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Age relationships of postmortem observations in Portuguese Water Dogs


A dog model has been used to evaluate histological changes arising from senescence. Autopsies of 145 Portuguese Water Dogs have been used to evaluate the individual and group “state of health” at time of death. For each dog, weights or dimensions of organs or tissues were obtained, together with histological evaluation of tissues. Twenty-three morphological metrics correlated significantly to age at death. Many of these involved muscles; others were associated with derivatives of embryonic foregut. The latter included lengths of the small intestine and trachea as well as weights of the stomach and some lung lobes. Nearly all of the dogs examined had histological changes in multiple tissues, ranging from two to 12 per dog. Associations among pathologies included inflammatory bowel disease with osteoporosis and dental calculus/periodontitis with atherosclerosis and amyloidosis. In addition, two clusters of histological changes were correlated to aging: hyperplasia, frequency of adenomas, and hemosiderosis constituted one group; inflammation, plasmacytic and lymphocytic infiltration, fibrosis, and atrophy, another. Heritability analysis indicated that many of the changes in tissue/organ morphology or histology could be heritable and possibly associated with IGF1, but more autopsies will be required to substantiate these genetic relationships.

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This research was supported by a grant to KGL from NIH (GM063056) as well as gifts from the Judith L. Chiara Fund, from the Purina Nestle Co. and smaller gifts from a large number of Portuguese Water Dog owners. We would like to thank the following undergraduate students for invaluable assistance carrying out gross autopsies: Nicholas S. Livdahl, Armando M. Calderon, Chandra Hayes, Richard W. Homer, Nathan T. Mortensen, Spencer B. Dowdle, Heather Hawker, and Mark S. Vantassell. Deborah Broughton arranged with individual owners for the transfer of deceased dogs to the University of Utah. Without her sensitive and caring assistance, this project would not have been possible. Karen Miller, director of “The Georgie Project” played a crucial role in the initial stages of this project informing PWD owners and breeders of the importance of autopsy as a key to improving the health of their breed.

Finally, we cannot begin to express our endebtedness to the very many Portuguese Water Dog owners and breeders, whose love for their breed led them to participate in the autopsy project. Their care and tender thoughtfulness at a time when parting was most painful and participation was a final act of saying goodbye stands as a monument to what people can do when they really care about others.

Author information

Correspondence to Karl G. Lark.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary Table 1

Portuguese Water Dog autopsy protocol (DOC 105 kb)

Supplementary Table 2

Most frequent non-neoplastic histological changes (DOC 103 kb)

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Chase, K., Lawler, D.F., McGill, L.D. et al. Age relationships of postmortem observations in Portuguese Water Dogs. AGE 33, 461–473 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11357-010-9181-5

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  • Age of death
  • Autopsy
  • Dog
  • Pathology
  • Histology