Study: Golden Retriever’s Lifespan Halved In 35 Years

golden retriever lifetime study

Back in the 1970s, Golden Retrievers routinely lived until 16 and 17 years old, they are now living until 9 or 10 years old. Golden Retrievers die mostly of bone cancer, lymphoma and a cancer of the blood vessels more than any other breed in the country. Scientists from the Colorado-based Morris Animal Foundation picked up on this observation and are studying the popular Golden Retriever dog breed to find out why their lifespan has gotten shorter over the years and why cancer is so prevalent within this specific breed.

morris foundation lifetime study logo

The foundation recently invested $25 million in the study to launch the very first lifetime study of over 3,000 purebred Golden Retrievers after signing up the first dogs back in 2012. The nonprofit organisation has explained that reviewing the health conditions and environmental factors faced by Golden Retrievers all over the United States should also benefit other breeds and even humans, as 95 percent of the same DNA is shared between us, and dogs.

This study is a groundbreaking endeavour to learn how to prevent cancer and other diseases, more efficiently, in dogs. It is the longest and largest observational study ever undertaken for the canine species, enrolling 3,000 Golden Retrievers and lasting anywhere from 10 to 15 years.

Canine cancer has become a dog owner’s greatest fear. You don’t see dogs running loose that much anymore, we don’t see a lot of infectious diseases, and the vaccines we have today are very good, so our concerns are warranted.

Dr. David Haworth, president and CEO of the Morris Animal Foundation

The dogs involved in this study led by the Morris Animal Foundation come from every state of the United States; half of them are males and half are females; and half are fixed and half are not.

Stella Retriever Enrolled In Health Study
Just a few weeks ago, Stella Lowell received the official acceptance and learned that she was Hero #2085. Megan, her owner, is glad that Stella is now part of such an amazing study.

Golden retriever lifespan: early examinations give insight

The study, although initiated three years ago, has not given any clear results yet, mainly because the 3,000 dogs have been signed only early this year in March 2015. However, early examinations appear to show that 33 percent of the dogs, which are 1 to 5 years old, were victims of skin disease or ear infections. Furthermore, 17 percent had gastrointestinal illnesses, and 11 percent had urinary disease. To conduct the study properly, dogs are medically treated as usual, so the results do not get skewed.

Breeders, handlers and pet owners are asked to log everything, from a move across the country or across town, a change in the diet, climate or time zone, the arrival of a new baby at home, or the apparition of new behavioral changes.

Visits to veterinary practices occur regularly so vets can collect blood and nail samples, hair, feces, and anything else that would matter to scientifically understand what is happening within the breed, especially when the dogs get sick. The objective with scientific data is to uncover a common thread or lay bare early warning signs among dogs that develop cancer and other diseases. More than samples, vets hold a journal checking for changes in blood pressure, sleeping patterns, diet, temperature and any detail that may explain illness.

Up until now, seven Golden retrievers who took place in this study have died of medical conditions such as cancer and gastrointestinal problems. One golden was hit by a car, and another one dropped out after its owner died.

I have too many friends who have lost goldens… Is it what we are feeding them, their environments, their breeding? I am glad I found the study and feel in some small way, I might make a difference.

Marla Yetka, owner of Snickers, a two-year old Golden Retriever

Final results and observations from this study about golden retriever lifespan are expected in a few years time, however, trends will be noticed during this process and they will surely be brought to the general public’s attention.

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40 comments on « Study: Golden Retriever’s Lifespan Halved In 35 Years »

  1. I know a lot of breeders are going to overlook this and say, “hey, this isn’t my breed.” However, there have been developments occurring with other breeds, and just like the article states, dogs share more than 95% of DNA with other breeds. (Probably 99.999%) What’s happening with one breed certainly affects us all.
    I’m certain that a combination of factors is involved.
    Breeding and nutrition will probably be at the forefront of resolutions.

  2. Indeed Bree, although it is focused on Golden Retrievers, the study should and will benefit scientific progress for the overall population of dog breeds within the canine species.

