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10,000 Dogs Wanted: Study Will Look at Canine Aging

It’s called the Dog Aging Project.

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(PRESS RELEASE) Everyone who loves a dog wants the animal, whether pet or work companion, to enjoy as many years as possible. Learning the whys behind the length and strength of dogs’ lifespans has become the impetus for the largest research data-gathering program of its kind, the Dog Aging Project.

The initiative is jointly operated by the University of Washington School of Medicine and the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. It will create a national community of dogs, owners, veterinarians, researchers and volunteers, all working together to advance knowledge about how genes, habits and the environment influence dog aging.

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Although the project has been in its preliminary stages for a while, its full-throttle launch was announced Nov. 14 at the annual Gerontological Society of America meeting in Austin, TX. After that date, owners can nominate their canine as a candidate on the Dog Aging Project website.

Nomination involves creating a secure user portal and providing comprehensive health and lifestyle information about the dog through questionnaires and the sharing of veterinary medical records.

Dogs of every age, from puppy to senior; all sizes, from miniature to huge; male and female; neutered or not; and living in all types of locations are invited to be nominated. Healthy dogs and those with chronic illness will be considered.

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“All owners who complete the nomination process will become Dog Aging Project citizen scientists and their dogs will become members of the Dog Aging Project ‘pack.’ Their information will allow us to begin carrying out important research on aging in dogs,” said one of the project’s trio of directors, biology of aging expert Daniel Promislow, professor of pathology at the University of Washington School of Medicine and a UW professor of biology.

Also leading the multi-institutional project are veterinarian Dr. Kate Creevy, associate professor of veterinary internal medicine at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, and longevity and healthspan researcher Matt Kaeberlein, a professor of pathology at the University of Washington School of Medicine. More than 40 other researchers from a variety of fields and institutions will join them in this endeavor.

“Aging is the major cause of the most common diseases, like cancer and heart problems. Dogs age more rapidly than people do and get many of our same diseases of aging, including cognitive decline,” said Kaeberlein. “They also share our living environment and have a diverse genetic makeup. This project will contribute broadly to knowledge about aging in dogs and in people.”

Over the 10-year project, scientists will gather information on the 10,000 enrolled dogs in a collaborative, open-data platform. This means that, like the Framingham Heart Study and the All of Us research program, the massive amount of data can be analyzed by scientists around the world in a variety of ways. For this study, the largest of its kind ever undertaken, the dogs will be followed throughout their lifetimes.

“We are excited to work with companion dogs in this research program. As a veterinarian, it is important to me that our work benefits dogs directly. But our work with dogs has the added value of shedding light on the human aging experience as well,” Creevy said.

The researchers emphasized that their goal is not merely to increase life expectancy; their target is not lifespan, but healthspan, which refers to the period of life spent free from disease. Improved quality of life in advanced age is a goal many people have for their dogs and for themselves.

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The Dog Aging Project will have four key endeavors:

  1. New metrics of canine aging: The research team will develop tests to measure each dog’s changes in physical function as it gets older. There are such tests in older human adults, like moving from seated to standing, grip devices, or age-specific normal ranges on blood chemistry values. For dogs, however, aside from owner observations, there are few standardized assessments.
  2. Genetics of aging: Genome sequencing data from all 10,000 dogs will be integrated with health measurements and behavioral traits in comprehensive genome-wide association studies.
  3. Systems biology of aging: Scientists will look for molecular predictors of disease, decline or longevity.
  4. Medication intervention study: About 500 middle-aged dogs will be part of a trial to assess the effects of rapamycin on cognition, heart function, healthspan, and lifespan.

The project is supported by a federal grant from the National Institute on Aging at the National Institute of Health (UI19AG057337) and private donations.

The participating institutions are:

Core Research Leads

Purdue University

Princeton University

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Texas A&M University

Arizona State University

Cornell University

University of Massachusetts Medical School

Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard

University of Washington College of Arts & Sciences

University of Washington School of Medicine

University of Washington School of Public Health

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

Seattle Children’s Hospital

Veterinary Schools

Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine

University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine

North Carolina State College of Veterinary Medicine

Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine

Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

Oregon State University Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine

Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine

Credit: UW Medicine

Since launching in 2017, PETS+ has won 16 major international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact PETS+'s editors at editor@petsplusmag.com.

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Veterinary Clinics and Retail Stores Unite to Combat E-Commerce Competition, Report Explains

Packaged Facts outlines the trend in a new publication.

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(PRESS RELEASE) ROCKVILLE, MD — Veterinary clinics continue to expand in retail stores nationwide, and market research firm Packaged Facts offers detail on the trend in a new report.

“Today’s pet industry is an ‘omnimarket’ where pet industry players aren’t simply competing across brick-and-mortar channels and the Internet,” says David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts.

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Omnimarket describes a new era of multiple-front competition that simultaneously crosses former business operations borders between medical versus non-medical, products versus services, food versus non-food products and pet owner demographics. This notably includes veterinary expansion into retail stores.

The trend is described in a report called “Veterinary Services in the U.S.: Competing for the Pet Care Customer, 2nd Edition.”

