We want them to live forever!

Here’s an anti-aging project that we all wish for a successful outcome.

Despite the fact that one of the very important items that we learn from dogs is the certainty of death, there is not a single dog carer who doesn’t want them to live much longer lives.

Today’s post is the republication of a recent science report over on Mother Nature Network concerning a drug, rapamycin, that is hoped may give our wonderful dogs several more healthy years of life. As always, republished within the generous terms of MNN.

We wish the scientists much luck in achieving this outcome, without any deleterious side effects.

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Anti-aging project aims to extend dogs’ life spans

Researchers hope a drug called rapamycin can give dogs several more healthy years of life.
By: Russell McLendon, December 4, 2015,

Although some dogs have lived as long as 29 years, canine life spans are typically closer to half that length. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Although some dogs have lived as long as 29 years, canine life spans are typically closer to half that length. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Living with a dog can help humans in lots of ways, from reducing stress and anxiety to lifting our spirits and making us laugh. Yet despite the abundance of benefits dogs offer, they also come with a notable drawback: Their life spans are much shorter than ours, forcing us to deal with the sadness of their deaths every 15 years or so.

Grieving for our dogs is just part of life, and in the big picture, it’s a small price to pay. But according to researchers at the University of Washington (UW), there may be a way to help our best friends stay with us — and stay healthy — a little longer.

Dog aging varies widely by size and breed, with smaller dogs typically maturing more quickly, yet also living a few years longer on average. It’s also common for mutts to outlive purebred dogs, thanks to the perks of higher genetic diversity. But while almost any dog is considered elderly by age 15, some have been known to nearly double their expected life spans — including Bluey, an Australian cattle dog who famously lived to see his 29th birthday last century.

And now researchers at UW’s Dog Aging Project (DAP) are working to bring similar longevity to canines of all kinds. In addition to performing “the first nationwide, large-scale longitudinal study of aging in pet dogs,” this project involves efforts to improve dogs’ “healthy life span” via therapies that already work in lab settings.

“To be clear, our goal is to extend the period of life in which dogs are healthy, not prolong the already difficult older years,” the project’s website explains. “Imagine what you could do with an additional two to five years with your beloved pet in the prime of his or her life. This is within our reach today.”

If it pans out, this may also aid ongoing research into extending the lives of other animals, including humans. But for now, the therapy is focused on dogs.

Researchers think rapamycin might increase a dog's healthy life span by up to 5 years. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Researchers think rapamycin might increase a dog’s healthy life span by up to 5 years. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Namely, they’re testing the FDA-approved drug rapamycin (aka sirolimus) on middle-aged dogs. High doses of rapamycin are already used in humans to fight cancer and prevent organ-transplant rejection, but at low doses, it has also been shown to slow aging and extend life span in several animals with few or no side effects. In mice, for example, the immunosuppressant can lengthen lives by up to 25 percent.

“If rapamycin has a similar effect in dogs — and it’s important to keep in mind we don’t know this yet — then a typical large dog could live 2 to 3 years longer, and a smaller dog might live 4 years longer,” the project’s organizers write. “More important than the extra years, however, is the improvement in overall health during aging that we expect rapamycin to provide.”

Rapamycin trials have already begun on 32 middle-aged golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers and German shepherds. Ranging from 6 to 9 years old, these dogs will spend several months on a low-dose rapamycin regimen in which researchers study age-related metrics like heart function, immune response, physical activity, body weight and cognitive measures. They’ll also follow these 32 dogs throughout the rest of their lives, looking for any significant changes in aging or life span.

And in phase two of the study, a second group of middle-aged dogs will enter a longer-term, low-dose rapamycin regimen “designed to optimize lifespan extension.” Based on mouse studies conducted both at UW and elsewhere, they anticipate the drug “could increase healthy lifespan of middle-aged dogs by 2-5 years or more.”

Rapamycin isn’t a miracle drug, however, and high doses have been linked to side effects like immune suppression and delayed wound healing. But as the DAP website argues, “these are greatly mitigated at the doses used to extend longevity, and both animal and human studies indicate that even mild adverse events are rare.”

