News from the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study

Golden retriever Cali wears her yellow Morris Foundation study bandana, with drawings of golden retrievers all over itCali, along with her brothers Sailor and Pirate, is part of an elite group of golden retrievers: They are members of the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, a project of the Morris Animal Foundation.

The study is in its ninth year and has shared some of what researchers have learned.

Of 3,044 goldens, aged six months to two years, who enrolled in the study between August 2012 and March 2015, 78% are still in the study and fully compliant. Goldens are much better behaved than humans in long-term studies!

In addition, 99 dogs have dropped out of the study (they didn’t say why) and, sadly, 240 have died. Of those, 60% have died of cancer, mostly hemangiosarcoma and lymphoma.

Studying cancer was the first and is the primary objective of the study, which looks at the dogs’ genetics, exposure and “lifestyle,” — everything from their diet to the amount and types of exercise they engage in.

Researchers, with “21,100 dog years of data” (I don’t know what that means but it sounds like a lot) are also looking at:

  • Possible links between spay/neuter age and obesity
  • Developing an early blood test for lymphoma in dogs
  • Diet and microbiome health
  • Impact of inbreeding on litter size and adult dog size

… and so much more.

Morris Animal Foundation is enrolling “golden oldies,” golden retrievers aged 12 or older who have never had cancer for a companion study. They will compare genetics of these healthy dogs with the genetics of study dogs who had cancer, in hopes of identifying potential genetic risk factors. If you are a human lucky enough to be owned by an elderly, cancer-free golden, please consider participating.

Still a Hero

Cali, a golden retriever, smiles happily and wears a colorful bandanna after her grooming.

Cali’s annual exam takes place in late June every year, but she’s only recently completed this year’s visit. Cali is a “hero,” one of 3,000 golden retrievers in the Morris Animal Foundation’s Golden Retriever Lifetime Study.

Cali’s Montana doc is not part of the study, but, fortuitously, we were in California in late June. Her beloved Sonoma vet did the exam. Everything seemed to be fine. Cali’s nails were long, for a change. She also needed to have a large section of her dewclaw removed, which provided an additional large sample. Cali obligingly provided more than enough hair and other biological specimens.

Then the study people lost her samples. Not all of them, but the packet that included the nail clippings, those precious and rare clippings.

They told me that I had to send more samples within four weeks.

I told them that there were no toenails to be clipped.

They granted me two additional weeks.

We drove back to Montana. I got the sample collection kit in the mail. It said I needed to have my vet do the collection. Seriously? I pick up poop several times a day. I can’t be trusted to collect that, trim some fur … and clip nonexistent nails?

They agreed to let me do the collection.

The stern letter threatened to kick Cali out of the study if we missed the deadline. This was serious. Cali’s life’s work was hanging, literally, by a toenail.

I checked her nails daily, deadline looming ever closer.

With about a week to go, I walked Cali around the corner to meet the groomer in our new neighborhood. She got lots of cookies and attention. The groomer thought she could get some clippings. We made an appointment.

Cali wasn’t too sure about this, but the cookies helped.

The nice groomer agreed to save the nail clippings. I left Cali in her capable (I hoped) hands.

A couple of hours later, I retrieved Cali, freshly washed, trimmed, and bandannaed — and that all-important baggie of nail clippings.

I collected the remaining samples and dropped it all off at FedEx.

A couple of days later, I got confirmation. We’d made it. Cali is still a hero.