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Researchers are looking for a few good dogs. 10,000 of them, to be exact. . . .

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It’s not just about extending a dog’s lifespan. It’s about extending their healthspan, too—the period of life spent free from disease.

The Dog Aging Project can do both.

The Dog Aging Project is spearheaded by the University of Washington (UW) School of Medicine and the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, but the initiative extends far beyond the two schools. The organizers’ goal is to create a national community of dogs, owners, veterinarians, volunteers, and researchers—all working together to learn more about how genes, lifestyles, and the environment impact the way dogs age.

Although the project has been gearing up for a while, it launched officially earlier this month at the annual Gerontological Society of America meeting in Austin, Texas. Dog owners interested in participating in the study can nominate their canine as a candidate for study on the project’s website.

Who can apply? Dogs of all ages, from puppy to senior; all sizes, from miniature to huge; male and female; neutered or not; and living in all types of locations are invited to be nominated. Healthy dogs and those with chronic illness will be considered.

But like the US Marines, the researchers aren’t looking for just any dogs—they’re looking for dogs (and owners) willing to make a commitment: Those who apply and are selected are signing up for a 10-year stint.

Over those 10 years, scientists will gather information on all 10,000 enrolled dogs in a collaborative, open-data platform. Like the Framingham Heart Study and the All of Us research program, the Dog Aging Project is a comprehensive, longitudinal study designed to collect a massive amount of data that scientists around the world can analyze in variety of ways.

For this study, the largest of its kind ever undertaken, the dogs will be followed throughout their lifetimes. And because the two previously mentioned studies involve humans, a better canine corollary might be the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, a longitudinal study sponsored by the Morris Animal Foundation launched in 2012 that enrolled 3,000 golden retrievers and their owners.

As in that study, owners will play a big part in this one, said biology of aging expert Daniel Promislow, PhD, a professor of pathology at UW and a director of the Dog Aging Project: “All owners who complete the nomination process will become Dog Aging Project citizen scientists and their dogs will become members of the Dog Aging Project ‘pack.’ Their information will allow us to begin carrying out important research on aging in dogs.”

More than 40 other researchers from a variety of fields and institutions will join Promislow and his colleagues in this endeavor, including longevity and healthspan expert Matt Kaeberlein, PhD, a professor of pathology at UW.

“Aging is the major cause of the most common diseases, like cancer and heart problems,” Kaeberlein said. “Dogs age more rapidly than people do and get many of our same diseases of aging, including cognitive decline. They also share our living environment and have a diverse genetic makeup. This project will contribute broadly to knowledge about aging in dogs and in people.”

That could mean longer lives—and happier healthspans—for everyone.

Be sure to read through the 2019 AAHA Canine Life Stage Guidelines for individualized recommendations for promoting healthy longevity throughout a dog’s life stages.

Photo credit: © iStock/Ali Siraj