What can older dogs teach us about longevity?

A veterinarian sets off to make (dog) house visits across the country, to learn why some canines have reached a very old age.
Written by Melanie D.G. Kaplan, Inactive
Bort, a 13-year-old pet Rottweiler from Holliston, Mass., will be the first dog visited by Dr. David J. Waters during The Old Grey Muzzle Tour. Photo courtesy of the Center for Exceptional Longevity Studies, Gerald P. Murphy Cancer Foundation.

Dr. David Waters is one lucky dog. Starting tomorrow, he is setting off on a 13-state journey to meet face-to-face with 15 of the country’s oldest living pet Rottweilers. His plan is to study these sweet, old canines for the nation’s first Exceptional Longevity Database for dogs--not bad for a few weeks of work.

Other than shaking some paws and staring into loving Rottweiler eyes, Waters, an expert in the comparative aspects of aging and cancer in pets and people, will make first-hand observations and collect scientific data on these dogs of a certain age. He will then add his findings to the longevity database, created by his research team.

Waters is executive director of the Gerald P. Murphy Cancer Foundation, based at the Purdue Research Park, which is home to the Center for Exceptional Longevity. Over the last three years, Waters' team has tracked down information to create a database of more than 140 Rottweilers who have lived to be at least 13, which is equivalent to a human living to 100. Today, only 15 of those in the database are alive.

"These exceptional dogs have lived at least 30 percent longer than average for their breed," Waters said. "They have dodged cancer and other life-threatening diseases of aging. We believe studying them can shed light on what it takes to live well."

To prepare for the 23-day “Old Grey Muzzle Tour,” Waters had the Rottweilers’ owners and veterinarians complete questionnaires and submit medical history, diet and dietary supplement usage and parents’ longevity. During the home visits, which end April 3 in Seattle, Waters will perform a physical examination, collect DNA samples, and record measurements such as height and chest and belly circumference. He will observe each dog in its home environment and ask owners on what makes their dog exceptional.

Few veterinarians have ever come face-to-face with more than a single Rottweiler that has made it to such an advanced age, according to Purdue’s Center on Aging and the Life Course, where Waters is a professor in the department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences.

"If you're looking to come up with new theories on how kids can learn better, then you better carefully observe kids learning,” Waters said. “When it comes to developing fresh insights on what it takes to age more successfully, the same holds true. There's no substitute for careful firsthand observations.”

Waters believes the dogs his team has been studying may be well-suited for tackling some research questions--such as why women live longer than men. Waters' team recently published results (Aging Cell, December 2009) showing that exceptionally long-lived female Rottweilers outnumber males. The currently longest living Rottweilers in the United States reflect this female survival advantage: 11 females and only four males.

As he begins his journey, Waters reflected on the close bond between dogs and their owners. "For centuries, dogs have enriched people's lives in important ways as our pets and our companions," he said. "Now, we are recognizing that a special group of dogs may have something important to tell us about successful aging. This tour sends a simple message: We're prepared to listen."

Here’s the schedule of Waters’ Rottweiler visits:

* March 11, Harrisburg, Pa.
* March 12, Holliston, Mass.
* March 13, Philadelphia
* March 15, Keysville, Va.
* March 16, Columbia, Tenn.
* March 19, Cambridge, Wis.
* March 20, Riverside, Iowa
* March 21, Alma, Kan.
* March 23, Red Oak, Texas
* March 24, Castle Rock, Colo.
* March 27, Colorado Springs, Colo.
* March 28, Tijeras, N.M.
* March 29, Waddell, Ariz.
* March 30, San Diego
* April 1, Pacific Palisades, Calif.
* April 3, Seattle

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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