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Pet Tales: Dog aging study may help them and people live longer

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From Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

No dogs will be harmed in The Dog Aging Project as 40 scientists from across the country study 75,000 canines. Researchers are looking for ways to help people and dogs live longer, healthier lives.

They’re also looking for more dogs — all ages, breeds and mixed breeds — to participate in the study. In fact, they’re trying to find the oldest dog in America, said veterinarian Audrey Ruple.

The dogs will be studied for 10 years as they live out their lives at home, said Dr. Ruple, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at Purdue University and one of the 40 researchers working on The Dog Aging Project (dogagingproject.org).

“Every dog owner becomes part of a scientific research team,” she said.

It costs nothing to participate, but dogs and owners aren’t paid either.

The website describes this as “a citizen science project” that will collect data “to advance our understanding of how genes, lifestyle and environment influence aging.”

That includes looking at how chemical exposures and noise pollution impact health and longevity. On the website, click on “nominate your dog” if you wish to participate.

The first step is an online survey, which took me 3 minutes to complete. Questions asked include age, sex, weight, breed or mix, year of birth, neutered or spayed, how often the dog sees a veterinarian and where the dog sleeps at night.

Going forward, owners will be asked to periodically complete online surveys. Dogs go to their own veterinarian once a year for exams. Some people will be sent kits for their vet to collect blood, urine and other samples. Veterinary records in some cases will need to be uploaded to the researchers.

“Dogs are good models for humans,” Dr. Ruple said. “They have similar genetics, share our environment and have similar diseases and health issues. We will be asking ‘How do dogs age healthfully?’ in order to better understand how we can age healthfully, too.”

A photo from Perdue shows Dr. Ruple with her own dog, Bitzer, a 140-pound great Dane.

“Bitzer is the best dog in the world,” she said in a phone interview. “He is kind, sweet and loving. He has raised my three daughters. He is also a total goofball. He runs around like a puppy.”

When it’s time for a rest, Bitzer “takes up the whole couch. He’s like Marmaduke,” she said.

Bitzer is 7 years old, which is elderly for a breed that has an average life expectancy of 6-8 years, she said.

“We are not entirely sure” why big dogs don’t live as long as little dogs, she noted.

Bitzer has osteosarcoma, a bone cancer that is very common in great Danes, Dr. Ruple said.

As a full-time researcher, Dr. Ruple does not see patients. “My real passion is cancer epidemiology.”

In addition to her doctorate in veterinary medicine from Colorado State University, she has a PhD from the same school in cell and molecular biology with a specialization in cancer biology.

She and the other researchers spend 4-10 hours a week online. They get together once a year.

Most of the funding for The Dog Aging Project comes from the National Institute of Aging, which is part of the National Institutes of Health. Total funding so far is $22.8 million, which includes private donations. Donations are solicited on project’s website.

Participating dogs have just been signed up in recent months, so there are no results or reports yet, Dr. Ruple said.

Co-directors of the study are Daniel Promislow and Matt Kaeberlein of the University of Washington. Chief veterinary officer is Kate E. Creevy of Texas A&M University.

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Technology - U.S. Daily News: Pet Tales: Dog aging study may help them and people live longer
Pet Tales: Dog aging study may help them and people live longer
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