PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine is looking for local and regional canine participants to be part of the Dog Aging Project, a five-year, $23 million undertaking to better understand canine aging.

WSU is one of seven colleges of veterinary medicine around the country to participate in this study along with Texas A&M, University of Georgia, Iowa State University, Colorado State University, Oregon State University and North Carolina State University.

The study is funded by the National Institute on Aging, a part of the National Institutes of Health. To participate in the Dog Aging Project, owners nominate a dog (one per household) at the project website, DogAgingProject.org.

“I am excited to work with a vast number of colleagues across the nation on an important subject. When many clinical scientists come together for such a large study, that’s when rapid progress happens,” said Dr. O. Lynne Nelson, veterinary cardiologist in the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine.

There are almost 90 million dogs living in the United States.

So, when the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences and University of Washington School of Medicine launched the Dog Aging Project in November 2019 seeking canine participants, the research team knew owners across the country would answer the call.

And answer they did.

Nearly 30,000 dog owners have volunteered for this community science research project dedicated to understanding the biological and environmental determinants of canine aging.

“The Dog Aging Project came in as an innovative approach to understand the process of aging. This is because of the remarkable similarities between humans and their canine companions. They share the same environment, have similar lifestyles and, when it comes to aging, both species develop the same types of diseases. We’re going to learn in a relatively shorter period of time than we would to study the human population a lot about how biology, lifestyle and environment can affect healthy aging in dogs, and then have that be applicable to humans,” said Dr. Francesca Macchiarini, chief of the Biological Resources Branch in the National Institute on Aging’s Division of Aging Biology.

Now, more than a year later, the Dog Aging Project is looking for additional canine participants for this research.

All kinds of dogs are welcome to join, but the project researchers are specifically seeking dogs, both purebred and mixed breed, in the following categories:

Breeds

  • Large breed dogs weighing between 70-100 lbs, especially breeds other than Labradors, golden retrievers and German shepherds (the most common breeds in the US)
  • Giant breed dogs weighing more than 100 lbs, such as great Danes, wolfhounds, mastiffs
  • Hound dogs, spaniels, pointers, terriers, bulldogs, and pit bulls (purebred and mixed breed)
  • Working dogs, such as herding, K9, service, agility, mushing dogs, etc.

Geographical regions

  • Dogs living in rural areas, small towns and large cities, in particular
  • Dogs living in the region of WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

“Healthy aging is the result of both genetics and the environment,” said Dr. Daniel Promislow, project principal investigator and co-director at the University of Washington.

“It’s really important for us to study dogs who live in all kinds of environments from farm dogs to city dogs. Right now, we are specifically recruiting dogs from areas where we don’t have as many participants as we’d like to—like this one!”

Puppies

Because the Dog Aging Project is a long-term study, puppy participants are especially beneficial to the project. The research team wants to follow dogs through their entire lives.

“Better understanding the health effects of the presence and timing of spaying and neutering your dogs is of particular interest to the veterinary community,” said Dr. Kate Creevy, project chief veterinary officer from the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Science, Texas A&M University. “Following puppies through the process of spaying or neutering or through reproductive activity will tell us a lot about how these events influence healthy aging.”

Studies

As the largest research data-gathering program of its kind, the Dog Aging Project offers numerous opportunities to glean important information on canine lifespan, but also canine healthspan, which refers to the period of life spent free from disease.

Because the nature of the project is collaborative, all data collected by the project are available to researchers worldwide through Terra, a cloud-based computing platform, located at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.

The project research team includes more than 40 experts from a variety of fields and institutions, who use the information submitted by the participants and stored in Terra to investigate many aspects of canine health and longevity. The Dog Aging Project includes research in the following areas:

  • Genetics
  • Microbiology
  • Toxicology
  • Canine cognition
  • Age-related mobility
  • Cardiology
  • A clinical drug trial of rapamycin

“Aging is a complex phenomenon. By combining insights from many areas of veterinary research, the Dog Aging Project aims to develop the field of veterinary geroscience and ultimately develop interventions that will help dogs live longer, healthier lives,” said Dr. Matt Kaeberlein, project co-director at the University of Washington.

Joining the Pack

To participate in the Dog Aging Project, owners nominate a dog (one per household) at the project website, DogAgingProject.org. After this, they are invited to set up a personal research portal where they answer scientific surveys about their dog and upload veterinary records.

As a member of the Dog Aging Project Pack, participants will be asked to complete an annual health survey about their dog, which will take 2-3 hours, and several other shorter surveys (estimated 10-30 minutes each) spread throughout the year.

Once a dog is a member of the Dog Aging Project Pack, they may be eligible for a variety of other research activities (all voluntary), which could include genetic analyses, the collection of biological samples, or even participation in a clinical trial.

Notes for media:

A media kit is available with photos and video footage.

Pet owners in your state whose dogs are participating in the Dog Aging Project and are willing to speak to the media have been identified.

“By summer 2021, we’re hoping to have 60,000 Pack members eligible for additional studies. These animals bring so much to our lives. Our entire team is dedicated to extending quality of life into advanced age for dogs and their humans,” said Dr. Kate Creevy, project chief veterinary officer from the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Science, Texas A&M University

The Dog Aging Project is supported by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging, grant 5U19AG057377-03.

For more information, or to nominate your dog, visit dogagingproject.org.

Media contacts:

  • Washington State University (for interviews with Dr. O. Lynne Nelson) Marcia Gossard, 509‑335‑8242, mgossard@wsu.edu
  • Texas A&M (for interviews with Dr. Creevy): Jennifer Gauntt, 979‑862‑4216, jgauntt@cvm.tamu.edu
  • University of Washington (for interviews with Dr. Promislow and Kaeberlein): Leila Gray, 206‑475‑9809, leilag@uw.edu