Bleak news from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that Americans are dying younger and that life expectancy in the U.S. is falling. It might be time to call dogs to the rescue.

Dogs are so attuned to humans that many people think of them as family, Sandi Shrager fits in that category.

“I can’t imagine my life without them,” she said. “They’re just a big part of my life.”

According to a pet owners survey, there are some 90 million pet dogs in the United States. The University of Washington is recruiting 10,000 of them for a study on aging. Professor Daniel Promislow at the university’s School of Medicine explains.

Aging in dogs

“The goal is to follow dogs for their entire lives, young, old, big, small, males, females, all dogs all around the U.S. to understand how the biology and the environment shape healthy aging in dogs,” he said.

The University of Washington, which is on the West Coast of the U.S., is partnering with veterinarians like Dr. Kate Creevy at Texas A&M University.

“By studying aging in pet dogs living in human environments,” Creevy said, “we can learn things that will translate to human health as we age, in a shorter period of time, and we’ll also directly benefit companion dogs along the way, which is extremely important to me as a veterinarian.”

Dogs and humans age in much the same way. They have a similar genome and get the same diseases as they age. Cancer is a big one. As pets, dogs share our environment so they are exposed to the same toxins as we are. Researchers plan to examine the dogs’ lifestyle factors that also affect humans such as diet, activity level, and where the dog lives, in addition to genetics and medical history.

New approach

Matt Kaeberlein is one of the researchers at the University of Washington. He says one of the goals is to find out how to prevent age-related diseases.

“Traditionally in medicine, we have waited until people are sick and then we try to do something about it. We try to cure the disease, or we at least try to alleviate the symptoms,” he said. “The goal here is to really keep dogs and people healthy as long as possible before they get sick. And I think this is a really important aspect of targeting the biology of aging directly, rather than targeting individual diseases as they happen.”

The researchers plan to make the study’s findings available to all scientists.