These scientists are working to prolong the life of pet dogs — and their owners

Dogs provide a much better model for studying the human aging process. They are unique in sharing our environment. Pet dogs live in the house with us, breathe the same air as we do, and often share our exercise routines, to some extent. “They’re eating our food, they’re walking on their lawns,” said Elaine Ostrander, head of the human and canine genetics research group at the National Human Genome Research Institute. With pesticides, they’re drinking whatever’s in our water. National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

They also develop many age-related diseases just like us. Technically, most pet dogs die from euthanasia. But in most of these cases, the animals get cancer, says Kaeberlein. Dogs can also develop heart disease in later life, just like humans. There are some differences – dog brains are not like human brains, although animals do appear to develop some form of dementia. And dogs don’t tend to develop vascular diseases like humans do.

But there are many similarities. Kaeberlein says both dogs and humans suffer from aging immune systems and an increased risk of kidney disease as they age. “It seems that at the level of individual age-related diseases, it is very similar,” he said.

One key difference is that the aging process in dogs is much faster – it happens about seven times faster in humans, although small dogs often live longer than larger ones. (It’s not entirely the case, however, that one canine year is equivalent to seven human years. Dogs seem to age faster than humans in their early years, and the rate slows as they age.)

Conceptual illustration of a dog on a sofa with past dogs in a framed portrait behind


While this can be damaging for dedicated owners, it is useful for researchers who may be studying the effects of potential anti-aging drugs over their lifespan. at – which is much more difficult for humans to achieve.

Another unique feature of dogs is their incredible diversity. Only in dogs do we see such extreme differences in size and appearance within a single species. For example, the Great Dane is about 20 times heavier than the Chihuahua. A Pomeranian looks nothing like a Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

This variation makes the animals especially attractive to geneticists like Ostrander. “Dogs were only domesticated about 30,000 years ago, and most breeds only date back to Victorian times,” she said. By the mid-1800s, modern dog breeding had begun to develop, and owners bred dogs for aspects of their appearance, such as curly coats or flat faces. Breeders have essentially selected dogs with genes for these traits.

Because many of these changes have occurred only in the last few hundred years, genetic differences between dog breeds today can have a significant impact on these traits – and on the risk of several other diseases. between dog breeds.

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