golden retriever

Research and Results For Animals and Humans

Golden Retriever Study to Provide Key Information About Cancer and Health

December 2012

A University veterinary oncologist is embarking on a groundbreaking long-term study of golden retrievers that can offer some useful information about their future health, including the occurrence of common cancers. And, 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.

Study in Tandem with Morris Animal Foundation

“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.

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.

“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.

No. 1 Cause of Death in Dogs Over the Age of 2

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.

Environment a Risk Factor for Canines and Humans

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.


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