About the group

​DogRisk is the only independent and university-based research group in the world, which analyses the connections between diets, environmental factors and chronic diseases that affect dogs. Founded in 2009 by PI Anna Hielm-Björkman and largely funded by donations, our mission is to help dogs live happier, healthier and longer lives by preventing chronic diseases.

​For the past 15 years, our team of researchers have conducted free-to-view research about the connections between diets and a range of chronic diseases in dogs, such as cancer, diabetes, epilepsy and chronic skin and gut problems. Through our research, we have shown how dog owners can make informed decisions about their dog’s diet and the factors they can change, which will benefit their dog’s health and help them to avoid these chronic diseases. 

Collecting research data directly from dog owners

DogRisk’s research began in 2009 when PI Anna Hielm-Björkman and microbiologist Shea Beasley launched the DogRisk Food Frequency Questionnaire (FFQ). ​

The aim of the questionnaire is to identify possible true cause-effect relationships between diet and chronic diseases in dogs and then to test them in future diet interventions. By collecting data from dog owners, we can create a longitudinal "snapshot" of what dogs had been eating, where they had lived, how active they had been, their phenotype, their diseases, and more. By having all this data, we can understand a dog's life, prior to getting a disease. The FFQ also contains a lot of covariates so that we can model the disease and environment/diet associations.​

Since its creation, over 12,000 dog owners have completed the various iterations of our questionnaire. Previously the survey has only been available in Finnish, however we are now working on a new questionnaire which will also be available in English.

​Clinical studies

In addition to analysing the data from our questionnaires, we also conduct clinical studies. The first clinical study in the DogRisk program was the food trial in 2013–2014. In this trial, we studied atopy and allergies in Staffordshire Bull Terriers and how these diseases are affected by nutrition, genes and metabolism. ​

We also wanted to collect as many dogs as possible so that we can use this data bank when we are searching patients to new clinical studies.

Combatting Chronic pain in Dogs

The leader of DogRisk, DVM PhD Anna Hielm-Björkman opened a pain and rehabilitation clinic at the University of Helsinki Animal Hospital already in 1997. 

As part of this clinic, she has supervised several DVMs till PhDs and Principal Investigators (PIs,) plus 2 animal physiotherapists (PTs) until PhDs and PIs. We have seen the clinic grow to now include four animal PTs, a lameness lab, a water physiotherapy section, an acupuncture clinic,using laser, and other therapies. 

Anna is also the innovator of the internationally used chronic pain assessment tool for dogs; The Helsinki Chronic Pain Index or HCPI, for short. Like all tools that DogRisk has developed, this too is for the dog owners. It consists of 11 questions that the owner answers and depending on the answers, points are given, and depending on the number of points, the owner can see if their dog suffers from chronic pain or not.

An easy-to-use form of the HCPI can be found in the Pawesomer app (international version) or TassuApu app (Finnish version), that again, is made just for pet owners' convenience. The HCPI is the perfect tool to evaluate your dogs osteoarthritis staging.

One Health Approach

Our One-Health focused group has realized that dogs and people often nowadays suffer from the same diseases. They also share the same living environment, are subjected to the same toxins, drink the same water, and often even share the same food. Philogenetically dogs are much closer to humans than mice or other laboratory animals and the sterile environment of laboratory animals is not at all similar to that of humans. The dog is therefore an excellent model for research of diseases that humans and dogs have in common. The group also study diet, nutraceuticals, and other non-conventional therapies for these same diseases. 

COVID-19 Detection Dogs

During the COVID-19 pandemic, our research group made international headlines when it was part of a multi-university research project in Finland, which proved dogs could be trained to detect COVID-19 infections and subsequently trained COVID detection dogs for Helsinki-Vantaa airport.​

You can read more about our "corona dogs" here.

Ethics: No laboratory animals

The DogRisk research group never uses laboratory animals in their clinical studies. Instead, we use client-owned pet dogs that have spontaneous diseases and are already affected by the disease when participating in the trial. We believe making animals sick in laboratories is unethical and does not mimic the real-life situation of spontaneous diseases in dogs and humans. Our "research dogs" are your dogs and our dogs and they live normal lives with their family during the trial and only come to the Veterinary hospital for necessary visits. The most painful operation done during the visits is the blood sampling...and that is not painful.​

In addition, the DogRisk group does lots of epidemiological studies that do not require using living animals at all, only that owners answer our surveys.

Future Research Plans

​We are now planning to undertake the world’s first study into the effects of diet on the emergence of osteoarthritis, which is caused by hip and elbow dysplasia and leads to chronic pain in dogs. ​

To do this, we are launching a fundraising campaign and our aim is to raise 50,000 euros, which will allow us to pay the salary of a researcher for one year to conduct this pioneering study and analyse the data we collect from dog owners around the world. ​

You can donate to DogRisk here and find out the different ways you can support our work here