    Hopefully it actually leads somewhere brighter than the current years… The shortening of their lifespan is extremely shocking and worrying.

    1. I just had to put my almost 8 yr old golden down due to lymphoma. His brother passed 3 months ago from it and apparently the father did as well. All from different locations and on different food and lifestyles. The saddest thing ever. They came from a reputable breeder and were purebred CKC. Breaks my heart because to me it is the only breed I ever want but to go through this again at such a young age would kill me

      1. Indeed. This is why breeders and breed clubs should never let their beloved breed get so deeply affected by hereditary issues/diseases. Because then, it becomes difficult to breed out and will take generations/decades.

        All the best to you Brenda, stay strong.

    2. I would like to see any proof to your claim about Goldens living routinely to 16-17 years old. This has not been claimed by Morris nor why the GRLS was started nor shown in researching K9data.com. Where did you get this information which I believe is completely false? I have only known of two 18 year old Goldens. One is still alive and the other died 2 years ago. I’m sure there were others but this has never been close to the norm. The first AKC Registered Golden died at 9. 10- 11 has always been the average, I believe.

        1. Ok. I know Mike pretty well. We were actually officers together on the Golden Retriever Foundation when the GRLS study was starting. This was NOT a study. It was only what Mike said he saw in the practice her worked in MA in the 70s. He also did not say “routinely”, either. So this was just ONE veterinarian’s observation based on one small area. There is a breeder in Canada who does have the majority of her dogs live into their teens, but the life expectancy has not decreased over the years, either. So I have to say your article’s title is incorrect. Search k9data.com and I’m sure you will see this is simply not true.

  3. I have been breeding golden retrievers for 35years.I have at present a13 year old,an11 year old,two 9 year olds.Fed raw,vaccinated very infrequently.I lost One 12 year old..My goldens have all reached into their teens.I rarely see the vet.treat Homeopathic most of the time.

  4. I have bred Goldens for just over40 years in the UK and have raw fed for most of those years.I hope that the research includes raw fed dogs. in my experience my dogs have all lived to 14-16 years old with no serious health problems and I considered the two that died at 13 plus were the exception At present I have one bitch with gastro-intestinal disease but she is 13 plus and is doing well on medication and leads an active life for her years.
    The only incidence of Cancer in my lines has been in the siblings and or progeny of my dogs who have all been fed on dry foods!!!

  5. Agreeing with you all! It seems like pet obesity is on the rise, along with the poor quality of manufactured food, so the scientists should focus on the dog diets to find answers…

  6. Plz make sure I continue to rcv. Info on this study. I have a 7 yr old golden, Cody & being on a fixed income I don’t have the means to take care of a SERIOUS illness & would dye if I had to put this gentle, gentle giant down to soon!!! I am fortunate that I have a 13 yr. old dauchsund, Oscar, a black cat, Shadow aprox. 9 yrs. old & Cody. They all interact very well with never an issue. They all love little children, my grand children LOVE them all 3!!! I don’t know if the constant companionship will extend there lives but I certainly would like to think so. Just thinking about losing any one of my trio makes me tear up right now!!! I’very tried to feed them L.I.D. foods. My dauchsund because of food allergies & the other two because it seemed like the right thing to do. All 3 are adopted & couldn’t be loved any more… Thank you for listening & sharing this important info in your study!!!

  7. I try to feed my golden only meat mistly chicken shes 8 years old very healthy but on the heavy side 80 lbs i give her fish oil every day let her fig mole boles are what ever atleast four times a week for exercize and to keep her nails worn down naturally how much should she way i take her for car rides often she rolls the window down in car likes to ride with her head out the window i try to allways take back roads

  8. I have had 4 Goldens in the last 20 years. The first 2 died of liver cancer at 13 and 9. Another one developed osteosarcoma at 6 years old and the other one that is 5 is fine for now. I would guess the causes are breeding inferior lines and food quality. I have only feed my dogs top quality food so I would guess it is more about the breeding lines than it is the food. I just hope they find some clues as Goldens are some of the best dogs around. Even with the cancer I would not trade them for anything.

