For many of us, our dogs are our constant companions. Whether collie or retriever, purebred or mutt, dogs climb mountains with us, travel on airplanes with us, and eat the scraps off our plate.
And as we get older, so do they. In fact, dogs experience a lot of the same age-related changes that humans do, from greying hair and creaky joints to more serious conditions like cancer or cognitive decline. Today, scientists are learning how comparing different dog breeds can give us new insights into the aging process — for both our canine companions and their owners.
One major project currently underway is the Dog Aging Project. Headquartered at the University of Washington, the project is working with dogowners across the country, gathering info about their pets’ lives, lifespans and medical ailments.
The project has more than 32,000 dogs already enrolled, though co-director Daniel Promislow says it’s kind of just getting started. “Over this past year, we've sort of launched into the next phase, which is pretty exciting,” says Promislow. One key development: Building out their logistics network, like where to store computer data and physical samples and how to make that data easy to sort through. The second development? Time.
The scientists behind the project hope that this wealth of data could soon be used to see which health problems are commonly found together, and even figure out how long problem may lead to another. “Once we move into this longitudinal phase, which we're now doing, we can identify how something that happens early in a dog's life eventually impact his health late in life. That's the real power of discovery,” says Promislow. “Years in the future, a veterinarian could enter some information about the clinical history of a dog and know that a particular diagnosis was more or less likely.”
They’re also collecting DNA samples from the dogs, which could help reveal the underlying genetic causes of disease. Beyond that, dogs in particular present a rare opportunity for researchers thanks to the artificial selection pressures that have shaped them.
Read the full story in Discover Magazine.