Report from 2017 AKC/CHF Parent Club Conference Part II

by Madonna Holko

This report continues to describe some of the research presented at the Parent Club Health Conference this past August. At the last conference, two years ago, many of the presentations emphasized the importance of microflora in the intestines in disease treatment. This year was no different. While the bugs out to get us are usually quite easy to identify, the ones lurking in our stomachs and those of our dogs are more apt to cause the most trouble. Probiotics has become the new code word for good health. Read on to find what you, and your dogs, eat really does make a difference. Keeping the digestive system happy seems to be the way to good health for all of us.

Cancer research is always a major subject at the health conferences. This year the presentations focused on successes in identifying genetic markers that help identify which dogs may be at risk for which cancers, what type of medication would be most successful and how long that medication may work. Even with those advances, diet and environment can affect the outcome. The World Health Organization has developed a classification system for cancers which has been applied to those of canines. This system helps to determine prognosis and treatments. A database based on the information has allowed researchers to identify breed-specific predilections for certain cancers, and a basis for identifying genetic risk factors.

The use of probiotics to comfort dogs receiving chemotherapy was also studied. The results were extremely positive in dogs receiving doxorubicin (the most common cancer drug), easing GI toxicity. As was noted in the original report on the health conference, the aim was to be certain owners continued cancer treatment rather than giving up on it because of their dog’s gastrointestinal distress. Approximately only 7000 of the 250,000 dogs diagnosed with cancer yearly receive treatment. Cost, owner anxiety over chemo and poor prognosis are the major influences.

Epilepsy is also of great interest to the research community since it is found in all breeds. It does not have a single cause, so treatment needs to be approached from many angles. Researchers from the Royal Veterinary College in London undertook a study to determine if nutrition played a role in the success of treatment.. They presented evidence that when the correct medication and a reduction in stress is coupled with a ketogenic diet (high in fat but low in carbohydrates and protein, as well as salt), seizure control was increased. In their study of dogs with idiopathic epilepsy (no known cause) 48% of the dogs involved had a 50% or greater reduction in seizure frequency.

Another study in humans has indicated that those with epilepsy either have or develop intestinal problems. Therefore, it has been proposed that identifying the microbes in the gut, determining which are at fault, and finding ways to change them would be most beneficial to dogs and humans. This study also pointed to a ketogenic diet as being best for patients. Since studies in humans have found that increasing the level of lactobacillus bacteria, a normal resident of the intestines, increased the level of an acid that is one of the main chemicals used to transmit signals to the brain, providing a therapeutic effect in clinical trials on depression and anxiety disorders in humans. Researchers at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine are seeking to determine the differences in intestinal flora between healthy and affected dogs, and whether antiepileptic drugs influence their growth rate. They hope to identify the good guys and find ways to get rid of the bad.

There is a greater emphasis on finding genetic predisposition to certain diseases across the board. Epilepsy is the focus of one ongoing study which is focusing on two breeds which had sufficient DNA available, with the hope of applying data garnered there to all breeds. It is important to remember that all genetic research depends upon the number of dogs in a given breed that have volunteered their affected dog’s DNA. This study at the University of Missouri is focusing on Schnauzers and Poodles.

On a completely different topic, while still adhering to the effects of diet on health, was a presentation on a way to improve recovery and rehabilitation of dogs after surgery for cranial cruciate ligament disease. This study specifically tested Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets JM Joint Mobility effect on dogs recovering from such surgery and found reduced lameness, reduced inflammation in the operated joint and reduced progression of arthritis compared to dogs fed a commercial adult dog food. Owners saw less lameness when the dogs were moving or making sharp turns and rehabilitation exercise went smoothly. It was pointed out that spaying/neutering after one year of age may prevent cranial cruciate ligament disease because the sex hormones were found necessary for normal cruciate development.

In my first article, I emphasized the research into bacteria that were just as likely to infect humans as canines, brucellosis and bartonella. While bartonella is spread mainly by bites from fleas and ticks, brucellosis can be airborne. This disease was thought to have been eradicated in the United States but with the influx of dogs from countries with less rigorous testing, it has made a comeback. At the conference it was described as having shown up here because of rescue dogs being imported form basically third world countries, as well as breeding stock in certain breeds that originates in similar situations. Several weeks ago there was another story in local newspapers of another place of which we need to be aware. It seems that our security forces cannot find sufficient dogs in the United States to train for use at airports, military installations, and search/rescue operations so they are going to Europe, most often Germany, and buying entire litters of breeds known for their ability to do such work. Apparently it is their belief that dogs bred in Europe, eastern and western, are better subjects for the work they have in mind. While we may have every confidence in western European countries canine health, entire litters are being brought in from less advanced countries, purchased in Germany, and imported into the United States. Here, the puppies are parceled out to families to raise until they are old enough to begin training. It is important that we be aware of this threat and make an effort to mitigate it. Massachusetts is considering laws regarding importation of rescue dogs from anywhere. Maybe, more states should consider similar action.

There is a move to standardize genetic health testing so that is useful to anyone who needs it. The International Partnership for Dogs (IPFD) has been recognized as the appropriate body to create and oversee an online resource, cataloging information from commercial test providers, hosting reviews of genetic tests, coordinating a program for standardized testing, assembling resources for genetic counselling and education, and providing the foundation for future developments. While there are many agencies doing genetic tests there is no way to know which knows what it is doing or what it will do with the information. It is hoped that with organization, access to genetic testing will become more available and more reliable.

This was my third parent club canine health conference. The one point that has been the most frequently made is the need for sufficient volunteers for clinical trials/research programs. We can’t expect solutions to diseases to be found if we are not willing to help. Every little bit of information contributes. If your dog is diagnosed with a serious disease,, make an effort to find out if there is a research program that might be mutually beneficial. You only have to visit the Canine Health Foundation website to find out.