Dr. Kate Creevy: Research, In Dog Years
Posted November 20, 2017
Dr. Kate Creevy and Poet
Aging is a universal experience, shared by both humans and animals.
But many mysteries still surround the aging process. Now, a
collaborative project between the Texas A&M College of
Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), the University
of Washington, and other colleges and organizations is set to chip
away at these mysteries to better understand how our canine
companions age both physically and mentally.
The Dog Aging Project is an innovative proposal to
study aging in pets, to benefit their health and longevity,
according to Dr. Kate Creevy, chief veterinary officer on the Dog
Aging Project and associate professor at the CVM.
“The things that we can learn about dogs to benefit
them also can benefit people,” she said. “We hope that our interest
in studying the dog for its own sake provides terrific benefit to
people, as well.”
Starting with understanding and characterizing how
dogs age, the project seeks to build upon what little information
currently exists to describe normal aging in various sizes and
breeds, Creevy said. This not only will help veterinarians better
treat aging canines, but it will help researchers understand
conditions such as diabetes and arthritis that affect both dogs and
humans as they age.
Dogs of All Shapes and Sizes
Approximately 10,000 dogs of varying ages and breeds
living throughout the United States will be enrolled in the
project, accounting for a sample size that is representative enough
to describe aging in a typical dog. The study will take a long-term
look at the health of dogs in their natural environment over five
to 10 years, making middle-aged dogs particularly valuable
candidates for the study.
Enrolled dogs will live out their days as they
normally would, seeing their regular veterinarians, which will
allow dogs across the country to conveniently participate.
They will be divided into two subsets, a more closely
monitored group and a less closely monitored group. Each group will
contribute unique data to the project.
For the closely monitored group, local veterinarians
will collect regular blood and urine samples that will be sent to
Creevy and her team, who will also assess the dogs’ medical records
and remain in close contact with the veterinarians. Researchers
also will regularly communicate with owners about their dogs’
The less-closely monitored subset comprises dogs that
will provide genetic samples, which will help the research team
understand the genetic origins of age-related diseases. Researchers
also will monitor the dogs’ medical records.
“It is our goal to make the portion of the dogs who
are closely monitored a larger and larger group by continuing to
obtain additional funding,” Creevy said.
Exercising Body and Mind
Because activity levels are known to influence
health, the Dog Aging Project also will use monitors to measure
levels of activity, heart rate, and other vital parameters in some
dogs. Using accelerometers will provide the researchers with
important health information about the dogs’ activity levels, which
likely also will be of interest to owners, Creevy said.
“We will be interested in that data for research, but
the owners also will have access to that data,” she said. “For
example, if an owner wants to know how much her dog runs around the
house when she’s not home, she can.”
Physical health is not the only thing that the
researchers are investigating; the Dog Aging Project also aims to
understand and characterize how dogs’ brains age. Through the
project, owners will have access to a website that allows dogs and
owners to play various games to assess different aspects of
“It’s not about whether your dog is smarter or
dumber; it’s about how your dog thinks and if certain breeds and
ages of dogs tend to think the same way,” said Creevy, adding that
the tests will allow
owners to bond with and understand their dogs.
The Big Picture
Creevy’s research is a first step in providing a
foundation for future canine aging research. The field is so
cutting-edge, many of its questions have yet to be discovered.
“We won’t really know what some of the data means at
the time that we collect it,” she said. “We won’t know what it
means until we’ve captured the information from a lot of dogs and
have had time to see how their lives unfolded.
“(Likewise) Some of the information we’ll be giving
back to owners won’t be of immediate use to them, but as the
research progresses and some of that information develops new
meanings, they’ll be able to use the information to better
understand their dogs,” Creevy said.
By providing this fundamental knowledge, the Dog
Aging Project has the potential to help support a new field in
“One of the things that’s true about veterinary
medicine is we do not currently have a specialty in geriatrics the
way they do in human health,” Creevy said. “Certainly as
people age, you see a gerontologist. We do not currently have a
specialty of veterinary gerontology. Defining what the typical or
normal old dog looks like is our first challenge.”
Creevy also anticipates people becoming more aware of
the Dog Aging Project and to have future collaborations with groups
that want to further examine certain variables, such as diet,
exercise, and even certain medications. These variables could
impact canine aging and, in turn, affect human aging.
In many ways, dogs mirror their owners. By sharing the same
habits, dogs can serve as a model for human conditions, such as
obesity, cancer, and arthritis. But dogs are not only helping
people; people are helping dogs, as well.
“We have chosen to use models from human medicine to identify
some of the diseases we think are going to be the most important to
healthful aging, because the diseases that dogs experience in aging
are, in many ways, very similar to people,” Creevy said. “Obesity
is a big problem for dogs, just as it is for people in this
country. Cancer is a big problem for dogs, just as it is for people
in this country. They get low thyroid function or hypothyroidism.
We consider all of those to be very, very important diseases of
Creevy said aging sometimes can be associated with dogs losing
interest in daily life, becoming difficult to interact with, and
losing normal control of food and bathroom times. These things can
be a challenge for aging people, as well.
“Trying to understand dogs who end up
experiencing those conditions, versus the dogs who don’t, may
lead to some way we could interact with dogs younger in life to
decrease the likelihood of these outcomes,” Creevy said.
Ultimately, it’s the love humans have for their dogs that helps
push the research forward, Creevy said.
“We’re trying to be on the cutting edge, and I think we are
inspired by the fact that dogs are so important to people,” she
said. “There is no limit to the things owners would do to try to
promote healthy, enjoyable lives for their dogs. Because that’s
true, we’re capable of pushing the research envelope and asking
questions that haven’t previously been asked because dog owners are
willing and able to help us.”
For more information about the Texas A&M College of
Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our
website at vetmed.tamu.edu or
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Contact Information: Megan Palsa, Executive Director of
Communications, Media & Public Relations, Texas A&M College
of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science; firstname.lastname@example.org
; 979-862-4216; 979-421-3121 (cell)
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