3,000 Golden Retrievers Are Paving The Way For Cancer Research

A groundbreaking lifetime study of 3,044 Golden Retrievers is hoping to find some answers about what sort of factors may lead to cancer, not only in that breed, but in all dogs and even people.

In-depth record keeping of each dog in the study aims to find common factors in dogs that do or don’t develop cancer in their lifetimes. Scientists think it is probably some combination of genetic and environmental factors that make some dogs – or people – more prone to cancer than others.

By having owners keep track of everything involving their dogs – from whether or not they eat grass to what sort of bowls they eat and drink from – researchers are hoping to narrow down the factors that are the most likely to contribute to cancer. This information could lead to insights into what leads to cancer in humans, too.

Golden Retrievers make the ideal test subjects for a study like this. Even though cancer is the number one cause of death for all dogs over the age of 2, Golden Retrievers are far more likely to develop cancer than most other dog breeds. 60% of all Golden Retrievers will develop cancer in their lifetime. They are especially prone to mast cell tumors, bone cancer, lymphoma, and hemangiosarcoma.

Goldens are also a handy breed to study since they are the third most popular dog in America, so there are plenty of dogs to collect a large sample size from.

Principal investigator in the study, Rodney Page, a veterinary oncologist who directs Colorado State’s Flint Animal Cancer Center, told The Washington Post that Golden Retrievers “are right beside us when we’re running, when we’re having dinner, when we’re out traveling. They basically reflect a lot of the same exposures and activities that we have.”

Requirements for owners to register their dog for the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, managed by Morris Animal Health’s Canine Lifetime Health Project, included that the dog had to be between 6 months and 2 years old with a 3-generation pedigree and living in the 48 contiguous United States. Since the study started in 2012, that means the oldest dogs will be 8 years old this year. Registration in the study concluded in March 2015 when the goal of having 3,000 dogs in the study was met.

While it’s several years too soon to have information about the types of factors that may contribute to cancer, a few details about the lives of the Goldens enrolled in the study have been released. Some interesting highlights from a study published in CGE Journal include:

-19% of owners in the study reported having pet insurance

-95% of the dogs were acquired from breeders

-97% sleep inside their owner’s home

-84% of owners report that the primary job of their dog is to be a pet or companion rather than primarily a working or service dog

-83% of dogs receive both heartworm and flea and tick prevention

-85% of owners feed a commercial diet

-39% of the dogs swim at least once a week

-26% eat feces

-60% of the dogs live in suburban locations

Dogs enrolled in the study are required to have an extensive annual veterinary exam, which takes about 3 hours, in order to collect various samples and conduct a variety of tests on each dog. Any and all health conditions, along with samples of any tumors, are sent to the researchers of the study to analyze. The vet visits are subsidized, which means owners aren’t forced to pay for the extensive testing required for the study.

Families enrolled in the study have their own private Facebook page, where owners keep in touch, meet each other in real life, and console each other through life’s hardships – especially when those hardships relate to their dogs.

Hopefully, within the next 5-10 years, we’ll have a lot more answers about the types of factors that may lead to cancer, at least in the beloved Golden Retriever breed, and hopefully, those insights will help to prevent cancer in people, too.

(H/T: The Washington Post, Canine Lifetime Health, CGE Journal)

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