Humankind has been searching for a “fountain of youth” for thousands of years. For dog owners, the perfect find wouldn’t just extend our lives but also those of our beloved canine companions.


Not long ago, we talked about a couple of things that owners can do to potentially extend the lifespan of their dogs. I advocated for the first — a 25% reduction in caloric intake — but was hesitant to recommend second — giving older dogs L-deprenyl — because the research supporting the drug’s use for this purpose is hardly definitive.


Two scientists from the University of Washington are looking to expand our understanding of how dogs age and whether or not a different drug, rapamycin, might help them age better and live longer.


The first part of the Dog Aging Project consists of a “Longitudinal Study of Aging in Pet Dogs,” the goal of which is to “perform the first nationwide, large-scale longitudinal study of aging in pet dogs, where individual animals will be followed throughout life to understand the biological and environmental factors that determine why some dogs die early or succumb to diseases such as cancer, kidney failure, and dementia, while others live to a relatively old age free from these problems.”


The project’s second goal is “an intervention trial to treat middle-aged dogs with the FDA approved drug rapamycin. At high doses, rapamycin is used successfully in human patients to prevent organ transplant rejection and to fight cancer. At low doses, rapamycin slows aging and extends lifespan in several organisms, including mice, with few or no side effects.”


The first phase of this study will enroll middle-aged dogs (6-9 years depending on breed) in a short-term (3-6 month), low-dose rapamycin regimen and follow age-related parameters such as heart function, immune function, activity, body weight, and cognitive measures. These animals will then be followed throughout life to determine whether there are significant improvements in healthy aging and lifespan.


The next phase of the study will enroll a second cohort of middle-aged dogs into a longer-term, low-dose rapamycin regimen designed to optimize lifespan extension. As with phase one, several age-related parameters will be assessed before, during, and after the treatment period. Based on the mouse studies performed at the University of Washington and elsewhere, we anticipate that rapamycin could increase healthy lifespan of middle-aged dogs by 2-5 years or more.


I don’t know about you, but I’d have given just about anything for another 2-5 years with my dogs who have passed away, particularly if the majority of that “extra” time consisted of good quality of life.


Rapamycin is off patent, which means drug companies aren’t interested in funding additional research into its potential use as an “anti-aging” treatment. This is why your help is needed. The Dog Aging Project is looking for donations to help with funding as well as canine “citizen scientists” to participate in the longitudinal study and the first phase of the interventional trial. Take a look at the project’s website for more information.


Dr. Jennifer Coates


Image: Christian Mueller / Shutterstock