Last Update: 5/28/2013 8:48:00 AM
Berks vet, local pet owners part of nationwide golden retriever cancer study
A Berks County veterinarian and some local golden retriever owners are participating in a nationwide study to learn more about the breed and why so many of the dogs die from cancer.
The study, led by the Morris Animal Foundation in Denver, aims to track 3,000 golden retrievers over the course of their lifetimes, chronicling environments, diets, medications, health conditions and other factors.
Dog owners and their veterinarians will work together to gather information and relay it to the Animal Foundation, where it will be analyzed over time.
"They'll be able to put all this data together and see what comes out of it," said Dr. Lee Pickett, a veterinarian with Bernville Veterinary Clinic who also writes the Ask the Vet's Pets column for the Reading Eagle. "It's really a breakthrough in that it's the first time a study this big will look at dogs over their entire lifetime."
Dogs must be less than 2 years old to be eligible for the study, which is expected to continue for 10 to 14 years.
Dr. Michael K. Guy, an employee of the Morris Animal Foundation who is directing the study, said that golden retrievers were selected as participants due to several factors.
While nearly half of all dogs are thought to die of cancer, goldens have a higher than normal cancer death rate. And, Guy said, as one of the most popular breeds, it made sense to target golden retrievers.
"There are thought to be about 100,000 new golden retriever registrations with the American Kennel Club each year," Guy said. "And that's just the registered ones. With that many dogs out there, we thought we had a good chance of getting the participation we're looking for."
Bonnie Allensworth of Sinking Spring and her daughter, Rachel Schweitzer of Shillington, have had a long love affair with golden retrievers. When Pickett, their veterinarian and friend, approached them about the study, they were eager to participate.
"We'd lost so many golden retrievers to cancer," Allensworth said. "Cancer and heart disease and all kind of things. We thought it would be a good thing to work with this organization to help the breed."
A dog groomer, Allensworth owns five golden retrievers and one Labrador retriever. Two of the goldens, Jorja and Jonah, who just turned a year old, will be part of the Morris Foundation study. Schweitzer's pet, Punky, a sister of Jorja and Jonah, also will participate.
Under the guidelines of the study, the women agreed to annual examinations for their pets, at which time blood will be drawn and analyzed. With Pickett, they also will track the dogs' heights, weights and other physical characteristics, and keep track of their diets and other living conditions.
They are not obligated to provide any particular environments for their dogs, but asked to care for them as they would if they were not participating in the study.
"Pet owners are allowed to give whatever care they want to their dogs, and then the data will all be put together and we'll look for trends," Pickett said.
Pickett anticipates that the long-term study will yield some clear results regarding risk factors for cancer in golden retrievers, and may result in some other, surprising results.
Four Berks County residents have so far agreed to participate in the study, and Pickett is looking for other owners of golden retrievers who may be willing to join.
Pickett will be required to keep detailed records and relate all information to the Morris Animal Foundation. While she acknowledged that it will require a fair amount of time for which she will not be compensated, she is willing to participate because she believes the study will have far-reaching benefits for golden retrievers and other dogs.
"What's coming out of this study will help all dogs," Pickett said. "And I have a real passion for dogs and helping them to be as healthy as they can be."
Contact Susan Shelly: firstname.lastname@example.org.