Background: Dogslife is the first large-scale internet-based longitudinal study of canine health. The study has been designed to examine how environmental and genetic factors influence the health and development of a birth cohort of UK-based pedigree Labrador Retrievers.
Results: In the first 12 months of the study 1,407 Kennel Club (KC) registered eligible dogs were recruited, at a mean age of 119 days of age (SD 69 days, range 3 days - 504 days). Recruitment rates varied depending upon the study team's ability to contact owners. Where owners authorised the provision of contact details 8.4% of dogs were recruited compared to 1.3% where no direct contact was possible. The proportion of dogs recruited was higher for owners who transferred the registration of their puppy from the breeder to themselves with the KC, and for owners who were sent an e-mail or postcard requesting participation in the project. Compliance with monthly updates was highly variable. For the 280 dogs that were aged 400 days or more on the 30th June 2011, we estimated between 39% and 45% of owners were still actively involved in the project. Initial evaluation suggests that the cohort is representative of the general population of the KC registered Labrador Retrievers eligible to enrol with the project. Clinical signs of illnesses were reported in 44.3% of Labrador Retrievers registered with Dogslife (median age of first illness 138 days), although only 44.1% of these resulted in a veterinary presentation (median age 316 days).
Conclusions: The web-based platform has enabled the recruitment of a representative population of KC registered Labrador Retrievers, providing the first large-scale longitudinal population-based study of dog health. The use of multiple different methods (e-mail, post and telephone) of contact with dog owners was essential to maximise recruitment and retention of the cohort.