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Hope for dogs suffering from common health ailments

By Kelley Weir

One of the fascinating aspects about the studies Morris Animal Foundation supports is how they address the ailments that affect pets most. Although the Foundation often provides support for research on the heavy hitters in the disease world, such as cancer, kidney disease, heart disease and others, animal health scientists also turn to the Foundation for funding to research less devastating yet common health issues—the ones that account for most veterinary visits.

For dogs in the United States, some of the top concerns are associated with skin conditions and the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, and both health issues have been topics of recent studies supported by Foundation funding. These problems may cause symptoms such as “hot spots” or notable skin infections, excessive itching, vomiting or diarrhea.

an easy pill to swallow to diagnose GI disorders

Many animal lovers have been there before: it’s late at night and they are cleaning up yet another mess on the carpet. Dog owners may think the dog is doing this on purpose, but vomiting and diarrhea are common among dogs and often associated with altered gastrointestinal motility, which is difficult to diagnose. Dr. Pedro Boscan and his team from Colorado State University recently began studying a novel, noninvasive, wireless sensor capsule developed to easily evaluate gastrointestinal motility disorders in a home environment. Researchers hope to test more than 70 healthy dogs to find out more about gastric emptying, small and large bowel transit time and other patterns.

Dr. Boscan hopes the results will establish for the first time the normal gastrointestinal transit parameters for dogs of different sizes in a nonstressful home environment. Once normal gastrointestinal transit parameters are determined, the information and technology could help veterinarians better diagnose gastrointestinal problems while dogs are at home rather than at the clinic—ultimately cutting costs and discomfort to the patient and, likely, the owner.

scratching the eternal itch

Another common reason for veterinary visits is the dog with the never-ending itch. According to the Banfield Applied Research and Knowledge Team, which analyzed health data from more than 1.7 million dogs in 2009, dermatitis—inflammation that causes itching—is one of the top 10 diagnoses in dogs of all ages. Over the years, Morris Animal Foundation has funded a number of studies to address common skin allergies and issues.

For example, a study at North Carolina State University looked at whether hydroxyzine, one of the drugs most commonly used to treat atopic dermatitis in dogs, provides an antihistamine effect and, if so, what the appropriate dose is for dogs. Atopic dermatitis is the second most common allergic skin disease in dogs, and antihistamines are among the most commonly prescribed treatments, but their effects haven’t been validated in dogs. Researchers successfully determined that hydroxyzine produces an antihistamine effect and that dogs should receive a twice-daily dose, rather than the previously standard prescription of three times a day.

Most recently, two of the Foundation’s veterinary student scholars studied skin infections related to bacteria or disease. Katherine Doerr, a student at the University of Florida, looked at  atopic dermatitis. This type of dermatitis is chronic and usually worsens with age. Affected dogs develop recurrent skin and ear infections that decrease their quality of life. Humans with atopic dermatitis exhibit defective permeability of the skin, which increases their risk for sensitization to allergens. Doerr studied the skin barrier in beagles, a breed particularly prone to atopic dermatitis, to determine whether these dogs experience a similar condition. If the skin-barrier function proves to play a key role in atopic dermatitis, the information could be used to develop future treatments that prevent allergic sensitization in dogs.

Doerr compared diseased and healthy canine skin cells at very high magnification and detected structural differences between the two samples. She learned that atopic dermatitis causes cellular changes that are more pronounced with secondary inflammation. By knowing the structural differences between the diseased and healthy skin cells, it is hoped that new therapies can be developed to reduce the severity of the disease in affected dogs.

Laura Eberlein, who will finish veterinary school this year at the University of Tennessee, studied canine bacterial skin infections caused by Staphylococcus. Determining the best way to treat skin infections has become increasingly difficult because many infections are now resistant to antibiotics. Her research focused on genomic DNA sequencing of Staphylococcus to better understand why bacteria are resistant to antibiotics and to establish a beginning point to reverse this problem. Eberlein was able to sequence large portions of the genome and found several genes responsible for resistance and other regions that shed light on how resistance is spread between individual bacteria.

Her research is a ray of hope for owners with dogs affected by persistent and chronic skin infections. Studies like these will help veterinarians better manage chronic conditions in dogs, increasing their quality of life and keeping them healthy.

Posted by on March 1, 2011.

Categories: Animal health, Canine health, Dog health


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Submitted by Barbara at: August 31, 2012
I have a soft coated wheaten terrier that suffers from itching of the skin and hot spots. He is on a gastro ID diet. What else can I do?
Submitted by Jen at: March 3, 2011
Dog "allergies" or skin issues are the number one problem at our practice. Doing our own research we have found that many skin problems are deficiencies of a specific nutrient. So, we no longer prescribe harmful steroids for these cases but supplements instead. We have found that zinc, omega fatty acids, specific vitamins all play a role in resolving the problem. We have recommended natural supplements that contain foods that have the nutrients so they can be absorbed easier. Our favorite is Dinovite as it is a well rounded food supplement that has worked in hundreds of cases for us.