Golden retrievers are considered by many to be the ideal family dog. According to the American Kennel Club, they are the fourth most popular breed in the United States. Originally bred to be a gentleman’s gun dog, today they enjoy great popularity as a pet, guide dog, therapy dog, obedience competitor, and all around favorite. Those big brown eyes have melted many a heart.
Unfortunately, golden retrievers have a much higher incidence of cancer than many other breeds. On average, one in three dogs will get cancer at some point in their lives. In golden retrievers, the incidence is 60%, almost two in three dogs. The most commonly seen cancers in the breed are hemangiosarcoma (a cancer that occurs in the blood vessels) and lymphoma (cancer in the lymph nodes). Together, the two diseases represent almost half of all cancer cases in golden retrievers.
Their popularity with the public and their high incidence of cancer has made golden retrievers an ideal choice for the Canine Lifetime Health Study. The Morris Animal Foundation is putting up most of the $25 million required for a lifelong study of over 3,000 golden retrievers. The remaining balance will be raised through online public donations. The study’s principal investigator is Dr. Rodney Page, a veterinary oncologist and director of Colorado State University’s Flint Animal Cancer Center. It is the longest and largest dog study ever.
They are recruiting 3,000 golden retrievers under the age of two years with a traceable three generation pedigree. The youth of the dogs will make knowing their complete history easier for researchers. The study will follow these dogs for the rest of their lives, lasting 10 to 13 years. It requires the cooperation of each dog’s veterinarian who will be charged with submitting blood, urine and hair samples from an annual examination performed each year. The vet must also report any other visits regardless of reason, tests done, and results.
It is hoped that the study will be able to track how genetic, nutritional, and environmental factors affect the incidence of hemangiosarcoma, lymphoma, and osteosarcoma (bone cancer). It is hoped that the study will also yield information on other common health issues such as obesity, diabetes, epilepsy, and hip dysplasia.
Participants’ owners will also be asked to fill out surveys providing information on the composition of the family, where the dog sleeps, activities done together and time spent alone. It is hoped that all of this will lead to a better understanding of how we, as owners, contribute to longevity and health.
A pilot study is already under way with a group of fifty dogs. It is hoped that it will start to yield some measurable results later this year.
If you are interested in participating, you can find out more at the Canine Lifetime Health Study website.