Research project of the Institute for Animal Breeding and Genetics
Hanover University of Veterinary Medicine Foundation

Exceptionally long life span
Extremely long life span is a genetically determined trait with very high heritability (degree of heritability). This is proven by numerous studies in model and farm animals as well as some studies in dogs. Very high heritabilities for exceptionally long life span have also been found in humans. Extremely high longevity in humans is related to a number of specific gene variants. These gene variants allow very high longevity with low disease incidence, because these genes can buffer defect variants. For this reason, a breeding approach that includes positive selection of animals that have lived to a very old age and reached that old age without serious disease appears to be an extremely viable approach.

Life expectancy for dogs
Canine mortality surveys demonstrate a mean life expectancy of 12-13 years for purebred and mixed-breed dogs. Mixed breed dogs have a mean lifespan of 13 years and purebred dogs 12 years. In each breed and in mixed breeds, there are animals that reach ages well above the mean life expectancy of 12-13 years. The maximum lifespan can exceed 20 years in purebred and mixed breed dogs. Dogs with very long life expectancy are almost certainly free of congenital abnormalities and hereditary defects. A majority of extremely long-lived dogs are free of epilepsy, other serious diseases and externally noticeable tumor diseases by the end of their lives. Consequently, these dogs carry hereditary traits that allow neither hereditary defects nor premature diseases leading to death.

Project "Long-Lived Dogs"
In the "Long-Lived Dogs" project, the entire genetic makeup of extremely long-lived dogs from as many different breeds and mixed-breed dogs as possible will be characterized using state-of-the-art next-generation sequencing analyses. From these data, genome profiles for long-lived dogs will be developed and those genetic variants that do not allow the development of abnormalities, diseases and tumors will be identified. These genome-wide profiles will help dog breeders protect their future breeding stock and the offspring of their breeding stock from inherited defects, diseases and tumors.

Participation and project framework
The Institute for Animal Breeding and Genetics at the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover Foundation is creating a database for long-lived dogs. All dog owners and breeders whose dogs have reached an age of at least 8-10 years can participate. Breed affiliation does not play a role. Data and samples of mixed breed dogs can also be sent in.
A prerequisite for participation is proof of date of birth via a pedigree or a document issued by a veterinarian (vaccination certificate), or a pet passport. The record sheet should be sent with the sample. Veterinary findings and diagnoses, if available, should also be included. Of particular importance to the project is notification of time of death and possible causes of death based on veterinary findings, diagnoses, and possibly pathological-anatomical such as pathological-histological, immunological, or other tests. For the complete genome sequencing, only samples from dogs for which the time of death is known or which have reached an age of 14-16 years will be used.  

Sample material
EDTA blood samples are the most suitable sample material. The EDTA blood sample should be 3-5 ml of whole blood and the sample tube must contain EDTA as an anticoagulant. It is very convenient to use EDTA-K monovettes. If a blood sample is no longer available, a tissue sample can also be sent. In this case, please contact me directly.
Strict confidentiality is guaranteed for all data sent.
All knowledge gained from the data will only be used for scientific work. There are no costs for the dog owner for sending samples and documents.
The forms for sending the blood samples and an information sheet on blood sample collection can be found here.

Project Duration
The project will begin September 15, 2014 and run for 5 years. Individuals who have submitted samples will be personally notified of the progress of the project. Important research results and presentation dates will also be announced on the website of the Institute of Animal Breeding and Genetics at the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover Foundation.

Key points of the project

  • Participation possible for every dog owner
  • No costs as a result of participation in the project
  • Information sessions about the project results
  • Creation of a database for dogs with long life span
  • Biobank for dogs with a life span of more than 8-10 years
  • Complete genome sequencing of extremely long-lived dogs
  • Genome profiles and catalogs of genetic variants with a positive effect on exceptionally long life
  • Identification of key factors for the maintenance of unimpaired organ function
  • Data can be used by all project participants

Project Lead

Prof. Dr. Ottmar Distl
direct dial +49 511 953-8875
direct dial +49 511 953-8876
fax +49 511 953-8582