Gene Discovery Could Extend Lives of Golden Retrievers

Gene Discovery Could Extend Lives of Golden Retrievers

Golden retrievers are beloved for their friendly nature and loyalty, but they also face a high risk of cancer, with up to 65% dying from the disease. Researchers at the University of California, Davis, have discovered a gene associated with longevity in golden retrievers, which could help extend their lives significantly. This discovery, published in the journal GeroScience, offers new hope for improving the lifespan and health of these popular dogs.

The Longevity Gene:

The gene identified is HER4, also known as ERBB4, a member of the human epidermal growth factor receptor family. This family includes genes like HER2, which is known for its role in cancer progression in humans. Researchers found that specific variants of HER4 were associated with an increased lifespan in golden retrievers by nearly two years.

Study Findings:

The study involved over 300 golden retrievers, comparing DNA from dogs that lived to 14 years old with those that died before age 12. The results showed that dogs with certain HER4 gene variants lived, on average, 13.5 years compared to 11.6 years. This nearly two-year increase in lifespan is equivalent to an additional 12-14 years in human terms.

Implications for Longevity:

  1. Potential Cancer Mitigation:

    • Benefit: The HER4 gene may help mitigate the effects of other genes that predispose golden retrievers to cancer.
    • Impact on Longevity: By reducing the impact of cancer-causing genes, HER4 could help extend the lives of golden retrievers and improve their overall health.
  2. Gender-Specific Findings:

    • Benefit: The gene variant was particularly significant for female dogs, potentially interacting with hormones like estrogen.
    • Impact on Longevity: Understanding these gender-specific effects could lead to more targeted approaches in extending the lifespan of female golden retrievers.

Future Research:

The study is a promising step toward understanding the genetic factors influencing longevity in golden retrievers. Researchers plan to enroll a larger population of dogs to confirm these findings and explore how the HER4 variant impacts gene expression and function. This ongoing research could not only benefit golden retrievers but also provide insights applicable to human cancer studies.


The discovery of the HER4 gene variant associated with increased lifespan in golden retrievers offers hope for extending the lives of these beloved pets. By mitigating the genetic predisposition to cancer, this finding could lead to healthier, longer lives for golden retrievers and potentially inform cancer research in humans. As research continues, this breakthrough may pave the way for new strategies in promoting longevity and health in both dogs and people.