The Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, sponsored by the Morris Animal Foundation, is the largest prolonged observational study ever undertaken in an effort to research the health of dogs. Dr. Rodney Page is the study’s principal investigator, a professor of veterinary oncology and the director of the Flint Animal Cancer Center at Colorado State University.
The study is to determine cancer and other disease risk and prevention in canines. Researchers review what, in the lifestyle of a canine, may contribute to the development of cancer. Cancer is considered the most common cause of death in older dogs, especially of larger breeds. Sixty percent of Golden retrievers die as a result of cancer. Nervous system disorders and musculoskeletal system diseases are also common afflictions in older dogs.
The study requires 3,000 pure bred Golden retrievers be enrolled, participating on a voluntary basis for an intended period of a decade. The average life span of this particular breed is 10 to 12 years. The Golden retrievers must have a traceable lineage of at least three generations and be under the age of two in order to be eligible. The recruitment of volunteer dogs requires about four weeks to verify eligibility and insure the dog’s owner and veterinarian will participate in compliance. So far, 200 dogs have been accepted and 600 others are on a waiting list.
In an observational study an assemblage of subjects are, as the study type suggests, observed. The information collected is specifically on that group. In the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, the operation does not directly affect how owners care for their dogs, instead gathering data on genetics, environment, and nutrition. The study is expected to provide valuable information on how to better prevent, diagnose, and treat cancer and other diseases.
Page does not intend for study researchers to interfere with the regular habits of the animals.
“We will work with the vets working with the pets. We will catalog all the things that happen, the medical history, the diet, environment and exposures.”
Three cancers, found most pernicious to canines, will be the primary focus. They include bone cancer, lymphoma (cancer of the lymph nodes), and hemangiosarcoma (a highly invasive cancer of the blood vessels almost exclusive to dogs). Other diseases — arthritis, dysplasia, and epilepsy — will be secondarily researched. If possible, researchers intend to see if the amount of affection bestowed upon the animal will have any influence in the dogs longevity.
“There are many examples where risk factors in dogs have also been found in people,” according to Dr. Wayne Jensen, the Morris Animal Foundation’s chief scientific officer and executive director. Dog-years are a benefit to researching illnesses found in both dogs and humans. Studying a dog for 10 years is akin to studying a human for 60 or 70 years. At the very least the information derived is beneficial, with the consideration that the physiology of both mammals are not identical.
A pilot study of 50 dogs is currently underway.
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