Category Archives: Companion Animals

Albino Doberman Pinschers: genetic culprit identified!

doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0092127.g001

doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0092127.g001

Researchers at Michigan State University have finally identified the genetic mutation that causes albinism in Doberman Pinschers. The same gene can also cause a form of albinism in humans. This gene mutation results in a missing protein that is necessary for cells to be pigmented. And unfortunately, both dogs and humans with albinism can experience sun sensitivity and are at a higher risk for skin tumors. But identifying the genetic culprit behind the condition is a big deal!

This gene can be carried without being expressed, which means that a dog that doesn’t exhibit albinism could pass the gene to its offspring. This research could help improve Doberman breeding programs by identifying the genes to select away from. Healthier dogs are good for everyone!

Humans and animals are more similar than you may think when it comes to genes, diseases, and illnesses. In this particular case, the genetic variance that causes albinism is similar in dogs and in humans. It’s possible that this knowledge could allow researchers to look at possible ways of preventing skin tumors in dogs with albinism, and then translate those results into treatments for humans!

http://msutoday.msu.edu/news/2014/mans-best-friend-shares-similar-albino-gene/

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0092127

Prospects for puppies with parvovirus: possibly pleasantly positive!

sick puppyAnyone who has worked at a vet clinic likely knows the nightmare called PARVO. Canine parvovirus is an extremely contagious viral disease that attacks white blood cells, can cause permanent damage to the heart, and is often fatal, even after expensive treatments. But thanks to geese, puppies may have a light at the end of the tunnel… and not that light!

While working on treatments for geese with West Nile virus, researchers at Avianax discovered that antibodies harvested from the yolks of goose eggs could be purified, put back into other birds, and effectively treat the animals.

Naturally, their next step was… saving puppies, of course! Incredibly, this new drug can work in as quickly as two days against parvovirus. So far, early tests are showing a 90% cure rate, and at a projected $75 a dose, this could be a game-changer! Trials will run through the fall of 2014, and the hope is that this treatment could be on the market by spring of 2015.

Avianax has also realized that these antibodies could potentially make a difference when it comes to treating rabies, dengue fever, bird flu, and some kinds of cancer. Human trials are considerably more expensive and time-consuming, so future studies are definitely further down the road, but this is something worth keeping an eye on!

http://bostonherald.com/business/business_markets/2014/06/trial_results_promising_for_curing_puppies_parvo

Sea otters helped by artificial clams

iStock_000032380552SmallIn the last five years, 24 sea otters have stranded and died in the Monterey Bay area. Veterinarians noticed a strange yellow coloration to the animals, so they performed necropsies and determined that the cause of death was something pretty unexpected- microcystin.

Microcystin is a cyanotoxin produced by algae, and because it’s generally found in freshwater, deaths in ocean mammals are particularly troubling. Investigation led researchers to a nearby freshwater lake, where they used ‘artificial clams’- small bags of polystyrene beads- to give them some answers. The bags can be left in the water for periods of time, and much like real clams, they passively absorb toxins. Later, they can be analyzed to determine toxin levels over a period of time.

Researchers confirmed that the lake was the source of the problem. They found that a combination of natural phosphorous in the underlying rock combined with chemical runoff from local agriculture created the perfect environment for the algae that produces microcystins. When the lake water fed into the ocean, invertebrates such as clams and mussels in the ocean collected the toxin and concentrated it. When sea otters fed on the toxic clams, they were slowly poisoned.

They’ve found the source, but now it’s a question of how to address it. Researchers are working on potential treatments for microcystin poisoning (with the help of rats!), and hopefully, this will lead to treatments that can help marine animals as well as humans.

http://www.the-scientist.com//?articles.view/articleNo/39864/title/Sea-Otter-s-Scourge/

A single-shot cure for cancer

healthcareThat’s the goal: “a single-shot cure for cancer.” For Stacy Erholtz, a 49-year-old cancer patient battling multiple myeloma, a heavy dose of the measles virus put her in complete remission!

Mayo Clinic researchers injected patients with an engineered measles virus that is similar to the measles vaccine. But this wasn’t your normal vaccine; the virus was engineered to make it toxic only to cancer cells, and Stacy was given enough to vaccinate 10 million people.

