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General Study FAQS

What is the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study?

Morris Animal Foundation’s Golden Retriever Lifetime Study is a groundbreaking effort to understand and learn how to prevent cancer and other diseases in dogs. It is the largest and longest observational study ever undertaken in the United States to improve the health of dogs. This study is the first under Morris Animal Foundation’s Canine Lifetime Health Project. The study has enrolled 3,044 golden retrievers and will last 10 to 14 years. This study will identify genetic, nutritional and environmental risk factors for cancer and other major diseases that affect all dogs.

Why did Morris Animal Foundation choose golden retrievers for the first study under the Canine Lifetime Health Project?

Golden retrievers were chosen because the breed has a higher prevalence of cancer than other dog breeds. In addition, the large population of golden retrievers in the United States ensured the study team was able to enroll the required number of dogs (3,000). The knowledge obtained from this study will benefit all dogs, and that is our primary goal.

Why were 3,000 golden retrievers needed for the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study?

In developing the concept of the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, our biggest questions were:

  • What age should dogs be at enrollment?
  • How many golden retrievers should we enroll to ensure we gather enough information to answer questions about cancer incidence?
  • Can we recruit a large population of golden retrievers, owners, and their veterinarians for the lifetime of the dogs?
  • And, of course, can we fund the project?

With the help of experts in veterinary and human health, we estimated the incidence of the four most common and fatal cancers in golden retrievers. Using a lifetime survival model, we projected a need to enroll 3,000 golden retrievers under 2 years of age to answer our primary question about cancer incidence, and to gather information on related risk factors.

Another important factor in determining the final enrollment number was the cost. Large prospective studies are expensive. We needed data from enough dogs to draw accurate conclusions while ensuring financial sustainability. Enrolling 3,000 dogs met these criteria.

Why is the final number of dogs enrolled in the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study more than 3,000?

To stay within established guidelines and to prevent significant over-enrollment as we neared study capacity, enrollment priority was given to those dogs with veterinary visits completed or reported at the time we closed registration. Significant value was placed on honoring a spot to all dogs that had already completed study requirements as we rapidly approached the enrollment goal. In honoring these commitments, we knew we would have a few participants beyond the 3,000 milestone. The official count is 3,044 dogs. This number also includes dogs that were officially withdrawn or died during the enrollment period; we will continue to count all dogs in this tally. This enrollment number is final, and there are no plans to re-open enrollment for this study. We are grateful to everyone for their commitment and continued interest in the study.

Why should owners and veterinarians participate in the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study?

The study’s success depends on golden retriever owners and their veterinarians. Cancer is a leading disease-related cause of death in dogs, and more than 6 million new cancer diagnoses are made each year in dogs. By participating in the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, participants will help researchers

  • Identify genetic, environmental, lifestyle, and nutritional risk factors for cancer and other major health problems in dogs
  • Learn how to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer and other canine diseases
  • Establish extensive data and biological sample repositories for future study

This study also will provide owners and veterinarians with a framework for building a long-term relationship focused on the health of the dog through annual veterinary visits.

What were the requirements for a dog to be enrolled in the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study?

To be enrolled in the study, a dog was required to:

  • Be a healthy, purebred golden retriever with a three-generation pedigree (family tree)
  • Be older than 6 months of age and younger than 2 years of age at the time of application
  • Reside in the contiguous United States (excludes Alaska and Hawaii)
Why were dogs required to be healthy to enroll in the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, and what does that mean?

The Golden Retriever Lifetime Study is an observational study that will follow dogs from youth through old age. In order to capture if and when a study dog develops a disease or health condition, it was important to begin with young, healthy dogs. For the purpose of this study, we defined healthy as a dog that is free of any detectable serious health disorders or diseases that could shorten the dog’s life span.

Why were only dogs that reside within the contiguous United States enrolled in the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study?

