These scientists are working to extend the lifespan of pet dogs and their owners

Dogs provide a much better model for studying human aging. They are unique in sharing our environment. Companion dogs live with us in our homes, breathe the same air we do, and often share our exercise routines to some degree. “They eat our food, they walk on our lawns with pesticides, they drink everything in our water,” says Elaine Ostrander, who leads a team that studies human and canine genetics at the National Institute for Research on the human genome from the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

They also develop many of the same age-related diseases that we do. Technically, most pet dogs die as a result of euthanasia. But in most of those cases, the animals have cancer, Kaeberlein says. Dogs can also develop heart disease later in life, just like humans. There are a few differences: dogs’ brains are not the same as humans’, although the animals seem to develop a form of dementia. And dogs don’t tend to develop vascular disease like humans.

But there are a lot of similarities. Both dogs and humans experience an aging immune system and an increased risk of kidney disease as they age, Kaeberlein says. “It seems that, at the level of individual age-related diseases, it’s very, very similar,” he says.

One of the main differences is that aging is a much faster process in dogs – it happens about seven times faster than in humans, although small dogs generally live longer than large ones. (However, it’s not entirely true that one year of a dog’s life equals seven human years. Dogs seem to age faster than humans in their first years of life, and the rate slows as they age. they get old.)


Although this can be devastating for dedicated owners, it is useful for researchers, who are able to study the effects of potential anti-aging drugs over the lifespan, which is much more difficult to achieve in humans. .

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

This variation makes animals particularly fascinating to geneticists like Ostrander. “Dogs were only domesticated around 30,000 years ago, and most breeds have only been around since Victorian times,” she says. It was around the mid-1800s that modern dog breeding took off, and owners bred dogs for aspects of their appearance, such as curly coats or flat faces. Breeders have basically selected dogs with genes for these traits.

Since many such changes have only occurred in the past hundred years or so, genetic differences between today’s dog breeds are likely to have a significant impact on these traits and on the risks of certain diseases which vary from one race to another.

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