How do genetics, diet and environment influence the incidence of cancer and other diseases in our pets? To answer that question, Morris Animal Foundation created the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, the most groundbreaking observational study ever undertaken to improve canine health.
While the results will certainly improve the health of all dogs, the study itself focuses only on Golden Retrievers. This breed was chosen because they develop cancer at a higher rate when compared to other purebred dogs, often approaching 50 percent of the breed. Plus, their popularity offers researchers a large pool for recruitment.
In order to achieve the most accurate results, the 3,000 dogs selected must be evenly distributed across five national regions and should consist of an equal number of intact females, spayed females, intact males and neutered males. Each Golden Retriever enrolled in the study will be examined and evaluated annually by a participating local veterinarian. The study is expected to take roughly 14 years to complete, making it the largest and longest veterinary study ever initiated to date.
In addition, each owner completes a detailed online questionnaire every year about their dog’s diet, travel, reproductive history, living environment, exercise and behavior. During the pet’s annual study physical exam, its veterinarian collects blood, urine and other samples.
The exam results are then entered into an online database. The collected samples are sent to a laboratory for long-term storage where they will be available to researchers for future additional studies. Samples are also submitted for a wide range of tests and panels, such as a complete blood cell count, urinalysis and a heartworm antigen test, to analyze the dog’s internal health. The results of these tests are shared with owners through their veterinarians.
Whenever a Golden Retriever experiences naturally occurring health issues while participating in the study, the veterinarian will notify Morris Animal Foundation of the testing and results. If a dog would develop cancer, the veterinarian will collect samples that are vital for evaluation.
As the results are gathered over the years, certain patterns will likely unfold, enabling scientists to identify risk factors for disease. While there are few known disease-incidence rates for dogs in the United States, research from other countries indicates that cancer is the leading cause of death in dogs living in several other countries. The findings of this study should shed light on the relationship between risk factors and the development of specific cancers, while also identifying genetic variants associated with common cancers in Golden Retrievers.
Although finding the causes and frequencies of cancer is at the forefront of the study, researchers also hope to gain insights into a host of other canine medical problems, such as diabetes, skin disorders and hip dysplasia. Ultimately, the research will establish extensive catalogs of data and biological samples for future analyses.
The many owners of dogs enrolled in the study take great pride in their involvement.
“I enrolled my Golden Retriever, Journey, in the study because I have always wanted better health for my dogs,” says Nancy Bishop, a proud owner of a study participant. “I can’t thank Morris Animal Foundation enough for taking on this pioneering study to help my beloved breed and other dogs.”
Other participants chose to enroll their Golden Retrievers because they’ve lost pets to cancers or other diseases.
“It has been heartbreaking in my 40 years as a practicing veterinarian to see young, seemingly healthy Golden Retrievers struck down in what should be the prime of their lives,” says Michael Lappin, DVM, owner of the Animal House in Buzzards Bay, Mass.
Dr. Lappin has four patients in the study and also enrolled his own dog, Isaac. “I have been driven by the need to do as much as I can to help this wonderful breed enjoy a longer, healthier life,” he says.
Those interested in helping to cure canine cancer should visit Morris Animal Foundation.
Eligible dogs must be a healthy purebred, with a verifiable three-generation pedigree, be between 6 and 24 months of age and reside in the contiguous United States. For each dog entered into the study, the owner will receive $75 annually to cover the costs of physical exams. Individuals with friends or family who own Golden Retrievers are encouraged to refer them to the website to get involved.