Deerfield Blog

DNA Tests for Pets Help Us Understand Genetic Disease

For thousands of years, humans have selectively bred a variety of domesticated animals, creating many different breeds and unique types.  While these historic farmers and breeders were focused on producing the highest quality of wool from sheep or the muscular build of a Rottweiler, they were unaware of other, more destructive traits that were passed on as well.

Genetics is the science of heredity and how specific physical traits are passed from generation to generation in any organism.  Most everyone can relate to genetics from high school science courses showing color blindness in human males or if you have the ability to roll your tongue.   But, serious, life threatening diseases are also often governed by our genes and this holds true for pets and other animals as well.

Take Penny, for instance.   She was a Pembroke Welsh Corgi, a breed of dog known for excellent cattle herding skills and a love of family.   Sadly, these Corgis are also known for a genetic condition known as Degenerative Myelopathy, or DM.  This disease essentially causes damage along the spinal cord, leading to progressively worsening weakness in the rear legs.  Eventually, Penny was unable to move her rear legs due to paralysis.  She was humanely euthanized after a long life with a family she adored.

DM is not a treatable disease, but scientists have now pinpointed the mutation responsible for this illness.  Almost four dozen different dog breeds have this altered gene present.  Recent research has shown that only dogs who receive a copy of the mutated gene from both parents will develop the condition.  This is known as a “recessive trait”.  Other recessive conditions in animals include certain enzyme deficiencies in cats or some skin issues in horses.

Not all genetic diseases are this simple.  Some are passed as dominant traits, some are linked to specific physical attributes and still others have multiple genes affecting the eventual outcome.  Even the environment can influence the process of the disease or condition.  Hip dysplasia in dogs is an example of a multi-gene and environmentally impacted problem.

The entire sequence of the canine genome was published in 2005.  The genome of our feline friends was published around 2007 and just recently, the entire gene sequences of a Quarter Horse and a Thoroughbred have also been discovered.  The good news in all of this is that as scientists and veterinarians better understand the root causes of hereditary issues, tests to find the disease and even possible treatment options become available.

Dr. Gus Cothran, professor at Texas A & M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine says that genetic testing will continue to prove to be of great value to veterinarians and even pet owners.  “Imagine doing blood tests to find animals that are carrying certain mutations that might lead to deleterious conditions or diseases.  Now, we can remove these animals from breeding programs before they are bred and help reduce the incidence of some very serious problems in our domesticated animals.”

Tests for degenerative myelopathy in dogs and polycystic kidney disease in cats are just two of the dozens of genetic screenings that are now available.  Facilities like Texas A&M’s Animal Genetics Lab and the University of California at Davis’ Veterinary Genetics Lab provide testing for animals ranging from our dogs and cats all the way up to horses, llamas, pigs and cattle.  Other private companies, for example, VetGen or DNA Diagnostics Center, have also started reaching out to veterinarians and pet owners interested in this sort of testing.

While these tests may not remove the possibility of genetic disease, they still can be very valuable.  Knowing the chance for disease exists can prompt pet owners and veterinarians to start intervention programs, such as swimming or increased exercise in the case of Corgis, which might delay the onset or progression of the condition.

Anyone interested in breeding domestic animals should familiarize themselves with the potential for genetic diseases.  Your veterinarian can be very helpful in determining what kind of conditions are considered hereditary and even help you find the resources to test the animals you want to breed.

More

Do You Know Someone Who Wants To Become A Veterinarian?

Whether meeting a client for the first time or even while traveling on an airplane, it’s not unusual for a veterinarian to hear something similar to “Oh, I always wanted to be a veterinarian!”  Veterinary medicine consistently ranks among the most respected and admired professions.  Pet owners and animal lovers do think highly of veterinarians, but many don’t know the incredible schooling that these animal doctors must complete.

Additionally, when asked what a veterinarian does, most people will respond with a phrase about “taking care of animals.”  While that is certainly true, most are unaware of the incredible diversity of careers found in the veterinary profession.  Not only do veterinarians care for our companion animals and our livestock, but they are also found doing important research that benefits both people and pets or even helping governments track and prepare for newly emerging diseases.  Veterinarians are active in the military, our food inspection services, in the public health sector and even in designing new foods and medications to help animals.

So, what does it take to become a veterinarian?

First, good grades throughout high school and an undergraduate program in college are essential.  Course work should be strong in math and sciences, but it is also important for the student to be well rounded.  As an example, communication courses are vital as the majority of veterinarians will need to effectively explain complex medical diseases and terminology to pet owners or ranchers and farmers.

4H steer showingThese early years are also a great time to focus on finding a job or volunteer opportunity that gives hand on experiences with animals.  Veterinary hospitals and animal shelters often accept school age volunteers, but don’t forget about the possibilities offered by Future Farmers of America programs or the local 4H.  These days, weeks and months of working closely with animals can help a prospective veterinary student understand the challenges of animal care.

