Thousands of golden retrievers are taking part in a study that not only benefits all breeds, but people, too.
Called the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, 3,000 dogs are taking part in a $32 million research project to study cancers and other diseases that occur in canines.
Started in 2012, dogs who were accepted into the study (had to younger than 2 at the time) would be monitored for their entire lifetime. Each year, the dog goes through an extensive veterinarian exam and owners must track everything in their pup’s world — including what they eat, where they play and where they sleep — while also filling out a 120-page questionnaire.
Researchers decided to focus on golden retrievers because the breed is common (so easier to get dogs to participate), they have a similar genetic makeup to each other and the breed has a higher likelihood of getting cancer than other groups.
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“It’s a big commitment!” says Carol Borchert, the director of communications at the Morris Animal Foundation, one of the organizations that is conducting the research. (The other is Colorado State University.) “We are incredibly grateful to the owners and the dogs and, of course, to the veterinarians who are making this study possible.”
The study is definitely exhaustive, however, the use of real-time data (vs. examining dogs who already have a disease) helps researchers get a better idea of the cause of diseases – and how to prevent them.
“The exciting thing about this study is that we are taking samples and tracking data before the dogs develop any diseases,” says Borchert. “That gives us the opportunity to look back and know that the data was taken in real-time over the life of the dog so is more accurate than in a retrospective study which tries to assess exposures after an event has already occurred.”
While cancer is the main focus (it is the no. 1 cause of death in dogs), researchers are hoping to uncover the causes and risks for other major diseases.
“Where we see a correlation between a potential risk and a potential disease outcome, that gives us direction on where to take our research,” says Borchert. “We will have a better understanding of the role genetics, environment, lifestyle and nutrition play in the role of disease as well as health.”
And there is potential to impact humans, too. “Our dogs share our environment and have the same exposures and often share the same lifestyle characteristics as we do,” says Borchert. “What we find in dogs may help reveal risk factors for diseases in humans that may spur further investigation by biomedical researchers.”
While there haven’t been any major scientific revelations, the study is still relatively new (the oldest dog is 7). However, researchers have faith the research will provide important data points.
“The dogs in this study may not be directly impacted by what we learn, but future generations of dogs will,” says Borchert. “The data being generated by the study will be used for decades by veterinary scientists seeking answers to many animal health questions we cannot even imagine today.”