For years, it’s been generally accepted that ‘dog years’ are roughly human years times seven, in that a one-year-old puppy is equivalent to a seven-year-old child, and an 11-year-old elderly dog is like a 77-year-old senior citizen. But it’s actually much more complicated, say experts from the US.
Part of the problem is that while humans have clear metrics for healthy ageing, little is known about ‘normal aging’ for our four-legged friends. Big dogs tend to age the fastest—maybe 10 times faster than humans—while little breeds may live up to 20 years, with ‘dog years’ about five times human years.
The Dog Aging Project, founded in 2018—and detailed in Nature—is by far the most ambitious project tackling the question of canine longevity, enrolling and studying tens of thousands of dogs of all sizes, breeds and backgrounds to develop a thorough understanding of canine ageing.
Their open-source dataset will give veterinarians and scientists the tools to assess how well a specific dog is ageing and will set the stage for further research into healthy ageing—in both dogs and people.
“We are sequencing the genomes of 10,000 dogs,” said Joshua Akey, a member of the Dog Aging Project’s research team.
“This will be one of the largest genetics datasets ever produced for dogs, and it will be a powerful resource not only to understand the role of genetics in ageing, but also to answer more fundamental questions about the evolutionary history and domestication of dogs.”
The Dog Aging Project (DAP) expects to run for at least 10 years. To date, more than 32,000 dogs have joined the ‘DAP Pack’, as the researchers call their canine citizen scientists.
When a dog joins the Pack, their owners agree to fill out annual surveys and take measurements of their dogs for the duration of the project; some may be asked to collect cheek swabs for DNA sampling. In addition, the DAP team works with veterinarians across the country who assist by submitting fur, fecal, urine and blood samples of select Pack members.
The researchers hope to identify specific biomarkers of canine ageing. They anticipate that their findings will translate to human ageing, for several reasons: dogs experience nearly every functional decline and disease of ageing that people do; the extent of veterinary care parallels human healthcare in many ways; and our dogs share our lived environments, a major determinant of ageing and one that cannot be replicated in any lab setting.
One of their most intriguing avenues of inquiry will analyse the DNA of exceptionally long-lived dogs, the ‘super-centenarians’ of the dog world.
Within a few months, the team plans to open their enormous dataset to share with scientists around the world. Researchers from many different fields will have the opportunity to contribute to the study in countless different ways, based on their interests.