Golden retrievers are an iconic dog breed famous for their loyalty, friendliness and docile nature, which is probably why they are one of the five most common dogs in the United States. While many veterinary research scientists may be dog lovers, they are interested in goldens for an entirely different reason, which is their extremely high incidence of cancer. More than half of all golden retrievers die of cancer, which is also the leading cause of death in all dog breeds for animals over the age of two.
The Morris Animal Foundation is spearheading the study of a lifetime, literally. The foundation is investing $25 million to study 3,000 golden retrievers over the course of their lives to learn how to prevent cancer and other diseases in dogs. This will be the largest and longest observational study ever conducted on improving the health of dogs. Scientists hope to learn about many aspects of dog nutrition and health, including how genetics, environment and diet affect the risk of getting cancer; the major risk factors for common health problems in golden retrievers; how to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer and other common canine illnesses; and ways to improve the health and quality of life for all dogs.
Given the relatively short life span of dogs, scientists anticipate seeing measurable benefits related to the study within the lifetime of the dogs that are participating in it. The study will also measure the effect of less concrete factors in a dog’s life as they relate to overall health, such as the amount of fun they have and the amount of love they receive over the course of their lives. Researchers are also hopeful that their studies will benefit humans, as they intend to pay very close attention to conditions like early onset obesity and its connection to diabetes in dogs.
The Morris Animal Foundation is currently accepting applicants to participate in the study, which will last for the duration of the dog’s life. Participants must own a healthy golden retriever that is less than two years old and be able to prove a three-generation pedigree. Dog owners are required to adhere to a rather long list of expectations, but they can to take pride in the idea that they are helping future generations of dogs. Anyone who participates in the study is required to find a veterinarian who is willing to participate with them; complete online questionnaires regarding behavior, diet and environmental exposures; cooperate in yearly checkups measuring various aspects their dog’s health; allow for the collection of tumor samples when applicable; and be willing to consider a postmortem examination.