by providing owners with personalized health information and recommendations for their pets based on the data collected. Ultimately, the project hopes to improve our understanding of aging not just in dogs, but in humans as well, as many of the same biological processes and pathways are conserved.

Rapamycin TRIAD study

Rapamycin, a medication that affects both the immune system and metabolism, has been shown to consistently increase the lifespan and healthspan of mice and several other animal models.[2][3]

As part of the Dog Aging Project, the TRIAD study is an ongoing double-blinded, placebo-controlled clinical trial studying whether rapamycin administered mid-life (7 or above years old dogs) can increase the lifespan of companion dogs. Preliminary evidence suggests that rapamycin might prevent age-related decline in dogs and improve heart function.[4]

Main discoveries

As of 2023, the Dog Aging Project is an ongoing research study, and many of its findings are still being analyzed and interpreted. However, some preliminary results have been published in scientific journals and presented at conferences. Besides work on rapamycin, a few key discoveries so far are:

1. The impact of physical activity on aging-associated cognitive decline:

Data collected from 11,574 companion dogs based on owner surveys suggests that certain lifestyle factors, such as higher physical activity, is associated to better health outcomes and a significantly lower risk of cognitive decline in dogs.[5]

2. Health effects of intermittent fasting or time-restricted-feeding:

Cross-sectional data from 10,474 companion dogs and nine categories of health conditions (n = 24,238) controlling for sex, age, breed and other confounders, showed that once-daily feeding compared to ad libitum feeding is associated to better cognitive health and a lower risk of health issues (such as gastrointestinal, dental, kidney or liver disorders).[6]

3. The relationship between body size and inbreeding to lifespan:

Genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP) data from over 100 dog breeds showed that breeds with big body size tend to have a higher rate of inbreeding than small sized breeds. Larger breeds are associated to a shorter lifespan than smaller breeds, suggesting that inbreeding might contribute to decreased fitness and lifespan. When controlling for body size, purebred dogs lived 1.2 years shorter on average compared to mixed breed dogs, reflecting the benefit of breeding outcrosses in fitness and lifespan.[7]

4. Amyloid beta accumulation and canine cognitive decline:

A study of biobanking specimens from companion dogs showed that age was associated to increased levels of amyloid beta (Aβ42 or Abeta-42) in several areas of brain tissue (prefrontal, temporal and hippocampus cortex) as well as in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Abundance of Aβ42 in all tissues except for CSF was correlated with scores for canine cognitive dysfunction. The relationship between Aβ42 accumulation and cognitive dysfunction prevailed when correcting for age, except for the temporal cortex, where Aβ42 accumulation was not associated with cognitive dysfunction independent of age. This data showcases that biobanking from companion dogs is a useful tool for studying age-related neurodegenerative conditions.

Overall, the Dog Aging Project is still in its early stages, and many more discoveries are expected in the coming years as the study continues to collect and analyze data from tens of thousands of dogs.

  2. Selvarani, R., Mohammed, S., & Richardson, A. (2020). Effect of rapamycin on aging and age-related diseases—past and future. GeroScience, 1-24.
  3. Fontana, L., Partridge, L., & Longo, V. D. (2010). Extending healthy life span—from yeast to humans. science, 328(5976), 321-326.
  4. Urfer, S. R., Kaeberlein, T. L., Mailheau, S., Bergman, P. J., Creevy, K. E., Promislow, D. E., & Kaeberlein, M. (2017). A randomized controlled trial to establish effects of short-term rapamycin treatment in 24 middle-aged companion dogs. Geroscience, 39(2), 117-127.
  5. Bray EE, Raichlen DA, Forsyth KK, Promislow DEL, Alexander GE, MacLean EL; Dog Aging Project Consortium. Associations between physical activity and cognitive dysfunction in older companion dogs: results from the Dog Aging Project. Geroscience. 2023 Apr;45(2):645-661. doi: 10.1007/s11357-022-00655-8.
  6. Bray EE, Zheng Z, Tolbert MK, McCoy BM; Dog Aging Project Consortium; Kaeberlein M, Kerr KF. Once-daily feeding is associated with better health in companion dogs: results from the Dog Aging Project. Geroscience. 2022 Jun;44(3):1779-1790. doi: 10.1007/s11357-022-00575-7.
  7. Yordy J, Kraus C, Hayward JJ, White ME, Shannon LM, Creevy KE, Promislow DEL, Boyko AR. Body size, inbreeding, and lifespan in domestic dogs. Conserv Genet. 2020 Feb;21(1):137-148. doi: 10.1007/s10592-019-01240-x.