World’s First Long-term Study of Golden Retrievers Likely to Tell Scientists More about Cancer and Health in People

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Golden retrievers today can offer some useful information about their future health and the health of other dogs, including the occurrence of common cancers, says a Colorado State University veterinary oncologist embarking on a groundbreaking long-term study with Morris Animal Foundation.

As with many other studies at the world-renowned Flint Animal Cancer Center, the answers may help people, too.

Dr. Rodney Page, director of the Flint Animal Cancer Center, and a team at the Denver-based Morris Animal Foundation, the global leader in animal health science, are recruiting young, purebred golden retrievers for a groundbreaking effort to learn how to prevent cancer and other diseases in dogs.

The foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to scientific research that improves animal health, is managing the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, which will span 10 to 15 years. As the largest and longest observational study ever undertaken to improve the health of dogs, this project is the most significant one ever conducted in veterinary medicine.

“Our donors with dogs have told us that cancer is their greatest concern. We look forward to working with Colorado State University to get a better grasp on all the factors that could contribute to cancer and overall health problems in dogs,” said David Haworth, DVM, PhD, President and CEO at Morris Animal Foundation.

To join the study, Golden Retrievers must be healthy, younger than 2 years old and have a proven three-generation pedigree. Pet owners must agree to regular visits with their veterinarian and to complete online questionnaires about lifestyle, diet, reproductive history, environment, exercise, medications and other health concerns throughout the dog’s life.

For more information or to apply for the study, visit Dogs must meet initial qualifications to be invited to complete the application process.

The goal is to enroll 3,000 dogs over the next two years. About 500 dogs are currently enrolled or in the process of completing enrollment requirements.

“It does require a commitment from the owners of these dogs,” said Page, who is the principal investigator on the research study. “They must record their pets’ activities and health issues and partner with a veterinarian who would help provide the information and samples we’re requesting. The veterinarians will have to devote a little more time to physical exams and collecting samples.

“Morris Animal Foundation is the key to this initiative. No other animal health organization could accomplish this and they should be acknowledged for understanding how important this study is going to be for canine health,” Page said.

Cancer is estimated to be the No. 1 cause of death in dogs over the age of 2, but there is no valid database to determine how frequently cancer may occur or how to assess any of the influencing factors. Common fatal cancers of dogs include lymphoma, osteosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma (cancer of the blood vessels that usually starts in the spleen or liver) and mast cell tumors, which is a cancer of a particular blood cell of the immune system.

“With this project we will determine a better estimate of how frequently these cancers arise. This is a very difficult number to accurately determine in dogs,” Page said. “There is very limited information about what the true incidence of cancer is in dogs since no census exists. Also, cancer is a reportable disease in people – each diagnosis is recorded and the incidence of each cancer is reported annually to develop public health recommendations. There’s no similar resource in dogs.”

Cancer occurs largely in older dogs – most do not develop any cancer for the first five or six years. In addition to cancer insights, this study will identify genetic, nutritional and environmental risk factors for other major diseases that affect dogs, such as obesity, thyroid issues, epilepsy, arthritis, and skin disorders, which may develop at earlier ages.

Dogs share our environment and are therefore equally at risk for exposure to many of the same factors that we are exposed to. For example, a common set of compounds, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, used as flame retardants in carpets and upholstery, have been linked to disorders in people. “We believe that we can learn more about canine and human exposure risks by knowing what dogs may be experiencing during their lives,” said Page.

“Our hope is that we will be able to identify some significant modifiable risk factors that will improve the health of dogs and potentially provide clues for human health improvement as well,” Page said.

Page and Morris Animal Foundation staff developed this study with the advice of experts in canine and human genetics, toxicology, epidemiology, statistics and clinical practice from around the country.

Major financial supporters of the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study include the Mark and Bette Morris Family Foundation, the Blue Buffalo Foundation for Cancer Research, Petco, Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Pfizer Animal Health, VCA Antech, Mars Veterinary and the Hadley and Marion Stuart Foundation, which is the largest single donor to CSU’s Flint Animal Cancer Center.

About the Colorado State University Animal Cancer Center
In addition to treating animals with cancer, the Animal Cancer Center has trained more veterinary oncologists than any other veterinary institution and is the only veterinary cancer group to have more than 28 consecutive years of funding from the National Cancer Institute. It has an international reputation for its collaboration with human cancer institutions such as the National Cancer Institute and the University of Colorado Cancer Center. The Animal Cancer Center manages numerous clinical trials for cancer treatments, with pets participating with their owner’s approval in the quest to find new treatments and preventions for cancer. Many clinical trials are translational due to the center’s ability to develop animal cancer treatments, innovations and knowledge into beneficial human medicine.

About Morris Animal Foundation
Morris Animal Foundation is a nonprofit organization that invests in science that advances veterinary medicine for companion animals, horses and wildlife. The foundation is the global leader in animal health science, and its funding support helps more species in more places than that of any other organization in the world. Since its founding in 1948, Morris Animal Foundation has invested more than $70 million toward more than 2,000 studies, and these studies have led to significant breakthroughs in diagnostics, treatments, preventions and cures for animals. Some of the breakthroughs funded through the Foundation have become gold standards in veterinary care.