Regular exercise and outdoor time are great ways to boost a dog's quality of life. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Regular exercise and outdoor time are great ways to boost a dog’s quality of life. (Photo: Shutterstock)

While the idea of extending dogs’ lives is exciting, it’s important not to let quantity of life overshadow quality of life. We may never have full control over how long our dogs live, but we can make sure they live well while they’re here.

A good reminder of this comes from Pegasus, a Great Dane rescued from unscrupulous breeders in South Africa when she was 4 weeks old. Suffering from a pigment deficiency often associated with blindness and deafness, Pegasus wasn’t expected to live very long. Filmmaker Dave Meinert adopted her anyway, and decided to film her daily as she grew up. In May 2015, he released a time-lapse movie (see below) of her reaching adulthood that quickly went viral. And as he explains in the video, Pegasus’ prognosis only helped the pair live every day like it was their last.

“I still don’t know how long she is going to live,” Meinert admits. “But right now is pretty great.”

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Watching the video offers the most beautiful, and powerful, reminder of the unconditional love that we can share with our dogs! What a gift they give us!

Wouldn’t we all love a few more years of happy and healthy life for our beloved dogs.

17 thoughts on “We want them to live forever!

  1. Clever – and very heart-warming video.

    Regarding the drug, I think the comment made in the article is key, that quality of life should be paramount, however much we want our dogs to live longer for selfish reasons.

    1. And so say all of us! But I don’t see it as entirely selfish reasons, although there will be a good market for the drug companies if they can pull this off. No, when one thinks of service dogs, of the countless thousands of people whose only loyal and trusting friend is their dog, the happiness that children derive from dogs and on and on, that doesn’t strike me as a selfish ambition to have a few more years of happy life from our dogs.

      Loved having your thoughts.

      1. This has been a hard year for us too in that respect… [hence my long absence and withdrawal]. We also lost our friend last September during the eclipse, just a month after your precious Lilly. I can only now speak-kind of- about it.

  2. It’s so tempting. We were so heartbroken after losing Arthur so unexpectedly (an astonishing dog we found with a massive tumor in his eye) in Sao Paulo we literally moved cities. I couldn’t stand being in the same neighbourhood. Too much reminded me of him.

    1. Oh John, I don’t know what to say in response to that. The pain you guys must have felt. Possibly I can empathise if I try and imagine losing Pharaoh back in the days when it was just him and me living down in South Devon, South-West England. But now, the knowledge that he is living out the end months of his dear life is softened by the fact that I can vent my grief with other loving furry friends who will understand what the loss means to me.

      Jean was heartbroken when we lost Lilly not that long ago and the way that the other dogs offered emotional support to Jean was astoundingly beautiful. What incredible creatures they are! Yes, it is so tempting to want them to live a little longer.

      1. They are amazing creatures. The dog across the street from us died almost a year ago to the day. Beautiful dog, not so good owners (never paid her any attention, fed her crap… we’d sneakily feed her mince and chicken and treats every night). She had many male visitors (they never neutered her), but one in particular, Hop-along, a crippled dog from a street over considered her his wife/girlfriend. When she died it was only us and Hop-along who grieved. It was amazing. He held vigil outside her house for 2 weeks solid after she died, day and night. He never left. He just stood there.

        I’m sorry to hear about Lilly. It’s gut-wrenching when they’re not there.

      2. John, if you and I carry on like this maybe we are inadvertently coming up with an idea for book number two! 😉 Maybe a joint production?? Lessons on Life from our Dogs!

        (only slightly tongue-in-cheek!)

    1. The entrepreneur within me is pretty certain that the dabbling with playing god, as you so succinctly put it, is driven my money! Lovely to have your comment – thank you.

      1. Money and the desire to keep everything as it is, not accepting everything changes, everything ends, and almost everything dies.

        Thanks for the post 🙂

  3. As much as I would love my dogs to live longer, I don’t like the idea of dabbling with nature – and of course, behind all the good intentions in this drug (for some), is the mighty dollar.

  4. I agree with Marina, as to why our beloved four legged friends are with us for so brief a time.. Maybe they come to teach us Paul..To learn to Love for one, and to Care and find Compassion, What ever it is, they leave a huge hole in our hearts when they pass, and take a chunk of it with them..
    Great video find Paul, again a superb post which left me a little tearful today as I read all of the about comments xxx

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