Dogs do not simply age at seven times the rate of humans, scientists have found. The landmark study into ageing reveals puppies might be ‘older’ than previously thought.
The findings suggest a one-year-old puppy is actually about 30 in ‘human years’.
If we think about ageing in terms of how old our cells are, this new paper is really useful in matching up human and dog years
This is an age when humans are expected to have stopped running riot with the toilet paper.
Writing in the journal Cell Systems, researchers at the University of California San Diego’s school of medicine reveal how they focused on epigenetic changes to DNA.
These are modifications that do not change the DNA sequence but can toggle genes on or off.
Dogs actually age far faster than perviously believed
The team looked at the way particular molecules, called methyl groups.
These accumulate in areas of the human genome over time.
The scientists compared them with how they accumulated in similar areas in the dog genome.
The results, which draw on genetic data from about 100 Labrador retrievers from puppies to elderly animals, reveal every dog year is not equivalent to seven human years.
Instead, dogs show far more rapid accumulation of methyl groups in their genome than humans within their first year or so.
This suggests puppies age at a considerably faster rate.
However, as time passes, the rate of ageing in dogs, compared with humans, slows down.
The findings suggest a one-year-old dog would have a ‘human age’ of about 30, while by the age of four they would be about 54 in ‘human year’.
And by 14 they would be on a par with a human in their mid-70s.
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The relationship, the team say, is described by the formula: human age = 16 ln [dog age] + 31.
In maths, ln refers to the natural logarithm of a number.
The team says the work now needs to be repeated in other breeds of dog.
However, they say, for young and old dogs, the age relationship seems to reflect the times at which humans and dogs experience particular milestones.
The team wrote in a preprint of the study: “For instance, the epigenome translated seven weeks in dogs to nine months in humans, corresponding to the infant stage when deciduous teeth erupt in both puppies and babies.
“In seniors, the expected lifespan of Labrador retrievers, 12 years, correctly translated to the worldwide lifetime expectancy of humans, 70 years.”
They note the links are more approximate when it comes to adolescent and mid-life milestones, but they are still more accurate than the previous idea that dogs consistently age at seven times the rate of humans.
The team adds that the study suggests humans and dogs accumulate methyl groups on some of the same genes as they age.
These are involved in a variety of functions linked to development, including the assembly of synapses – junctions between neurons.
Professor Lucy Asher, an expert in canine puberty at Newcastle University who was not involved in the research, said she welcomed the study.
She said: “If we think about ageing in terms of how old our cells are, this new paper is really useful in matching up human and dog years.
But, she said, the match breaks down if ageing is considered in terms of behaviours, hormones or growth – meaning we shouldn’t be surprised at the escapades of young dogs.
She added: “Whilst a 30-year-old human might have cells of an analogous ‘age’ to a one-year-old dog, many dogs won’t be fully grown at this time and they will still have unsettled hormones and behaviour associated with puberty.
“The development of dogs is not just a shortened version of the human development, which is why it’s difficult to find a clear match-up between a dog’s age and a human’s age.”