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Golden Retrievers and most dog breeds will live longer lives thanks to new discovery

Golden Retrievers, one of the most cherished canine breeds worldwide, are facing a disquieting threat. With research indicating a staggering 65% likelihood of these dogs dying from cancer, the urgency to understand and combat this disease has never been more pronounced.

Researchers from the University of California, Davis embarked on an innovative study, veering away from the traditional path of identifying cancer-associated genes. Instead, they focused on unraveling the genetic mysteries tied to longer lifespans in Golden Retrievers, opening new avenues in cancer research.

From cancer predisposition to longevity

In this study, the research team illuminates the discovery of a specific gene. The gene is pivotal, not in cancer onset, but in promoting a longer life for Golden Retrievers.

This gene belongs to a protein family recognized for its significant role in human oncology, marking a shift in focus that may resonate profoundly within both veterinary and human medicine.

Rather than zeroing in on genes directly linked to cancer, the researchers aimed their investigative lens at those connected to extended life.

“We assume that the majority of golden retrievers have a genetic predisposition to cancer,” explained co-corresponding author Robert Rebhun, holder of the Maxine Adler Endowed Chair in oncology at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. “But with some living up to 14, 15, or 16 years, we hypothesized the existence of another genetic factor mitigating the detrimental ones.”

HER4: Golden Retrievers’ harbinger of hope

The gene that emerged from their exploration was HER4 (also known as ERBB4), part of the human epidermal growth factor receptor family. Intriguingly, this gene cluster also contains HER2, notorious for its role in aggressive cancer cell proliferation in humans.

Highlighting the translational aspect of this discovery, Rebhun remarked, “If this HER4 variant is crucial in cancer development or progression in golden retrievers, or if it modifies cancer risk in this predisposed population, it could significantly influence future human cancer studies.”

Over 300 golden retrievers contributed to this pioneering research. By contrasting the DNA from golden retrievers living beyond 14 years with those passing before age 12, the scientists uncovered that certain HER4 variants were synonymous with longer lives.

Significant leap in canine lifespan

The distinction was stark: dogs with these specific gene variants lived an average of 13.5 years, outliving others whose lives typically spanned 11.6 years.

“An extension close to two years is monumental in a dog’s life,” stated co-corresponding author Danika Bannasch, also a Maxine Adler Endowed Chair holder in genetics at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. She illustrated the profound implications of their findings, equating the additional years to a 15-20% life extension for the dogs, comparable to 12-14 human years.

However, Bannasch cautioned against oversimplification, acknowledging the intricate network of genes implicated in cancer development. “The correlation between a longevity-associated gene and one involved in cancer is incredibly intriguing to us,” she added, hinting at the complexity of genetic interactions in disease and survival.

Gender differences and future directions

Further dissecting their findings, the team identified an intriguing pattern: the gene variant’s influence appeared predominantly in female golden retrievers. HER4’s known interactions with hormones, specifically estrogen, and potential involvement in environmental toxin processing, underline its significance in biological pathways.

Emphasizing the preliminary nature of their discovery, Rebhun advocated for a broader, more comprehensive study, enlisting an expanded golden retriever demographic to corroborate these findings and explore the genetic variant’s functional impact.

Hope for Golden Retrievers and all canines

This study serves as a linchpin for future research, not only within veterinary medicine but also potentially informing human oncological studies. By transcending the conventional approach of cancer gene exploration and spotlighting genes connected to longevity, UC Davis researchers have charted a new course.

This path may well lead to life-extending strategies for our beloved canine companions — and, optimistically, for humans. Their work stands as a testament to the intertwining destinies of human and veterinary medicine, each enriching the other in the relentless pursuit of health and longevity.

More about Golden Retrievers

Golden Retrievers, with their friendly eyes and luxuriant golden coats, reign supreme as one of the most popular dog breeds in America. Originally bred for hunting, these dogs now captivate hearts as devoted companions, showcasing an exceptional balance of intelligence and playfulness.

A hunter’s best companion

In the mid-19th century, Scottish hunters sought a superior dog breed skilled in retrieving game from both water and land. They selectively bred various dogs, combining the best traits of the Tweed Water Spaniel, Irish Setter, and Bloodhound. The result was the Golden Retriever, a dog with an uncanny ability to retrieve shot game undamaged, thanks to its soft mouth and inherent swimming prowess.

Temperament: The epitome of friendliness

Golden Retrievers radiate an amiable, easy-going temperament, making them exceptional family pets. They thrive on human interaction and actively participate in family activities. Their intelligence and desire to please facilitate their success as service dogs, excelling in roles such as therapy, assistance, and search and rescue operations.

Physical characteristics

Adult Golden Retrievers stand between 21.5 to 24 inches tall at the shoulders and weigh between 55 to 75 pounds. Their distinctive dense, water-repellent outer coat and soft undercoat, which shed seasonally, require regular grooming. These dogs are athletic, with a well-coordinated gait, reflecting their heritage as efficient working dogs.

Health: Vigilance for a vibrant life

While Golden Retrievers generally boast robust health, they are predisposed to certain conditions. Common health concerns include hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and certain heart issues. As mentioned earlier in this article, they are also highly prone to cancer.

Regular check-ups can preemptively address these issues, ensuring the dog’s well-being. Notably, they also have a propensity for obesity, so a balanced diet and ample exercise are essential.

Training: Harnessing their potential

Golden Retrievers respond best to positive reinforcement techniques, given their eagerness to please and sensitive nature. Early socialization and obedience training harness their sociable nature, preventing behavioral issues. Consistent, engaging, and fun training sessions best suit their lively intellect and maintain their mental and physical health.

Golden Retrievers, affectionate and loyal, make for an enriching addition to many homes. Their versatility and adaptable nature endear them to a multitude of roles, from faithful companion to diligent service dog. A commitment to their health and well-being, in turn, lets them fully shine in all their golden glory.

The full study was published in the esteemed journal GeroScience.

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