After a minimum of two years of undergraduate work, the process for applying to veterinary school can begin.  Competition for the open spots is extremely fierce.  There are 28 schools of veterinary medicine in the United States with 4 in Canada and another 4 located in the Caribbean.  Compare that to the 134 human medical schools in the US!  Also, each of these universities generally only accepts about 100 students for each veterinary class, meaning that about 3000 slots are available for each new class.   Again, human medical schools graduate about 20,000 new doctors each year.

Once accepted, new veterinary students will find that their school days will be very regimented and filled with an incredible amount of information.  For the first two years, the focus is on the sciences.   Lectures on the anatomy of various animal species, physiology, microbiology and many more subjects are the focus on the student’s days.

DVM student and dog on exam tableThen, as the students progress into their third and fourth years, all of the information they committed to memory can now be used in a practical manner as they move towards more hands on work in the veterinary teaching hospitals and labs.  Students interact with veterinary instructors and actual clients as they learn the important skills of client interaction.  These “soon to be veterinarians” also find opportunities to assist in surgeries, extensive dental procedures and, of course, daily rounds with the attending veterinarians at the hospital.

When graduation finally arrives, the learning and education process is not over for these brand new animal doctors.  In order to practice veterinary medicine, new graduates must pass national and state board exams.  Then, even as they are learning the expertise of daily routines at their new job, continuing education (CE) is a requirement of all veterinarians.  This CE helps veterinarians stay on top of a variety of technological and treatment protocol changes.

Some veterinarians continue their education, specializing in areas like dentistry, radiology, or even lab animal medicine.  There are almost 40 different specialty organizations and veterinarians who seek to become a specialist may add another 4-6 years on to their education.

As you can see, becoming a veterinarian not only takes passion and intelligence, but a fair amount of sacrifice and commitment as well.  The degree of “Doctor of Veterinary Medicine” or “Veterinary Medical Doctor” is one of diversity and certainly a rewarding profession.

More

Sleeping with Pets…Deadly Nightmare or Sweet Dreams?

Most pet owners don’t read or keep copies of the periodical, Emerging Infectious Diseases.  But, when a newspaper cited this journal in an article describing the dangers of sleeping with pets, people took notice.  When the same story was repeated hundreds of times, across all kinds of markets over 18 months, more and more individuals began to wonder of their pets should be on the floor instead of the bed.   Were these pet owners right to be worried?

It all started in 2010 when a veterinarian and professor at the University of California at Davis, Dr. Bruno Chomel, published an article stating that sleeping with your pets includes the possible risk of contracting zoonotic disease.  Zoonoses are illnesses that have the potential of spreading from animals to people.

Despite knowing that it would be an unpopular opinion, Dr. Chomel flatly stated that “pets don’t belong in your bed.”  News outlets across the country took the opportunity to share this information with their audiences, generating headlines like “Sleeping With Pets Can Endanger Your Health” or “Cuddling with Dying Pets Gives Owners Scary Infections”.

Make no mistake, the risks of contracting a disease or a parasite from your pet are very real.  Fungal diseases like ringworm, bacterial infections like the plague and even certain parasites are all capable of transmission from our dogs and cats directly to us.  The real questions, though, are just how common are these issues and what can pet owners do to prevent the diseases?

The good news is that it is not difficult to prevent or minimize the risks for zoonotic diseases.  Dr. Elizabeth Bradt, a veterinarian in Salem, MA says that “maintaining good hygiene practices and always washing your hands after interacting with your pet goes a long way to prevent these sorts of problems.”  In one of the cases outlined in the Emerging Infectious Diseases journal, an elderly man recovering from surgery allowed his dog in bed with him.  The dog licked the man’s incision site leading to a case of meningitis.

In other serious cases, three pet owners were hospitalized with rare respiratory illnesses after providing palliative care for their dying pets.  In each case, the owners developed an infection caused by a type of bacteria of the Pasturella species that are common in the mouths of our pets.   These owners shared utensils with their pets and allowed their animals to lick them for extended periods of time.  Thankfully, all three owners recovered with a short course of antibiotics.

All of these individuals put themselves at a higher risk for transmission of disease because of their actions.

Beyond routine hygiene, regular preventive care for your pets is another great safety precaution that any pet owner can take to avoid zoonotic diseases.  Pet owners should carefully consider their veterinarian’s recommendations in order to keep the whole family healthy.

As an example, fleas are the natural carriers of the bacteria causing the plague.  Keeping pets on safe and effective flea medications can help prevent this deadly illness from occurring as well as prevent other problems like tularemia (rabbit fever), cat-scratch disease or even tapeworms.  In another case listed in the Dr. Chomel’s article, he cites a young boy contracting plague because he slept with his flea infested cat.  If this cat had been on a flea preventive, the likelihood of the boy contracting this illness would have been greatly reduced.

Dr. Bradt also says that “the bottom line is that you can catch a disease from your pet whether you sleep with them or not.  There is nothing inherently dangerous about sleeping with a pet.”  Don’t let unfounded fears keep you from the unconditional love of a pet.  Ask your veterinarian how you can keep your pet healthy and a part of your family.

More

Pet Food Recall

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – April 05, 2012

Diamond Pet Foods is voluntarily recalling Diamond Naturals Lamb Meal & Rice. This is being done as a precautionary measure, as the product has the potential to be contaminated with salmonella. No illnesses have been reported and no other Diamond manufactured products are affected.

