The science of canine longevity
Audrey ruple May be on the cusp of a scientific breakthrough that could forever change – or extend – the life of man’s best friend.
Ruple is part of the Dog Aging Project. The Dog Aging Project wants to accelerate medical breakthroughs and enable dogs to live healthier lives.
“We’re working on a lot of different things with the Dog Aging Project – all with the goal of increasing the lifespan of our favorite companion,” said Ruple. Reverse.
The Dog Aging Project brings together canine researchers from different universities, united by the same goal: to demystify the curious and little-known science that underlies canine aging. Ruple, for her part, is an assistant professor at Purdue University. The Dog Aging Project is currently recruiting dogs and encouraging pet owners in the United States to participate.
“We predict that it is a combination of genetics, environment and lifestyle that influences the aging process on an individual level,” said Ruple. “However, we do not yet know all the details of the combination of these factors that will lead to a healthier and longer lifespan for our dogs.”
In this article, Ruple and Adam Boyko, Associate Professor at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, explain what we currently know about dog longevity, what we may be able to achieve in the future, and how that information can be used to possibly extend human lives too.
What is the average life expectancy of dogs and why?
Dogs have a fairly short life compared to humans. A 2014 study in the journal of Canine medicine and genetics found that dogs, on average, reach the age of 10 years. They also don’t age exactly like other mammals – the Why is a riddle that the Dog Aging Project wants to solve.
“Dogs break the mold in terms of longevity in that the aging patterns are reversed in dogs,” says Ruple. “In general, the rule is that the larger the mammal, the longer it should live.”
Despite widespread misconceptions, every year in a dog’s life not translate into seven years of human life. This is because dogs age much faster than humans in the early stages of their development. A 2019 report found that a 7 week old puppy is the equivalent of a 9 month old human baby.
Instead, here’s a more helpful breakdown of how dog years translate into human aging, according to the American Medical Veterinary Association.
- The first year of a dog’s life is equal to 15 human years
- By the second year, dogs are around 24 human years old
- After that, each human year totals around 4 to 5 canine years.
However, we still do not fully understand the mechanisms of aging in dogs.
“We hope that part of the outcome of this project will be that we gain a better understanding of why it is true that dogs do not fit the traditional pattern of aging that we expect to see,” said Ruple.
Which dogs live the longest? Which dogs live the shortest?
In general, dogs live between 7 and 13 years depending on the breed, although some dogs may live a few years longer or shorter. For example, Yorkshire Terriers often live between the ages of 14 and 16, while the Mastiff Mastiff can only live 5 years.
Dogs with larger bodies tend to live shorter lives than smaller dogs, according to Ruple, although we don’t fully understand the science behind this.
Although dogs are generally considered “geriatric” by age 7, large dog breeds can grow into senior citizens at as little as 5 to 6 years old, according to the American Medical Veterinary Association. The Sunset Vet Clinic notes that dogs under 20 pounds live an average of 11 years, compared to eight years for dogs over 90 pounds.
According to Ruple, these little dogs often live longer:
- Yorkshire Terrier
- Jack russell terrier
On the other hand, these large dogs tend to live shorter:
- the great danes
- Golden retrievers
- Labrador retrievers
How Can You Help Your Dog To Live Long And Healthy?
You can usually notice when your puppy is getting older if you notice graying fur or a general slowdown in his pace.
Like humans, dogs can lose their sight and hearing as they age. The American Medical Veterinary suggests using simple gestures such as “stop” or “come” to help lead your dog as he ages.
Older dogs can also develop arthritis and other mobility issues. The American Kennel Club recommends a few strategies for keeping your aging puppy healthy.
- Take your dog to the vet for annual preventive screenings to check for any health issues as he gets older.
- Control the number of calories in their food to avoid weight gain and mobility issues. Older dogs are less active and generally need fewer calories.
Research also suggests that dogs more prone to anxiety may have more health complications and shorter lifespans. There are techniques that can relieve your dog’s stress, such as music therapy, soothing t-shirts, and massages.
How Can Dogs Help Humans To Live Long?
By helping our puppies to live better and longer, we may well be extending ours. Researchers have long known about the mental health benefits of dogs – if your dog could live longer and stay healthy, it’s fair to think you’d be happier.
“… dogs and humans share 84 percent of their DNA.
But physical health could also be improved. In canine studies, dogs are used as models to improve human health. For example, some rare cancers that appear in humans also appear in dogs.
“Because dogs and humans share 84 percent of their DNA and all 23,000 ‘mammalian’ genes, they suffer from many of the same health problems,” Boyko explains. “The shorter lifespan of dogs means it’s much easier to study disease progression in dogs than in humans.” ”
Dog Aging Project researchers believe their work can benefit people in the same way – the data they collect on dog health could inform future human health research.
“By studying aging in dogs, we can collect data relevant to human health in a shorter period of time because their lifespan is shorter than ours,” says Ruple.
“The Dog Aging Project was designed to collect information on all of these areas so that we can really figure out what we can do to help all dogs – and humans – live better lives.”
What is the future of canine aging research?
Preventive DNA testing on dogs could also help canine longevity. That’s the goal of Boyko’s dog DNA testing company, Embark.
“Performing tests for over 350 breeds and over 200 genetic health risks, which may help owners stay ahead of canine diseases that occur later in life, including glaucoma, degenerative myelopathy, and dilated cardiomyopathy – three of the most common adult illnesses in dogs, ”says Boyko.
If you know what diseases your dog may be predisposed to contracting, you can take preventative measures and put a plan in place to improve your dog’s health ahead of time, helping them live longer.
“If, for example, you know your dog is genetically programmed to overeat, you can work with your vet to create a specific nutrition and activity plan to prevent obesity, diabetes or heart disease,” explains Boyko.
“If you know your dog has a sensitivity to drugs or a bleeding disorder, you can avoid certain medications and properly monitor your dog during surgery or after trauma.”
Boyko also hopes his research will help breeders adapt their methods to help dogs live longer.
“If we knew the genetics and the enriched environment associated with long-lived dogs, we could give breeders the tools to directly select the longevity of their lines,” Boyko explains.