What’s special about 3,000 Golden Retrievers?
Developing the concept of the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study was like baking a cake for the first time without a recipe. When we started assembling our “cake” five years ago, we knew what we wanted to see come out of the oven, but had to determine which ingredients to add, and no one had ever tried to put together a large lifetime cohort study for dogs.
Our biggest questions were:
- At what age should we start dog 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 afford to fund the project?
With the help of many experts in veterinary and human health, we developed some guiding principles, i.e., our ingredients. We discovered how important early life exposures are to lifetime wellness and longevity. It became clear that enrolling dogs as young as possible would let us capture the complete health story of each dog’s life.
We gathered as much information as possible about canine health problems, focusing especially on Golden Retrievers. Using this historical information, we estimated the life expectancy of Golden Retrievers, and the number of dogs we would need to enroll to achieve the objectives of the study. At the time, the best source of information was the Golden Retriever Club of America’s National Health Survey from 1998.
We also reviewed several large observational studies in humans, including The Nurses’ Health Study and The Framingham Heart Study, to get an idea on how best to estimate the number of dogs that would still be participating 10 to 14 years after enrollment. In any medical study, patients leave the study for a variety of reasons. In terms of our study, owners may move, a dog might change owners, or an owner’s circumstances may change.
We estimated that we could accurately determine the incidence of the four most common and fatal cancers in Golden Retrievers after 10 years of monitoring if we could successfully follow 1,800 to 2,000 dogs for that entire timespan. Using our lifetime survival model, we projected a need to enroll 3,000 Golden Retrievers under the age of 2 years. This number would provide the statistical power to answer our primary question about cancer incidence and give us clues about other factors that are critical to creating a healthy, long life for Golden Retrievers. And lastly, a significant factor in determining our final enrollment number was the estimated cost; large lifetime studies are expensive. We needed data from enough dogs to achieve the statistical power we needed but that was also realistic to fund. Enrolling 3,000 dogs met all of our criteria.
As we are quickly approaching that special number of 3,000 enrolled Golden Retrievers, the Morris Animal Foundation team, volunteer coordinators, the families and veterinarians of each enrolled Golden Retriever have worked extremely hard to reach this important milestone.
While our cake is now in the oven and we anticipate learning so much about this canine population, the next challenges we face may be even greater as we track the health of these 3,000 Golden Retrievers. It is very rewarding to have these Golden Heroes and their dedicated teams transforming the way we think about and understand health in dogs, and this is what’s special about 3,000 Golden Retrievers!
To learn more about Morris Animal Foundation and our other programs please visit morrisanimalfoundation.org.