Same data, different perspectives for owners and researchers
Dogs participating in the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study have comprehensive laboratory tests performed each year during their annual veterinary examination. The value of the data captured by these tests is significant for owners, as well as the researchers who will dig through the data for the next decade or longer. But what is significant to each depends on perspective.
The owner of each dog receives annual lab results from their primary care veterinarian within a week of their dog’s exam. Blood, urine and fecal tests provide information on organ function and the presence or absence of parasites such as heartworms and intestinal worms at a single point in time. If abnormalities are found, the owner and attending veterinarian discuss the need for additional testing or treatment based on the complete clinical picture.
The study team receives lab results in large batches every six months, as well as necropsy results (post-mortem exam) when a study dog has died. They examine the entire population of dogs as a whole and look for trends. For example, the team might want to evaluate the creatinine levels of all dogs at their year-four study exam. When examining an individual dog, elevated creatinine can raise the suspicion of kidney disease. However, when evaluating the entire population, a certain number of dogs are expected to have high or low creatinine values because of normal biologic variation. Researchers approach the data from a different perspective than an owner; they look less at an individual dog’s data but are very interested in the group as a whole.
Tests that are subjective and susceptible to error are approached differently when evaluating an individual versus a population. An example of this is the urine dipstick test, which relies on a human to note color changes once urine is placed on a paper reagent strip. Human interpretation of blue versus green is not as accurate or consistent as a quantitative test (one that provides a numerical result). An individual dog with protein in the urine may need further evaluation of kidney function, but the researcher is looking at the entire spectrum of results.
Adding to the confusion is the small variation in “normal” between labs. Laboratories follow strict quality-control protocols and monitor for laboratory-wide discrepancies or trends. Although all labs will agree that certain test results are clearly abnormal, there are differences in what defines the “normal” range of a particular test for each laboratory. For this reason, each study test result is sent to one specific lab identified to run specific tests. This can be very frustrating to owners and study veterinarians that receive abnormal test results, but by monitoring overall trends for the group as a whole and using just one lab, shifts that indicate a potential testing problem can be detected quickly.
There is a difference in perspective between how an owner and a researcher interpret lab values, but it highlights the importance of the many veterinarians participating in the Morris Animal Foundation Golden Retriever Lifetime Study. The attending veterinarian is the team member responsible for actively managing and coordinating care for their patient(s), using their expertise and experience to provide the best veterinary care possible for our study participants.