Golden Opportunity to Study Canine Companions

UBC provides observational study expertise for the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study

Golden Opportunity to Study Canine Companions

More than 50% of golden retrievers over the age of 2 develop cancer — their leading cause of death — with no indication why. A landmark observational study by UBC is working with the Morris Animal Foundation to identify some of these causes.

Reasons for this high occurrence of cancer could include nutritional, genetic and environmental risk factors. Through the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, UBC is providing the expertise and resources necessary to gain important insight into this widely treasured breed.

Typically, observational studies managed by UBC provide insight into health outcomes of patients taking a particular medical product. While no one medication is being studied, the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study uses our expertise in designing and implementing large observational studies requiring Internet data capture.

Retrieving Business

Ideas for medical studies sometimes come from unexpected places. And so it is for this first UBC animal study. Emily Akin, an associate clinical director at UBC, and proud owner of a golden retriever, got the idea from her classmate while they were in an executive master’s degree program together. The classmate is a veterinary ophthalmologist who serves on the board of the Morris Animal Foundation, a group that funds studies to help animals live longer, healthier lives.

The pair knew just the person to help make the study a reality. Dr. Catherine Sigler, senior director, Epidemiology & Risk Management, received her degree in veterinary medicine and recognized that doing such a study would be an excellent opportunity to use UBC’s scientific and technological expertise to make a significant contribution to the animal world. Our willingness to innovate provided what was needed for this study, which is the largest, longest study of canine cancer to date.

UBC also proved to be a good fit for the Morris Animal Foundation, which has funded more than 2,000 studies around animal diagnostics, treatments, preventions and cures. The Golden Retriever Lifetime Study is the first internally run research project and is part of the foundation’s larger Canine Lifetime Health Project, which focuses on ways to prevent and treat major diseases affecting dogs.

The Pick of the Litter

Using a protocol jointly designed by veterinarians from the foundation — Colorado State University and UBC — the study has enrolled more than 700 golden retrievers with a goal of tracking 3,000 over their entire lives and monitoring their health as they age. Owners are asked to visit their dog’s veterinarian once a year to collect necessary samples. In addition, owners provide detailed information about their dog’s diet and environment through an online survey. The study’s objectives are to:

  • Determine the incidence of cancer in golden retrievers
  • Identify genetic variants associated with common cancers in golden retrievers
  • Characterize the lifestyle, environmental and nutritional risk factors
  • Investigate associations among genetic variations, potential risk factors and the development of specific cancers
  • Determine the incidence and risk factors of other major health disorders
  • Establish extensive data and biological sample repositories for future analyses

Gathering long-term data may provide insights into why golden retrievers are at such a high risk. The database UBC is compiling can be an extremely useful registry for subsequent studies.

UBC’s involvement in the study has included designing a checkup form for veterinarians to complete, the online database and a website for the project. In addition, the study team fields calls from veterinarians and dog owners who have questions about the process or need to report developments.

Despite its unexpected beginning, the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study will help provide valuable information that has not yet been available. The team hopes to extend the work from golden retrievers to additional epidemiological studies of other breeds and perhaps other species.

Owners of purebred golden retrievers under the age of 2 who are interested in participating in the study can learn more at the Morris Animal Foundation.