How long will your dog live? New genetic study hopes to crack code for canine longevity
PRINCETON, N.J. — The general rule of thumb is that “dog years” equals about seven human years. However, a new study reveals that a dog’s lifespan is much more complicated than that. Researchers at Princeton University are conducting an extensive genetic investigation which they hope will reveal the true lifespan of man’s best friend.
For pet owners, the math behind “dog years” is the easiest way to roughly gauge where their furry friend is in their life cycle. A one-year-old puppy is roughly equivalent to a seven-year-old child. Meanwhile, an 11-year-old dog is about the same age in terms of health as a 77-year-old adult. The new report notes, however, that these calculations may vary depending on the size of your dog.
The study authors explain that large dogs tend to age much faster – up to 10 times faster than humans. Conversely, “dog years” for smaller breeds may only be around five human years, and some small dogs may even live to see their 20th birthday.
Cracking the Dog Aging Code
Over the next decade, The Dog Aging Project (founded in 2018) recruits tens of thousands of dogs of all sizes and breeds to finally get a clearer picture of canine aging.
“We are sequencing the genomes of 10,000 dogs,” says Professor Joshua Akey, co-lead of genetic analyses, in a university statement. “This will be one of the largest genetic datasets ever produced for dogs, and it will be a powerful resource not only for understanding the role of genetics in aging, but also for answering more fundamental questions about the evolutionary history and domestication of dogs.”
So far, there are over 32,000 dogs in The Dog Aging Project “Pack” (or “DAP Pack”). The team is specifically focusing on dogs with exceptional longevity to see how their DNA differs from other puppies that don’t reach “super-centenarian” status.
“We are always recruiting dogs of all ages, of all breeds – purebreds or mixed breeds, of all sizes, from anywhere in the United States,” adds William Thistlethwaite, a graduate student who works with Akey at the Lewis-Sigler Institute in Princeton. . “Especially puppies and young dogs up to 3 years old.”
When dogs join the study, their owners complete an annual survey and take certain measurements of their pets throughout their lives. This may include cheek swabs to collect DNA, as well as fur, feces, urine and blood samples.
Understanding dog aging can lead to better health for humans
Researchers hope all of this will help identify specific biomarkers in a dog’s body that are related to their age. Along with understanding how long man’s best friend will live, scientists might also be able to translate this data into better health for people.
The team explains that humans and dogs actually live very similar lives when you really think about it. Dogs can experience almost every type of ailment and disease that people do. At the same time, they also share the same living environments as their owners, which can play a major role in the aging process and is something scientists cannot replicate in a lab.
“Since dogs share the human environment and have a sophisticated healthcare system, but have a much shorter lifespan than humans, they offer a unique opportunity to identify genetic, environmental and lifestyle-related factors associated with a healthy lifespan,” says Dr. Daniel Promislow, the principal investigator of the National Institute on Aging grant funding the project.
With that in mind, the team is looking specifically at the 300 oldest dogs in the DAP pack in their quest to understand longevity.
“Part of the project that I’m excited about is a ‘super-centennial’ study, comparing the DNA of exceptionally long-lived dogs to dogs that live to the middle age of their breed,” adds Akey. “This is the first such study in dogs (that I know of), and I think it’s a smart way to try to find genetic differences that contribute to exceptional longevity.”
Details of the study are published in the journal Nature.