Individuals handling dry pet food can become infected with salmonella, especially if they have not thoroughly washed their hands after having contact with surfaces exposed to this product. Healthy people infected with salmonella should monitor themselves for some or all of the following symptoms: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramping and fever. Rarely, salmonella can result in more serious ailments including arterial infections, endocarditis, arthritis, muscle pain, eye irritation and urinary tract symptoms. Consumers exhibiting these signs after having contact with this product should contact their healthcare providers.

Pets with salmonella infections may have decreased appetite, fever and abdominal pain. If left untreated, pets may be lethargic and have diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, fever and vomiting. Infected but otherwise healthy pets can be carriers and infect other animals or humans. If your pet has consumed the recalled product and has these symptoms, please contact your veterinarian.

The product, Diamond Naturals Lamb Meal & Rice, was distributed to customers located in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Virginia, who may have further distributed the product to other states, through pet food channels.

Product Name Bag Size Production Code & “Best Before” Code

Diamond Naturals Lamb & Rice     6lb                   DLR0101D3XALW Best Before 04 Jan 2013

Diamond Naturals Lamb & Rice     20lb                 DLR0101C31XAG Best Before 03 Jan 2013

Diamond Naturals Lamb & Rice     40lb                 DLR0101C31XMF Best Before 03 Jan 2013

Diamond Naturals Lamb & Rice     40lb                 DLR0101C31XAG Best Before 03 Jan 2013

Diamond Naturals Lamb & Rice     40lb                 DLR0101D32XMS Best Before 04 Jan 2013

Consumers who have purchased the Diamond Naturals Lamb & Rice with the specific production and “Best Before” codes should discontinue feeding the product and discard it.

At Diamond Pet Foods, the safety of our products is our top priority. We apologize for any inconvenience this recall may have caused. For further information or to obtain a product refund please call us at 800-442-0402 or visit www.diamondpet.com.

More

Spinal Cord Injuries – Veterinary Research Helping People and Pets

Experts estimate that more than 12,000 spinal cord injuries (SCI) occur every year in people and that more than a quarter of a million Americans are now living with some form of SCI.  These injuries are not limited to humans, but happen frequently in our pets as well.

In people, damage to the spine often occurs due to a traumatic event, such as a car accidents, severe falls or even sports activities.  Such injuries happen most often to younger men.

In dogs, not only are there a variety of accidents that cause SCI, but many breeds of dogs, can develop a bulging or full prolapse of the discs that are located between the vertebrae.  This bulge puts damaging pressure on the spinal cord, causing pain and even paralysis.  Any sort of pressure, trauma or tearing of the spinal cord is truly an emergency situation.

In both human and veterinary medicine new treatments are focused in an attempt to block certain biochemical pathways after injury to save mobility. But, until now, many of these treatments have been unsuccessful.  Consequently, the human may spend the rest of their life in a wheelchair while many pets are euthanized due to costs or the owner’s inability to care for a pet who is unable to walk.

Two dachshunds by poolDr. Jonathon Levine, a veterinarian and resident in neurology at Texas A & M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine says “about 3% of all hospitalized cases in veterinary medicine were due to disc related spinal cord injuries.”  In certain breeds, especially dachshunds and other long bodied, short legged dogs, the incidence of SCI due to disc problems approaches 25%.

In some situations, especially traumatic events, like a dog being struck by a car, the onset is sudden and easily recognizable.  But in other cases, the signs are much more subtle.  Dogs with slow developing disc problems often show weakness in the limbs, abnormal gait, incoordination and pain across the back.  Without treatment, these pets may eventually lose the ability to walk.

Close up of MRI image, dog spineNew advances in diagnostic technology, including increased availability of even more powerful MRI units for pets, have enabled veterinarians to more accurately pinpoint the cause of spinal injuries.  But, the fact still remains that far too many dogs and people suffering lasting serious consequences, from spinal cord injuries.

In conjunction with the University of California Medical School, Dr. Levine and the team at Texas A & M are exploring a new drug that may protect the nervous system after spinal cord injury.  Certain enzymes in the nervous system can actually destroy vital components of the blood-spinal cord barrier and of myelin, the protective covering over nerves.  This current research looks at a new compound that may block these destructive enzymes.  “We are hoping that this new drug will protect the nervous system shortly after injury, improve the outcome and help more dogs walk in these cases.” says Levine.

The importance of this study cannot be overstated.  This is the first veterinary clinical trial that has been funded by the National Institutes of Health.  In addition, because of the potential benefits to both dogs and people, the Department of Defense has also provided grant money to continue the research.  Many of the quarter of a million people living with spinal cord injuries are soldiers wounded while in war zones.

Pet owners, especially those with specific breeds prone to back problems need to be aware of the subtitle signs of potential problems.  A veterinarian should see any dog that cries out during play, has difficulty navigating stairs or that has any sort of uncoordinated gait.  Pets that are overweight are more prone to spinal issues, so keeping your pet trim is one way to minimize the risks.  In some cases, owners may receive a referral to a veterinary neurologist or surgeon for advanced care.

More