“7 dog years to 1 human year” is a misnomer. Yes, our dogs live shorter lives than humans, but the 7-to-1 correlation is far from being accurate. That ratio is just fuzzy math. A dog's longevity is not that simplistic. In fact, if anything, dogs mature faster in their first few years and slow down in their seniority. This is evident as dogs reach their full sexual maturity after year one.
However more importantly, the larger question is why do dogs age so fast to begin with? Paraphrasing Emily Matchar from the Smithsonian, she aptly ponders: Why does a Labrador who’s so energetic and puppy-like in their early years, slow down majorly by four, gray by nine, and unfortunately end their days prematurely at 11?
In agreement, biologist Daniel Promislow asserts further: “there’s no such thing as a 15-year-old Great Dane.”
Can a dog’s lifespan be modified?
Promislow has taken this issue to another level. He heads up the ‘Dog Aging Project’ [DPA] at the University of Washington which focuses on our dogs’ lifespan.
“Dogs are the most phenotypically variable [i.e., varying via observable physical characteristics] species in the world,” Promislow says. “You just go to the dog park, and you see that variability in terms of size, shape, color, coat and behavior. They vary not only in those things we can see, but also in their life span.”
Interesting enough, understanding dog aging may also provide benefits for pet owners.
“Because dogs live in our environment, there’s potential for them to be sentinels for environmental risk factors—air quality, water quality, things about the home,” Promislow says. “These are immediately candidates for risk factors that might be affecting life span in people.”
Gotta have heart . . .
This issue led Promislow to question how much we need to protect our dog’s cardiovascular health. To that end, his research team is testing ‘Rapamycin, a drug known to increase lifespan in mice.
Phase I of Promislow's research started enrolling dogs in mid-2015 and the clinical part of that study was wrapped up by mid-2016. Two major research papers were published from this study in 2017, but still require peer review.
To date, there’s been no significant side effects detected. But more importantly, Rapamycin appears to rejuvenate the heart function of old dogs back to a more youthful state, just like what was previously detected in rodents.
Unfortunately the DAP research has slowed due to funding. Funding for any research is extremely competitive, and the ambitious breadth of this project makes it a challenging endeavor. So despite high enthusiasm, it is still a work in progress. Hopefully 2019 will be the year to reach a new milestone in helping to extend the lifespans of canines.
What can you do?
The goal is to allow our dog's live longer and healthier lives. For those reading this blog and understanding the dire need for continuing this important research, you can help. You can assist by pushing this testing forward and finding new answers to lengthening our dogs’ lifespans, by donating here.
Primary Source: Dog Aging Project