INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Attention dog owners: Identifying factors that maximize health and longevity in our furry friends could be key in discovering how humans can live longer, healthier lives, researchers say.
A team of 40 scientists spanning the U.S. announced the launch of the largest research project to date designed to assess different aspects of a dog’s life. The Dog Aging Project will look at breeds across the country and explore canine general health and well-being and how certain factors might also apply to humans.
Audrey Ruple, DVM, PhD and assistant professor of public health at Purdue University, is one of the elite scientists invited onboard.
“Our goal with this research is to identify the biological and environmental factors that can maximize health and longevity in both dogs and humans so we can live longer, healthier lives together,” Ruple told News 8. “We’re not only exploring what might improve human lifespan, but also human healthspan, or the period of life spent in good health.”
As we age and as our dogs age, she said, we typically start to accumulate different states of unhealth. Chronic diseases as well as musculoskeletal conditions in the dog population are patterned in very similar ways patterned in humans.
Ruple uses the example of a torn knee ligament. In the event of a tear, dogs may become less active. Inactivity can then lead to overweight and obesity. Overweight and obesity are linked to chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and certain cancers. This situation is not unlike what we often see in humans.
Decreased activity and possible overweight/obesity as a result of the tear are considered comorbidities defined as two factors existing simultaneously with a condition or chronic disease. Ruple and the team are also focusing on the many factors that might accompany or predispose dogs to disease, which might overlap with humans.
Want to know more about your own health? Man’s best friend may have the answers
But why study dogs?
Dogs share approximately 650 megabases of genetic information with humans and genetic precursors to chronic diseases, particularly cancer.
“They develop the same cancers that we do because those cancers are based on the cellular level–based on our own cells,” she explained. “And because we share that cellular genetic, our cancers are all genetically the same.”
In addition to genetic similarities, dogs and humans share the same environment making it an equally important study factor. They live in the family home, play in the same backyards and drink the same tap water as the rest of the household.
The Dog Aging Project is expected to last ten years. As of now 79,326 different breeds of all shapes, sizes and ages are currently enrolled. But the more participants the better, Ruple said, because “it will make for an incredible data set.”
If interested in enrolling your pet in the Dog Aging Project click here.
Photo caption: Audrey Ruple, DVM, PhD and assistant professor of public health at Purdue University with her Great Dane, Bitzer (Photo provided/Audrey Ruple)
Video caption: Audrey Ruple and her daughters with their Great Dane, Bitzer (Video provided/Purdue University)