It started as a casual conversation between Bette Morris, the wife of the late Dr. Mark Morris, Jr, whose parents founded the Morris Animal Foundation and Dr. Rod Page, the director of the Flint Animal Cancer Center at Colorado State University. The idea quickly took off with the support from the scientific board of the Morris Animal Foundation and a pilot study launched to 2012, with the goal to enroll 3000 dogs across the continental U.S. The 3044 dogs originally enrolled in the study are called heroes and their canine counterparts at home are “study supporters”, many of whom are also Golden Retrievers.
Full enrollment in the GRLS was reached by February of 2015 and 98 percent remain enrolled in the study, a feat in and of itself for a study of this magnitude. It is the largest, and longest, observational study ever attempted to date on veterinary subjects.
As the study celebrates its five year anniversary, the GRLS team as begun early data analysis, presenting preliminary results and gearing up for scientific papers and additional studies as well as tangential research that may evolve from the original data.
The preliminary evidence suggests there is an association between the age of neuter and certain health outcomes, particularly obesity and orthopedic disease. Dr. Missy Simpson, Study Epidemiologist, has conducted analyses and the early data suggests a possible link between the age of spay/neuter and non-traumatic rupture of the cranial cruciate ligament (a common orthopedic disease). As the 3000 plus cohort ages, there will be additional data points observed to clarify these possible associations.
A nested study has begun within the larger study to examine the microbiomes (the bacterial communities) that reside in the gut. In humans, these intestinal microbiomes can be associated with obesity, diabetes and allergies. The initial findings suggest that there may be some differences in the ratios of bacteria when overweight dogs and normal weight dogs are compared. The team plans to study additional samples within the cohort to improve our understanding of the microbiomes and health in dogs.
We can anticipate large amounts of data analysis over the next five years with far more clarity regarding the links between certain conditions and disease. While some of the data may be particularly relevant to the Golden Retriever breed, it is expected that many of the associations and conclusions drawn will help us better understand the environmental, nutritional, lifestyle and genetic risk factors in all breeds of dogs, particularly in the association of these risk factors and cancer.
Quick Facts about the GRLS heroes
Youngest >> 2 years old
Oldest >> 7 years old
10% Urban, 30% Rural, 60% Suburban
Mortalities >> 52
Cancer Deaths >> 19
You may help support this ground breaking study by donating to the Morris Animal Foundation and the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study. To learn more, please visit https://www.caninelifetimehealth.org/