It didn’t take Pamela Alt long to decide that her dog, Archibald, should be part of a scientific study — one with a goal of helping dogs live healthier, longer lives.
Alt, who lives in Richmond Beach, saw a Facebook post about the national study being conducted by the University of Washington and Texas A&M University. “I signed up,” she said.
Alt is one of about 72,000 people all over the U.S. who have agreed to provide information for the research, which is seeking dogs of all types and ages.
Archibald, an American Staffordshire terrier, has been part of her life for about five years, first by providing him a foster home and then adopting him from an animal shelter in 2015.
No one knows exactly how old he is, but the best guess is that he was about 2 years old when he first went to an animal shelter, so he’s now about 8.
Alt, 45, said she had a toy poodle growing up. “At the time, the knowledge about animal health was much more limited,” she said. Since then, far more is known, helping guide her in providing good care for Archibald.
Alt said she was interested in participating in the study in part because of Archibald’s health issues, including some skin problems, for which he sees an animal dermatologist, and a type of tumor he had on his head.
Helping lead the UW’s Aging Dog Project is someone with big doggie cred. Matt Kaeberlein has three dogs himself, Dobby, 8, Chloe, 14, and Betty, a rescue dog whose age is estimated at between 13 and 15.
“One of the goals is, we want to understand the aging process in dogs,” said Kaeberlein, who works in the Department of Pathology at the UW School of Medicine. “The thing we hope to accomplish is for them to live longer, healthier lives.”
Initial publicity said the study was seeking 10,000 dogs. Kaeberlein said the goal is far larger. “We’d want to study tens of thousands of dogs,” he said. “We’d love to get more than 100,000.”
So what are they looking for? Dogs of any age, all breeds and living in homes of all economic incomes.
The steps for dog owners to sign up are designed to make it easy for them to participate, he said. First, go to the online site to nominate your dog. Once registered, a survey will be sent out in the following month or two.
The survey will take from 30 minutes to two hours to complete, asking about the dog’s living environment — such as where the dog sleeps, whether it’s exposed to secondhand smoke, how much time they spend outside and whether there are other dogs in the house.
Participants then will be asked to get the dog’s health records from their veterinarian so it can be sent to the study. This information will help scientists better understand what things most influence a dog’s longevity, such as what factors early in life have long-term consequences on their health.
“One thing most dog owners know is big dogs age two to three times faster than small dogs,” Kaeberlein said. “That’s one of the things we want to understand — why?”
The study is being funded by a five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health.
Dogs age roughly seven times faster than humans, so researchers hope they can find some trends in the study that would help people live healthier lives, too.
“We can do in 10 years what we can do in 70 years in humans,” Kaeberlein said.
“There are features of aging shared across all animals. Our expectation is much of what we can learn about aging in dogs will also influence aging in people.”
Kaeberlein has been studying the biology of aging since he was a graduate student. When the opportunity came to combine that interest with helping dogs through the Dog Aging Project, “it was like the best thing in the world,” he said.
“Not only can we do important science, but there’s the potential for helping people’s dogs live longer. I know how important that will be for the millions of dog owners who feel like their dog is part of their family.”
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
There is still time to enroll your dog in the Dog Aging Project. Owners of any size, breed or age of dog can sign up for the study by going to www.dogagingproject.org.