Researchers are looking for a few good pets to donate their time, blood, and feces for science. Mars Incorporated—the makers of several popular candy and pet food brands—recently launched its Pet Biobank project. The study is expected to track the health of 20,000 domestic dogs and cats over a 10-year period. The eventual findings may help scientists learn how to better identify health problems in pets early on, among other things.
Longitudinal studies are routinely conducted with humans around the world. The basic concept behind them is to monitor the health outcomes of a large, representative sample of a population over many years. This proactive approach, compared to looking at people retrospectively or at a single point in time, is generally better at revealing how our health can change as we age; it can also provide stronger evidence of a cause-and-effect link between suspected risk factors and specific health problems. On the flip side, though, they’re more time-consuming and expensive than other types of population research. Biobank studies are often longitudinal, and they also collect biological samples from volunteers, such as blood, which can be then used for even more in-depth research.
There’s been relatively little similar research done with pets. So the Mars Petcare Biobank, as it’s formally known, may be the largest of its kind. The project, announced last month, will look to study 10,000 dogs and cats each.
Pet-owning families will be recruited at various participating Banfield and VCA hospitals across the U.S. (both veterinary hospital chains are owned by Mars). Volunteered pets will be given a yearly standard check-up, while vets will collect and store their blood and poop samples. In exchange for participating, the annual check-ups will be free for the duration of the study, and the owners will be given a gift card after the first visit. They’ll also receive a free activity monitor for their dogs, and a free DNA testing kit for their dogs or cats.
Human biobank studies are an important part of scientific research, since they can help establish or confirm findings about our health. And the people behind this pet biobank hope that the same will be true for their project.
“We aim for this biobank to drive breakthroughs in scientific knowledge for the future of pet health,” said Poul Weihrauch, president of Mars Petcare, in a statement announcing its launch.
The dog portion of the study is already underway, with cats expected to join in later this year. Pet owners who want to know more about the study, including their potential eligibility, can visit the project’s website here.