Some 2,200 Golden Retrievers are enrolled or in the midst of enrolling in what promises to be one of the largest and longest research studies ever conducted. This ambitious project, called the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, aims to follow dogs from puppyhood to the ends of their lives to glean information that organizers hope will contribute to the prevention and treatment of cancer and other diseases, such as epilepsy and diabetes.
The $25 million, 12 year study was launched in 2012 by the Morris Animal Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports scientific research to advance veterinary medicine.
Dr. David Haworth, CEO of the Denver-based foundation, compares the project to the Framingham Heart Study, a well-recognized and respected long-term study begun in 1948 with 5,200 adult residents of a Massachusetts town. That study hoped to understand risk factors of heart disease. This study will try to capture all aspects of the dogs’ lives. Study designers hope the information will provide insights into the influences of genetics, environment, lifestyle and nutrition on healthy dogs and on dogs with disease.
Study organizers chose to focus on goldens because they appear to have a relatively high risk of cancer, and as one of the most popular dog breeds in America, should be available in sufficient numbers. They believe that the data will be applicable to dogs in general, as they are a distinct breed,they are not a different species.
Participating dogs get annual physicals ,with blood, stool and urine tests, and hair and nail tests. The intent is to learn about when the first signs of disease appear. They hope to track hypothyroidism, diabetes, epilepsy and cancer. The hope is to ultimately prevent those diseases.
They also hope to learn other things from the study, such as whether drinking water from a metal or ceramic bowl is better, for example. Do those dogs living in houses sprayed with insecticides get cancer from it? This and many others long existing questions many of us have wondered about, but never had the study or means to confirm suspicions we had. Prior to this type of study, the only evidence was anecdotal. Many veterinarians believed that the breed is predisposed to certain types of cancer but can not prove it. The study has been designed to help answer such questions. Lifelong studies of this nature were the only type that could possibly answer them.
Study organizers have enrolled 1,000 dogs and are in the process of enrolling another 1,200. They’re seeking a total of 3, 000 dogs coming in equal proportions from five geographical regions: South, Northeast, Midwest, West and Pacific. Owners who enroll their dogs are asked, but not legally compelled to enroll for their dogs’ lifetimes. Many breeders have had Goldens with some of these focused diseases, such as epilepsy. They “want to help future generations of pups and breeders with the overall health of the breed.” They also looked for vets to participate with their own dogs. The costs to all owners can be considerable, involving, potentially, more tests than might normally be run in the pet’s lifetime. The costs to participants may be defrayed if donors continue to help fund the study.
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