    1. Indeed, I think food quality has been horrendous over the last decades (just like it has been for us, humans) and it is a great step forward to see so many premium healthy foods out there.

      They are probably over promising and under delivering but still, it can only be an improvement.

  9. I first had a 5 year golden no other health issues that developed lymphoma and did 4 months before her 6th birthday. I now have a 13 year old golden who has health issue basically her entire life, hip dysplasia, arthritis, torn acl . She is in fairly good health now just old, blind and spoiled. They were both raised basically the same, mostly dry food. The 13 year old get occasionally digestive problems we thought because she was old so we have switched to beniful wet food for most of her meals she does still have some dry food.

  10. You know, when it comes down to it: it’s no different than people (when addressing cancer.) There are obvious triggers/contributors, but it eventually all boils down to genetic disposition. You can feed your dog organic, raw, blah, blah, blah all you like and he/she may still develop cancer. Some dogs (it’s annoying) can eat grocery store “junk food” their whole lives and die of old age. I live in a non-smoking household, never used “junk food” and have lost 2 cats and a golden to cancer, yet currently have a 13 year old cat and an almost 11 year old golden who are more than fine. They just happen to be exceptions to the rule. Not much else has changed in their environment.

    I am interested in a true, full-“factors” study that shows that “the majority of dogs who eat x,y,z” do or do/do not develop cancer. I have a suspicion that the numbers for either side will be in the 50/50 range…

    Obviously the numbers change with age. I still think the main study would show that via bloodline(s) there is a connection and that the food, environment and supplements are not major factors when it comes to cancer. Obviously things like hip dysplasia and other things have already been proven to be genetic and there’s not much we can do to fix them after the fact.

    As our goldens age, their diets need to be modified anyway because of sensitive systems. If they make it past 10 with no cancer I think we have already won. Whatever else you do, or whatever else you feel you didn’t do (after a pet dies) is almost irrelevant.

    The most important part is to love and cherish them and feed them emotionally. My dog still runs around like a goofy puppy. She gets tired faster, but the motivation is still there!

    1. It’s pretty true… Just like with cigarettes and alcohol. Life is so easily taken away that it’s hard to focus on a few points and consider than these will assure a longer life.

      Yet, we can’t dismiss an improved health and diet just because we and our dogs can die of plenty of other stuff.

      And the point made by the researchers here is that unpredictable deaths are and will always be sensibly the same. So why is the overall lifespan declining? Because of cancers provoked by human actions that repeated themselves over the last decades.

    2. I agree with the person above. It is the same as people, some live a very healthy lifestyle and get cancer and die young and others who never take care of themselves live to a ripe old age. It is the same with animals……..genetics play a big part and also humans and animals are more incline to get a cancer the older they become. I just had to have my retriever put to sleep as she had liver cancer. I dont know why I was so shocked when told that by the vet. I could not believe it she had had a great life, expensive food and lots of love and exercise. I thought it would be her hind legs that let her down but cancer. It not has taken all my family and close friend, 2 cats and now my very best friend that I loved more than life itself. Cancer sucks big time!

  11. I just lost my golden boy Mikey yesterday. He was 13 years old. He had his spleen removed at age 11 and it was benign. When we took him in this weekend for breathing issues, he was found to be severely anemic with high lymphocytes and low neutophils. Scans showed enlarged nodes in his body and neck. They said his needle aspiration followed their prognosis of lymphoma. He had laryngeal paralysis which made his condition acute and in need of surgery in order to breathe on his own. We decided to euthanize and it has been weighing heavily on me. I keep asking ” What if he would have made it through the surgery?” Or “What if chemo would have helped the lymphoma?” I am looking for answers. 13 was not long enough with my boy.

    1. Denise, you made a decision and stick to it. What If’s aren’t helping you and I know you can’t do otherwise and it is probably lopping on and on and on and on in your head but you made the right decision for yourself.

