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Sled Dogs Have an Innate Mechanism to Prevent the Muscle Loss, a Study Suggests

Vaika’s sled dogs took part in the research on blood markers of sarcopenia (muscle loss) in dogs. The study brought unexpected results and may open the way to the discovery of new approaches to muscle loss treatment.



Why it matters: Sarcopenia is a disease associated with loss of muscle mass and functionality. It develops with severe diseases such as cancer and HIV infection, as well as with aging, and impairs the quality of life of elderly people and dogs.


However, in dogs, it is much less studied, in particular, because of the difficulty of diagnosis since the main diagnostic tools for sarcopenia are imaging tools such as MRI and CT. This kind of study is expensive and, in the case of dogs, require full anesthesia, which is dangerous for older dogs. Therefore, it is extremely important to search for blood markers of sarcopenia in dogs.


Monitoring the dynamics of these markers will allow us to follow the progress of the disease, explore therapies for the treatment and prevention of sarcopenia, and probably help diagnose the disease at an earlier stage.


One of the candidates for such markers is the hormone myostatin. Myostatin elevation is associated with loss of muscle mass in people that are sarcopenic. In addition, recent studies have shown that the increase in myostatin is associated with insulin resistance, making it an important player in the mechanisms of aging. One of the stages of studying the marker is to determine its range of change in the norm.


Who conducted the study: The team of Dr. Joseph J. Wakshlag, DVM, PhD, ACVSMR, ACVN Professor of Cornell University, and Chief Veterinary Officer of Vaika conducted a study aimed at studying changes in the level of myostatin in sled dogs with age.


The study included two groups of dogs. The first one consisted of young dogs participating in long-distance races (560 km). The second one, from Vaika’s colony, consisted of retired sled dogs over 13 years old without signs of sarcopenia.


What they found: The results were unexpected. Myostatin was lowered in older dogs compared to their younger counterparts. While it is known from earlier studies that domestic dogs develop sarcopenia accompanied by an increase in myostatin with age.


These results suggest that sled dogs have a mechanism to prevent the development of sarcopenia. While it is not known whether this phenomenon is related to the sporting lifestyle of dogs or the special genetic feature of the Alaskan Husky, this will require additional research.


In any case, its study may open the way to the discovery of new approaches to the treatment of sarcopenia. And Vaika’s dogs have shown that healthy aging can occur without the development of sarcopenia, which means that sarcopenia is a preventable disease.


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