Samples collected from study participants must arrive at the participating laboratories within one day of collection. Samples shipped from outside the lower 48 states would not meet this requirement because of likely shipping or customs delays. Additionally, the fees to ship samples from outside the lower 48 states are cost-prohibitive.

Why were only dogs that were younger than 2 years of age enrolled in the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study?

Enrollment was restricted to dogs younger than 2 years of age to better ensure the dogs were healthy at the time of enrollment. There is also scientific value to following a similar group of animals (age and breed).

Why were only golden retrievers with a three-generation pedigree enrolled in the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study?

One of the goals of the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study is to identify genetic risk factors for cancer. Enrolling dogs with known pedigrees is important for genetic analysis.

What is a three-generation pedigree?

A three-generation pedigree is a registration document, such as American Kennel Club or United Kennel Club registration papers, that identifies a dog’s parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.

How will the pedigree information be used?

The Golden Retriever Lifetime Study is an observational study that will analyze genetic, nutritional, environmental, behavior, and lifestyle influences on canine health. The genetic research portion of the study will look for correlations between genetic markers and disease. Pedigrees can help researchers learn more about potential associations of genetic markers with certain diseases in golden retrievers. Efforts to understand possible genetic correlations with disease will be studied over the entire course of the study. Once analyses are completed, the genetics results will be published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Ideally, these findings will lead to the development of genetic tests that both veterinarians and breeders can use to improve the health of this and other dog breeds. All names and registration information will remain confidential.

Were study dogs required to be registered with the American Kennel Club to enroll in the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study?

No. Owners had to provide a three-generation pedigree (family tree) for the dog, but that did not have to come from the American Kennel Club. An alternative registration organization, such as the United Kennel Club or a national service-dog breeding program, also was accepted.

Were any littermates enrolled in the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study?

Yes. We encouraged the participation of littermates in this study. However, no more than two littermates were enrolled from the same household. We define littermates as dogs who are born on the same date and from the same dam (mother). We also encouraged enrollment of siblings that may not be littermates, e.g., same dam and sire but different dates of birth.

How will the nutritional and environmental information be used?

The Golden Retriever Lifetime Study is an observational study that will analyze genetic, nutritional, environmental, behavior, and lifestyle influences on canine health. The nutritional research portion of the study will look for correlations between diet and disease. What and how much a dog eats can have an important effect on its overall health. The environmental research portion of the study will look for correlations between environmental exposures and disease. Examples of environmental exposures include, but are not limited to: home environment, pesticides, and air and water quality.

How will the behavioral information be used?

The Golden Retriever Lifetime Study is an observational study that will analyze genetic, nutritional, environmental, behavior, and lifestyle influences on canine health. The behavioral research portion of the study will look for correlations between temperament and risk for disease.

Why do enrolled dogs have a microchip or tattoo?

Every dog in the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study is a valuable contributor to the study. A microchip or tattoo was required for enrollment because we want to provide every opportunity to help recover a dog should it become lost. The microchip or tattoo also is used to verify the dog’s identity during its annual examinations. This is to ensure that the health information obtained is coded to the correct dog.

Do study dogs go to specific veterinarians?

No. Owners were encouraged to ask their veterinarian to join the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study with them, but they were permitted to choose any licensed veterinarian willing to participate as the study dog’s primary veterinarian.

How long is a dog enrolled in the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study?

We ask that dogs remain enrolled for the entire length of the study (10-14 years). This study will be monitoring dogs from youth through old age. In order to identify if and when a study dog develops a disease, it is important to collect data over the entire life of the dog. Valuable information may be obtained that will significantly improve the health of future generations of golden retrievers and will provide the basis for creating a brighter future for all dogs.

When will the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study end?

The Golden Retriever Lifetime Study is estimated to run for 10 to 14 years, however, a specific end date is difficult to determine because many factors will influence when the study will close, including the life span of participating dogs, the number and timing of cancer outcomes, and the availability of funding.

Does this study require any experimentation or testing on the study dogs?