      Now, finding answers and helping the next generations of Labs and Goldens to improve their life expectancy is awesome and you have to be commanded for that.

      I sincerely wish you all the best Denise.

      L

      1. I agree with the person above. It is the same as people, some live a very healthy lifestyle and get cancer and die young and others who never take care of themselves live to a ripe old age. It is the same with animals……..genetics play a big part and also humans and animals are more incline to get a cancer the older they become. I just had to have my retriever put to sleep as she had liver cancer. I dont know why I was so shocked when told that by the vet. I could not believe it she had had a great life, expensive food and lots of love and exercise. I thought it would be her hind legs that let her down but cancer. It not has taken all my family and close friend, 2 cats and now my very best friend that I loved more than life itself. Cancer sucks big time!

    2. Denise I am very sorry for your loss really I am. My lovely Lucy had LP from the age of 10 and the vet told me to cut her walks down and no going out in hot weather. She coped well but than was diagnosed with Liver cancer this March and I had to have her put to sleep on the 1st April aged 11. To say it has broken my heart is an understatement. She was my best friend and apart from when I worked she was with me the entire time. I loved her so very much so having to make the decision to say goodbye was the kindest thing I could do for my girl. I owed it to her not to let her suffer……….and I bet you was exactly the same……….

    3. Chemo only actually helps 3% of cases compared to placebo, so personally and for my pets, I’d never go down that route. I think you can relax. You did the kind thing, and stopped your dog from going through a lot of suffering. I wish someone would do that for me when the time came. xx

  12. I have had many Goldens mine recently died of lymphoma. Your never ready to let go, but it is much better than seeing them suffer. You have your wonderful memory of your loving pet, friend, and/ or family dog. I have had them live from 8 years to presently a 15 year old is my oldest. My dogs where my family’s best friends.

  13. I just put my 12 year old golden down feb. 28 2017. He was my service dog because I had a brain tumor surgery and he helped me recover so much. He is the best dog ever and I will always remember him. He meant everything to me. He was my only friend.

    1. It’s hard when they leave us but one day we’ll reunite and their tail will wag like it never has before. All the best Jeffrey, stay strong and make sure you get through this.

  14. I really think vaccinations have a huge part in the increasing cancer rates. People vaccinate their pets nowadays much more frequently than they used to, and for a larger variety of things. I believe the immune system is the most important factor in preventing cancer by detecting and destroying abnormal cells. “Dr. Schultz agrees autoimmune disorders are more prevalent in both pets and humans than they were 20 or 30 years ago. He thinks there are a number of reasons for the increase, and without question, vaccines are among them. Dr. Schultz also blames the presence of intoxicants, environmental pollutants and chemicals in our world today.
    The rabies vaccine for example contains adjuvants like aluminum and thimerosol (mercury based) which is a grade 3 out of 4 carcinogen. If golden retrievers as a breed are genetically predisposed to having a weaker immune system due to popularity and therefore high coefficient of inbreeding (all it takes is one popular sire with bad genes), then vaccinations should be avoided as much as possible after their first year.

    1. Ditto that. Vaccination courses and commercial dog foods are, to me, the most cancer-inducing habits nowadays. Obviously genetics and inbreeding doesn’t help anything either.

    2. Not me I dont believe in all these vaccinations……that is about the vets making money out of people. Lucy was vaccinated when she was a pup and that was it. She died aged 11 from cancer.

    3. I agree — I started asking for titer tests for both of my Goldens. They are expensive to have done but my dogs have not been vaccinated for many years now. Our vet would vaccinate them every year if he had his way, however, he did admit he was surprised that my dogs seemed to be doing well without them. Sometimes you just have to do what you think is right, even if professionals try to tell you otherwise. My goldies are 10 and 11 now and I try to feed them real food, do not over vaccinate and make sure they get plenty of exercise and love every day. There is nothing you can do for their genetic makeup but you can help them live longer. Love Goldens xx

