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A Pill Has Been Successfully Studied for Its Ability to Prolong Life in Dogs

Sherman and Momo.
Sherman and Momo. Photo: Helén Thompson

Sherman is an 8-year-old Pomeranian whose owner claims that his life was not only saved, but extended by a new medication. Rapamycin is a new pill that is being tested on dogs for its ability to prolong life, and Sherman’s owner Paola Anderson, who uses it for both her dogs, attests to its efficacy.

Rapamycin has been in use for human cancer patients, based on its apparent ability to slow tumor growth (first demonstrated in mice, who lived up to 60% longer on the drug). Because of its success with mice, scientists have now begun testing it on dogs and humans.

Rapamycin was first discovered about 50 years ago residing as bacterium in soil on Easter Island (in the South Pacific). Studies performed on it in a Canadian lab revealed that it had the potential to slow the effects of aging.

Arlan Richardson is a professor at the Reynolds Oklahoma Center on Aging in Oklahoma City, and he has been doing anti-aging research for the past 40 years. He is fully confident that Rapamycin is the best current candidate for fighting aging.

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Sherman the Pomeranian
Sherman the Pomeranian. Photo: cnn.com

Research on the drug’s effect on dogs is being performed at the University of Washington, in a study called the University’s Dog Aging Project.

For this project, researchers administered Rapamycin to 16 dogs, and studied their hearts. Findings show that their hearts started to function better, and imaging showed that the heart appeared more youthful (according to Matt Kaeberlein, co-director of the project).

Those dogs only took it for 10 weeks; Anderson’s dogs have taken it for much longer, and she wants people to know how successful it has been for Sherman and Momo. She uses Rapamycin on both Sherman and 13-year old Pomsky Momo. She began using it on Sherman when he fell ill, and then extended use to Momo after the success experienced by his brother.

When Sherman fell ill with acute pancreatitis shortly after being abandoned at Anderson’s pet spa, Anderson nursed him back to health and adopted him. Then, when he had a stroke, Anderson’s vet gave him two weeks to live. Surgery was extended as an option with a 20% chance of survival. Anderson did not like this option, and sought out alternatives.

Matt Kaeberlein with his dogs, Chloe and Dobby
Matt Kaeberlein with Chloe and Dobby. Photo: Tammi Kaeberlein

Anderson and her partner consulted the herbalist they’d used for human health over the years, who led them to Rapamycin. Upon researching the drug, Anderson discovered Kaeberlein’s Aging Dog Project, and asked that Sherman be recruited. Sherman was refused, based on health and weight. Participants in the study were supposed to be healthy and weigh more than 40 pounds.

Disappointed but not discouraged, Anderson sought out veterinarians who could guide her and prescribe the medication; this was not easy. The first 5 refused. The 6th agreed to prescribe, but only after a consultation with Kaeberlein to determine the dosage needed for a dog Sherman’s size.

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Paola Anderson with Sherman (left) and Sarah Godfrey with Momo (right). Photo: Helén Thompson
Paola Anderson with Sherman (left) and Sarah Godfrey with Momo (right). Photo: Helén Thompson

Sherman began taking the medication one month after his stroke. By the time he took his first dose, he was having to be hand fed, and could not walk. By the third day of the medication, he was eating on his own. By day 7, he was walking on his own.

Fast forward 16 months (14 months longer than he was supposed to live), and he is just as active and agile as he was before his health problems arose.

Because the drug was so successful on 8-year old Sherman, Anderson decided to start giving it to 13-year old Momo as well. While he was not ill, his age was a concern to Anderson, and she thought she could help prolong his health and vigor.

The results have been great! Momo can now run much more than he could before Rapamycin, and has a lot more energy. As with any medication, there are possible negative side effects with this drug. It has been linked to infections, diabetes, and cancer.

Kaeberlein factors in the fact that these effects are often seen in cancer and transplant patients – people who are already sick, and who are taking much higher doses than dogs take (along with other drugs). Richardson (the aging expert) agrees, and is so confident in Rapamycin that he gives it to his own dog. His 14-year old Tibetan terrier has a heart issue, and since he has started taking the drug, he has acted younger. Richardson reports that the dog has suffered no side effects so far.

Richardson points out that one dog’s experience is not enough to constitute scientific data, but also adds that rapamycin has been administered to marmosets (monkeys) without any negative side effects having been observed. This seems like a miracle drug, but it will take more time and many more studies to determine the safety and functionality of Rapamycin. Kaeberlein says he will be studying 150 additional dogs over the next year.

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Sherman and Momo.
Sherman and Momo. Photo: Helén Thompson

He cautions that the placebo effect could be at play, and urges people not to jump right into demanding a prescription for Rapamycin just because of its success in a few dogs. He also doesn’t like the term “anti-aging,” as it’s not medically or scientifically accurate. He prefer to think of it as age-delaying, meaning slowing down the onset of diseases of aging (such as heart disease).

I am also cautious about the excitement this new drug will cause. It will inevitably be perceived as a miraculous anti-aging medication. People will jump at the chance to give it to their pets; they live such a short time, and losing them is as hard as losing a human – who wouldn’t give their dog (or themselves) a pill to live longer?

But, as with all pharmaceutical medications, much study over an extended period of time will be required to understand the side effects and overall outcome of long-term Rapamycin use. This is not an all-natural drug, and therefore I hesitate to think it does not come with some adverse side effects for some patients.

Studies have already found that Rapamycin may increase the risk of diabetes by making patients insulin-resistant over time. So it’s possible that one would be trading in good heart health for bad pancreatic health. These are just precautionary ideas to have, but it’s necessary to have them when a new drug hits the market.

If you think your dog could benefit from using Rapamycin, consult your vet. Who knows, you may just be able to get a few more years in with your four legged friend – and good, healthy years at that.

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Dom Naish is a Phoenix-based writer, vegan, cupcake addict and dog lover. Years in the animal rescue trenches have taught him every aspect of dog ownership from behavioral problems, personality and breed specific trait differences of all dogs.