No. The Golden Retriever Lifetime Study is an observational study. We require that the dogs receive annual health examinations with sample collection (which is the current recommended standard of preventive care) and that additional veterinary visits made for major health concerns also are reported by the veterinarian. We do not ask the owner or veterinarian to try any products, medications or diets, nor do we suggest any lifestyle changes. The information collected will help provide insight into the risk factors leading to cancer and other canine diseases.

What is an observational study?

An observational study is a type of research study in which a group is observed over time and information is collected on that group; no interventions are performed or recommended. The Golden Retriever Lifetime Study does not make recommendations as to how owners care for their dogs or veterinarians provide medical care. It does gather information on the dog’s genetics, nutrition, health, lifestyle and environment, and major illnesses.

What is expected of owners who have enrolled their dogs in the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study?

The success of this study depends on highly committed golden retriever owners. Participating owners must:

  • Maintain an owner account online at caninelifetimehealth.org
  • Agree to participate for the life of their dog
  • Be at least 18 years of age and live in the contiguous United States
  • Partner with a veterinarian who agrees to participate and discuss what the costs* will be to participate in the study
  • Complete online questionnaires each year regarding the dog’s nutrition, environment, behavior and health
  • Take the dog to its veterinarian for its annual study visit, including examination and sample collection (blood, urine, feces, hair and toenail clippings)
  • Agree to have a microchip implanted in the dog (or use an alternative form of permanent identification, such as a tattoo)
  • Allow the veterinarian to collect and send tumor samples to the study-participating laboratory for evaluation when necessary
  • Be willing to consider a necropsy (postmortem examination) when the dog dies

*Note: The owner is responsible for costs associated with each study visit. However, Morris Animal Foundation will reimburse owners $75 toward these costs per year. Reimbursement occurs after the study team verifies the questionnaire, examination and sample collection have been completed. If you choose, you may donate this reimbursement back to Morris Animal Foundation to help support the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study.

What is expected of veterinarians who participate in the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study?

Participating veterinarians must be willing to do the following:

  • Maintain a veterinarian account online at caninelifetimehealth.org
  • Agree to participate as the dog’s primary veterinarian by linking to the dog’s record online and accepting the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study Veterinary Agreement
  • Talk with the client about what the costs will be to participate in the study
  • Communicate online and by email with the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study Team
  • Ensure the applicant dog has a microchip or tattoo
  • Conduct annual physical examinations and report the findings online
  • Collect annual samples of blood, urine, feces, hair and toenail clippings from the study dog and send them to the participating laboratories (the Antech laboratory results, as well as supplies for collection and shipping, are provided)
  • Provide care during other health events, such as illness or injury, and collect samples as needed for evaluation and submission to a study-participating laboratory
  • Submit health information online from any additional veterinary visits for major medical concerns that take place between annual visits (Routine health visits and vaccinations may be reported during an annual study visit and do not need an additional veterinary visit report.)
  • Collect tumor tissue samples, when applicable, and ship them, per the tumor handling instructions, for evaluation (supplies provided) to the study-participating laboratory
  • Provide owners with information and guidance to help them make a choice about necropsy after their dog dies
  • If a necropsy is approved by the owner, perform the necropsy or help the owner choose a veterinary pathologist to perform the necropsy
What if an owner or veterinarian no longer wants to participate in the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study?

It is critical to the success of the study that dogs remain in the study for their entire lives. If an owner is considering withdrawing the dog from the study, we would like the opportunity to discuss this decision and to answer any questions or address any concerns that owner may have.

A veterinarian may withdraw from the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study at any time and for any reason. However, for a dog to remain in the study, the owner must find another veterinarian to perform the study tasks required and, ideally, to also become that dog’s new regular veterinarian. We ask that the owner and veterinarian discuss this decision and contact the study team with any concerns or questions at 855.4GR.DOGS (855.447.3647), Monday–Friday, 8 a.m.–8 p.m. Eastern Time.

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