  15. We just lost the love of our lives to T-Cell Lymphoma this past Sunday. Luke was our 8 year old Golden. Like all the Goldens described in the posts here, he was truly a gentle loving soul. Our hearts are forever broken. I have been avidly reading and researching human nutrition for about 6-7 years and now canine nutrition and yes, they are very similar where the foods we consume are not meant for our bodies nor our dogs. I recently read a very interesting line. “If the food you are eating has a list of ingredients, DON’T EAT IT! Now grant it we all have “busy lives” but to what good does it do if we do not have the proper nutrition. Same for our pets. Dogs and cats are not meant to eat processed food! period. To that end, we and our pets are dying this slow agonizing deaths due to illness bred by chemicals, pesticides and more and more drugs. The insanity has to stop somewhere. Unfortunately I do not think I will see it in my
    lifetime. Big Pharma and food companies like Monsanto need to be pushed back and stopped. I believe the solution lies in better quality foods and reducing the drug overload. I would like to keep updated on more findings from the “study” that was mentioned in earlier posts.

    1. I can feel the pain and sorrow in your comment and I am supporting you 300%. It’s horrible. The (pet) food industrials and manufacturers are having a race towards the worst. Our dogs are fed shit while the owners believe that it’s very ‘nutritious, balanced and complete” simply because of the disgusting packaging and marketing going with dog food.

      If you have netflix, look at the documentary PET FOOLED, it’s worrying.

  16. Our Golden Retriever is 14,years old and only started slowing down in the last 12 months. He had a mainly raw meat diet until about 12 years of age with dry food and the occasional treat. We found that the common skin complaints disappeared when we put him on a grain free dry food and he’s always been healthy, happy and active. We went back 5 generations to assess hips, elbows, eyes etc before choosing a breeder. He was one of a litter to a new English sire bringing in new blood lines. Best dog I’ve ever owned and most loyal family dog.

  17. Have they looked into lifestyle rather than diet. I grew up with dogs eating people food and being mostly outside during the day maybe ininside at night. Every dog had purpose in his mind chase squirrels hind ducks whatever. I’ve heard in people many die shortly after retirement. Are we causing this by changing the lifestyle?

  18. Our golden lived one month shy of being 16. She got a lot of human food as I didn’t want to waste what my kids didn’t eat. She had her basic vaccines and a booster. They need vaccines but not every year or every three years. Do humans get vaccines every year and we live a lot longer than 16. Keeping them active, stimulated and slim is key. We helped our wonderful Taffy girl to the rainbow as her body just wore out and her kidneys weren’t working very well. Everyone has a different opinion but over vaccinating and giving them chemicals in their bodies they don’t need is key. Depends where you live and if you really need flea/tick, heart worm etc. Not a fan of raw as that contains parasites worms. Comparing a dog to a wolf is like comparing a human to an ape. I’m not going to eat like an ape so my dog is not going to eat like a wolf. Similar but not the same diet. Besides Wolves don’t live to be 16.

  19. I love my Golden Retriever more than I love life itself. This is simply because my beloved, late husband and I adopted her (Leia) when she was 3 years old in November of 2009. When my husband unexpectedly passed away he was the only one to truly share the grief with me when it became Leia’s time to go and that is still true today. She just turned 11 years old this November 2017 and is doing very well.

    I am a high level quadriplegic and needed to stay with family after my husband’s unexpected death but they lived across the country from where we were living. So Leia and I made the trip from Arizona to Pennsylvania. after 3 years, I was devastated when my sister and brother-in-law (along with other family members albeit very few) wanted me to “move on” when I knew I had nowhere to go. I was not going to go anywhere without Leia and I am not wealthy. To make a long story short… there was not one single apartment or house nearby my family so I made the decision to move back with a live-in caregiver that I found online. I believe things happen for a reason and of all the people who could have responded to my ad (people who would have left me by now or worse) this live-in caregiver is extremely loving and caring and knows not only a ton of information about caregiving but about many animals. I did not know this when I hired her but I had to do something. So Leia and I made the trip back to Arizona from Pennsylvania! She absolutely loves riding and so she made both trips with happiness in an ambulance style transportation company.