The new era of multiple-front competition has been fueled by booming e-commerce in pet products, but just as importantly is being shaped by the competitive reactions of traditional pet product manufacturers and retailers. Pet superstores are responding to — and mass-market big boxes are exploiting — the internet’s erosion of the brick-and-mortar distinction between pet specialty and mass market by in turn collapsing the distinction between retail store and vet clinic/pet care salon. That’s specifically because hands-on pet care is the Achilles’ heel of the internet as a pet care provider and pet industry competitor.

Packaged Facts expects that hands-on pet care will remain the calling card of the veterinary sector, but that it will be selectively and progressively expanded in scope and supplemented by internet and digital technologies and communications, notes Sprinkle.

Among recent examples of the pet industry’s omnimarket shift:

  • Petco has added Thrive (in-store) and PetCoach (freestanding) clinics. It’s a strategy that echoes PetSmart’s longstanding affiliation with Banfield Pet Hospitals.
  • PetIQ is partnering with Walmart to open vet clinics in as many as 1,000 stores by the end of 2023, and subsequently is partnering with Meijer.
  • Tractor Supply Co. offers pop-up veterinary clinics at its locations.

Not only do these in-store clinics offer consumers increased access to veterinary care and pet medications, their presence promotes the overall concept of pet wellness, reminding pet owners of the importance of caring for their pets’ health and making it more convenient to do so. Even so, such expansion presents challenges to the business success of many traditional, independent vets and to the autonomy of the veterinarian profession by shifting the balance of power in favor of larger consumer market players and forces.

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Pet Health Insurance Firm Acquired

It has entered a deal with MetLife.

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Financial services firm MetLife Inc. plans to acquire PetFirst Healthcare LLC, a fast-growing pet health insurance administrator, the companies announced.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Founded in 2004, PetFirst administers insurance coverage on more than 40,000 pets. The company distributes its pet insurance products through animal welfare agencies, direct-to-consumer channels and employers.

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The acquisition will leverage MetLife’s position as a market leader in U.S. group benefits by enabling the company to offer a new benefit that is growing in popularity, according to a press release. Since 2014, the annual growth rate for the pet insurance industry has been more than 20 percent.

“Pet insurance has become an increasingly important voluntary benefit, and this transaction allows us to capitalize on this rapidly growing market opportunity,” said Ramy Tadros, president of U.S. business for MetLife. “Today’s employees have an increasing expectation of their employer to support their lives holistically, and offering pet insurance provides our customers’ employees additional support against unexpected out-of-pocket pet health expenses. PetFirst is a leading pet health insurance administrator and we look forward to welcoming the talented PetFirst team to the MetLife family.”

Following the acquisition, PetFirst will continue to market pet insurance through animal welfare societies and its direct-to-consumer channel. Beginning in the summer of 2020, MetLife will offer this pet insurance to employers through its group benefits distribution channel, reaching approximately 41 million employees and dependents across the U.S.

Katie Blakeley, CEO of PetFirst, said, “For more than 15 years, we have proudly focused on developing products and services to meet the growing and evolving needs of pet parents across the U.S. During this time, we have seen pet insurance continue to gain importance as a valuable product for families. With MetLife’s tremendous reach and resources, we see a strong opportunity to help more pet parents get access to pet insurance and alleviate the potential financial burden of a sick or injured pet.”

The deal is expected to close in the first quarter of 2020 subject to customary closing conditions and approvals.

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Here’s How Much People Plan to Spend on Their Pets This Holiday Season

SunTrust conducted a poll.

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ATLANTA — Pet owners are not holding back on holiday cheer for their furry friends, a new report has found.

Half of Americans are putting their pets on their gift list, planning to spend an average of $137 on four-legged family members this holiday season, according to the SunTrust (NYSE: STI) National Financial Confidence Poll.

“For many people, pets are members of the family, so it’s expected that we would want to include them in the holiday fun,” said Brian Nelson Ford, financial well-being executive at SunTrust. “Our studies show that the holiday season often comes with pressure to overspend. Gifts for pets, friends, neighbors and other obligations can add to the pressure when the spending is unplanned. It’s important to be upfront about what we care about, and build our holiday spending plan to enjoy the memory-making moments of the holidays.”

In the timeless debate of cats versus dogs, the survey finds that dog owners are significantly more likely to buy a gift for their furry friend (59%) compared to cat owners (34%). What are they giving? The most common selections are new treats and toys (65% and 61%, respectively), followed by holiday clothing (19%). Younger pet owners are significantly more likely to buy their pets a gift this season, leading with Gen Z (63%) and millennials (57%), followed by Gen X and Boomers (51% and 46%, respectively).

The SunTrust National Financial Confidence Poll is fielded quarterly and is representative of the U.S. adult population, with 2,500 participating Americans of different ages, incomes and geographic regions. Statistics referenced in this release are from the poll fielded in Q3 2019. The survey defines Gen Z as those born from 1997 on, millennials as those born between 1981 and 1997, Gen Xers as those born between 1965 and 1980, and Boomers as those born between 1946 and 1964.

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