OBERLIN — Dog owner Kim Faulk was devastated when her golden retriever Ryder died of osteosarcoma, a bone cancer, at age 3.
It wasn’t the $50,000 Faulk spent in veterinary bills, but losing an animal that she considered a family member that upset her most.
“We put our life savings into him and did everything we could to save him,” she said.
It wasn’t until Faulk applied for a grant to cover some of Ryder’s medical bills that she learned about the Morris Animal Foundation’s Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, with the goal of preventing canine cancer.
Douds Veterinary Hospital now is part of that study at the urging of Faulk, who has her two dogs, Montana and Spenser, enrolled. The study, which plans to track 3,000 golden retrievers for at least 10 years, is considered the largest observational study of dogs in veterinary medicine, said Dr. Michael Guy, the project’s director.
Guy, who has a doctorate in veterinary medicine from Colorado State University, said he was anxious to begin the study, which he believes could one day help not just golden retrievers, but all dog breeds.
Golden retrievers were chosen for the study because of the breed’s predisposition to cancer, as well as its popularity as a pet, Guy said.
Enrollment for the study started in September 2012, and 1,124 golden retrievers are enrolled.
Guy said the golden retriever study is modeled after the Framingham Heart Study, which began in 1948 to follow men and women from Framingham, Mass., who had not yet developed overt symptoms of cardiovascular disease or suffered a heart attack or stroke.
That study led to the identification of risk factors that lead to cardiovascular disease.
Guy said the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study is similar in that there is no outside interference.
“It’s an observational study, meaning that we don’t intervene. We just want to be a part of these dogs’ lives,” he said.
The owners of dogs who are a part of the observational study must commit to visiting their veterinarians annually to collect blood, urine, feces, hair and nail samples from the dogs, which will be sent to the Morris Animal Foundation. Owners must also submit yearly questionnaires throughout the 10- to 14-year test period.
Guy said the study will examine the dogs’ diet, genetics and environment and whether those factors lead to canine cancer.
Guy said treating canine cancer is difficult and such a study could help.
“What works on one kind of cancer often doesn’t work on another,” he said.
He said many dog owners who are involved in the study have a vested interest in learning about risk factors.
“I have met so many people involved in the study who lost a golden to canine cancer at 6, 7 or 8,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking to lose an animal at half of their life span.”
Amy Klotz, a practice manager at Douds Animal Hospital, said the study appealed to veterinarians at the hospital for that reason.
“I think it’s amazing. It’s wonderful to be part of something that may increase the longevity of animals,” she said.
For more information or to be involved in the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, visit www.CanineLifetimeHealth.org.
Study dogs must live in the contiguous 48 United States, be a third-generation pedigree, pure-bred and must be younger than 2.
Owners must pay all veterinary bills, although they will be reimbursed $75 each year of the study by the Morris Animal Foundation.
- Morris Animal Foundation’s Golden Retriever Lifetime Study is the largest and longest effort to improve the health of dogs. Over the next 10 to 14 years, observational data collected from 3,000 golden retrievers will help researchers learn how to prevent cancer and other diseases that take the lives of dogs.
- More than 70 million dogs live in the United States, and half of those dogs older than 10 will die of cancer. Cancer is the leading cause of death in dogs older than 2.
- The Morris Animal Foundation is a nonprofit organization that invests in science that advances veterinary medicine for companion animals, horses and wildlife.