Report from 2017 AKC/CHF Parent Club Conference

by Madonna Holko

I just returned from the 2017 Parent Club Health Conference, which has been held biannually for almost twenty years. The AKC Canine Health Foundation, along with Purina, holds these meetings to update parent clubs on the research they are funding, mostly in hope of getting more money. No matter how much information comes out of each year's research, it only serves to illustrate how much we don't know.

This year again highlighted lymphoma, epilepsy and tick disease, with emphasis on unlocking the secrets of the canine genome in hopes of finding better ways to attack these scourges. Researchers are trying to find the exact genetic signature of different diseases with a goal of designing drugs to attack them specifically. This is especially important in lymphoma because only about 7000 of the annual 250,000 dogs diagnosed with lymphoma are treated. Treatment either costs too much, is poorly tolerated by the dog which upsets the owner, or has a very poor prognosis. Researchers are looking at probiotics and keto$enriched diets in hopes of alleviating epilepsy suffering. As in the past, human research is helping canine, and vice versa.

What really needs to concern us are the "new" bugs that are coming after us. I say "us" because, even though these are canine diseases, they are also zoonotic, which is a fancy way of saying they go after humans, too. Bartonella may be a new bug to most of us, but it has been around since 1990. What has changed is that, while it was once known as a single species, it now is up to 36 species, 17 of which affect humans and dogs. Since it finds a reservoir in just about any mammal, it is a worldwide threat. It is spread by ticks, fleas, lice, mites or even spiders biting an infected host and giving it to its next victim. It causes a chronic disease which means symptoms can be treated but the disease can't be cured.

A "new" old disease that was thought to have been exterminated in the United States has come back with a vengeance, canine brucellosis. This disease gets into the cells of its victim, rather than the blood or interstitial fluid so, again, its symptoms can be treated but it can never be cured. It is controlled in cattle, goats and pigs but the canine version is easily transmitted to humans. There is no test to determine if a dog, or human, has brucellosis canis, only a pig version that shows whether or not antibodies are present. This disease causes infertility, sterility, and small to no litters and is equally bad for males and females. It is so easily transmitted to humans, that in research labs, technicians must be completely covered, including wearing masks. The best solution for a dog that is infected is euthanasia. It has become more widespread in the United States because of dogs imported from South America, Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. In Brazil alone, over 50% of the dogs test positive for it. Importing rescue dogs from these countries has reintroduced it here.

What can be earned from these conferences? We will most likely never see the end of the need to finance research. Each step forward causes a sidestep that turns into a dance. The researchers will always be looking for new ways to attack diseases and improve treatment. What can we do? First and foremost, if your dog is diagnosed with a health issue, follow the treatment schedule. Lack of owner follow-up was a continual complaint. What good is a new treatment if it isn't followed? How will researchers know if a method works? Even more important if your dog is diagnosed with a life threatening disease, find out if there is a clinical trial for which he/she qualifies. There are never enough volunteers.