Later this year will mark the seventh year of the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study. Enrollment began in 2012, and the study reached capacity in 2015. Led by Flint Animal Cancer Center director, Dr. Rod Page in partnership with the Morris Animal Foundation, the study is gathering information on more than 3,000 golden retrievers, throughout their lives, to identify the nutritional, environmental, lifestyle, and genetic risk factors for cancer and other major diseases in dogs. It is the most extensive investigation of its kind ever undertaken in veterinary medicine.

The overarching goal of the study is to identify potential risk factors that may lead to the development of four types of cancers common in golden retrievers – lymphoma and osteosarcoma, which are dramatically similar to the same cancers in humans, as well as hemangiosarcoma and mast cell tumors. But we will learn so much more.

The study began as a way to fill a major information gap. Veterinary medicine lacked the long-term, expansive prospective studies that might reveal disease correlations – why were dogs getting certain diseases and what risk factors for those diseases might be. It was based on the structure of the Framingham Heart Study, a 70-year study that follows the residents of Framingham, Mass., to identify and better understand risk factors for heart disease. Golden retrievers were chosen for the study for several reasons, including a suspected higher risk for cancer development, genetics, and popularity of the breed, which led to easier enrollment.

Of the 3,044 enrollees, an incredible 95 percent remain in the study and 85 percent are compliant with all study tasks. Those statistics would be unheard of in human studies and speak to the dedication of each owner. The team estimates they will be actively collecting data and samples for approximately eight more years.

The project has accumulated enough data to authorize research projects that take advantage of current data to expand knowledge about canine health. New projects include:

  • Genetically identifying breeding closeness to help breeders optimize the preservation of desirable traits
  • Establishing new “normal ranges” in blood levels to better predict the development of diseases
  • Determining environmental and gut microbiome contributions to obesity risk in Golden Retriever Lifetime Study participants

The Golden Retriever Lifetime Study team will continue to share its gold mine of information through published reports and data sharing with outside researchers. Visit the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study for more information.

Excerpted with permission from Morris Animal Foundation.