    When I lived with my sister and brother-in-law I got her US Certified to be my Support/Companion Furbaby and so the apartment complex I chose to live in (trying to find an affordable house now) does not charge me any fees. I take her with me whenever I can and she absolutely loves going to Wal-Mart and all the employees and shoppers love to stop and talk to her and ask to pet her. She has always been EXTREMELY skitter-ish since day one and has gotten better over the years. This is not normal for a Golden Retriever so I must assume that she was somehow abused which makes me sick to think about. She flinches so easily.

    Anyway, she has not left my side since my husband’s passing in June of 2012 and she is laying right here next to me on the floor because I have to stay in a hospital bed when I sleep and I have had my share of problems since I have moved here keeping me bedridden.
    She loves coming home as well as she loves going. She is the most intuitive and perceptive dog I have ever had and I love her to pieces since she is basically all I have left. I lost my parents when I was age 13 and 16. I then lost my grandparents. I had lost my first common-law husband after 13 years together and then losing my husband and my best friend who was more than I can even begin to explain here as far as sacrificing everything for me and the 2 Goldens we adopted with our first been adopted in December 2001. He had never had a dog as a family member but not long after adopting our first… his commentary was “How did I go this many years (over 50) without adopting a most beautiful dog?” Leia follow him around like a duckling following its mother because I was bedridden much of the time with a Stage III wound. Then, after his death, she knows that I need her and has not left me since. When we had to put our previous Golden that we adopted from another family when she was about 4 years old (we had to guess because she did not come with any papers) my husband broke down and cried like a baby and I had to be the strong one even though our previous Golden “Brandy” had gone to service dog classes with me despite me having to stop the classes because she was diagnosed with hip dysplasia. I was not going to make dog work in pain.

    In May of 2009 Brandy was diagnosed with Stage III mast cell cancer which we accidentally found when my husband was rubbing her time me and he saw a small outer growth on her skin. We took her to our veterinarian (such angelic man over all these years who just retired) and he said that it was probably nothing (even though he was a well seasoned vet… probably 30 years or more) but he thought he should remove it and did so that afternoon. He thought we should do a biopsy just in case. We did not hear from him 2 weeks and so we thought no news was good news and then the call came and we got the diagnosis which is basically a death sentence. He said it took so long because he wanted to talk to the lab technician himself because he had no idea it was that bad. We were happy to enjoy a full year with Brandy before she exhibited “signs” which included not being able to keep her food down. We kept locks of her hair and we have so many photos (well, I do since my husband is gone) since my husband was a photographer. Brandy was a “Red Golden” whereby she had beautiful auburn hair. When I took her for walks people were always yelling out their car windows how beautiful she was and she made so many people happy as she loved other people and children!

    Back to Leia. When we adopted her from her other family they said she was part Labrador but since she looks like a Golden. If she IS a part Lab my guess would be 5%. They named her Leia and she is nothing less than a princess!!! Since I am basically alone now I do not know what I would do without her and all she has done for me. After my husband died I began to have “Psychogenic Nonepileptic Seizures” which I had never heard of before in my life. But I found out. So now when it is time for Leia to go and without my husband here to help with the grief and not knowing that I have been alone for so long and I can’t feed her or take her out with help. I am going to be MUCH MORE than a basket case. I can’t even watch a happy movie with dogs without crying very hard (with great happiness) because they touch my heart so much.

    I am hoping and praying that Leia has a few good years left. Her eyes and ears are impeccable but it is now a little bit more difficult for her to get around now. I think Cosequin and Desoquin do more than help their joints and ligaments. I stumbled upon Cosequin when Brandy began limping with her front right leg and couldn’t stand it. My husband went to medical school and was a Chief Lab Technician and he was the one to make the comment whereby he thought Cosequin helped Brandy lived longer than she normally would have with her dreadful diagnosis. I started Leia on Cosequin when she was 7 even though she did not “need” it.

    Thank you for reading my story.
    ~Lori and Leia

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