The measles virus makes cancer cells group together and explode. This gets rid of the cancer cells and triggers the immune system to react against them. For Stacy, it worked. One other patient in the trial experienced a reduction in bone marrow cancer and tumor growth, but cancer returned after 9 months.

While success in one patient doesn’t prove that researchers have found this single-shot cure, it’s definitely a proof of concept. The virus killed cancer cells while leaving other body cells unharmed, and while cancer patients have been treated with viruses in the past, this is the first time that a patient with full-body cancer has experienced remission after virotherapy.

Virotherapy has been tested in animal models in the hope of developing treatments for breast cancer, endometrial cancer, gallbladder cancer, and even canine cancer. A single-shot cure for cancer could revolutionize treatments for our loved ones and pets! Read more about this particular study here:

http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/15/health/measles-cancer-remission/

Family dog saved… by rats!

Levi by Lake JacksonAnnabelle, an Australian Shepherd, was spending time with her family at a Montana lake when disaster struck. As they were heading to the shore, Annabelle jumped out of the boat, swam to shore, and in the process of drying off, she licked her wet fur. This is a pretty normal thing for a dog to do, but this time, it almost turned deadly. 

When fertilizers or other organic nutrients enter lakes and streams, it can result in large blooms of blue-green algae called cyanobacteria. Unfortunately, cyanobacteria living in this particular lake had produced a liver toxin called microcystin, and after Annabelle ingested it, she quickly became sick. Her veterinarian rushed to find something that could save her life.

Cholestyramine, a drug that had worked against this type of poisoning in rats, was suggested. It had never been tested in dogs, but Annabelle had no other option- without some type of treatment, she would die.

After her vet administered the drug, Annabelle started improving the very next day! Researchers hope that results in one species will give them an indication of the way other species will react to the same drug or treatment. Fortunately for Annabelle, this was a case where rats and dogs had the same type of reaction to this particular treatment, and without those rats, Annabelle wouldn’t have survived. Read more about it here:

http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/39760/title/Dog-s-Worst-Friend/

Zoonotic diseases: It’s not all bad news

iStock_000007898418SmallZoonotic diseases are diseases that can be spread between animals and humans. And they’re more common than you may think- did you know that about 60% of all human pathogens are zoonotic?

You probably know about many of these. You may know that you can contract Lyme Disease from a tick bite, or West Nile Virus from infected mosquito bites. You might know that you can get salmonella from handling reptiles and amphibians, and you’ve definitely heard of H1N1, the swine flu. And if you’ve been paying attention, you’ve also heard of MERS, hantavirus, and tularemia. (Warning: creepy.)

But it works both ways: humans can also transmit diseases to animals. It’s known that humans can spread the flu to companion animals, and new research shows that MRSA bacteria that infects dogs and cats is genetically similar to the MRSA bacteria that infects humans. Read: this bacteria likely originated in humans, and then spread to animals.

And although it’s scary to think of diseases crossing the species barrier (ebola or rabies, anyone?), there’s a silver lining here that shouldn’t be ignored. By studying routes of transmission and impact of diseases on both humans and animals, researchers can hopefully use these similarities to their advantage. A treatment that works on animals could potentially work on humans, and new therapies in humans could help our pets, too.

**Disclaimer: Photo was chosen because it was cute, not because the author condones kissing frogs. In reading this, you release the author from any responsibility if you decide to kiss a frog and contract salmonella, tapeworm cysts, or mycobacteriosis. Just don’t.

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend… but GOLD could help YOUR best friend!

Best BuddiesVeterinarians are investigating a gold-based drug as a treatment for dogs with osteosarcoma. About 80% of canine bone cancers are osteosarcomas, and generally the treatment involves limb amputation. Unfortunately, these cancer cells can spread to the lungs, so vets are looking at treatments that can help increase the survival rate of dogs with this disease.

Gold has been used in human medicine for autoimmune disorders because of its anti-inflammatory properties. This drug- aurothiomalate- has been used in humans in the past, and it has been successful in reducing cancer spread to the lungs. Researchers will start with cell cultures and mouse studies to determine this drug’s effectiveness for bone cancer.

It’s common that diseases in humans and animals are similar, and it would be great if this treatment proves to be successful in dogs AND humans! Read more about it here:

http://news.ufl.edu/2014/03/25/gold-salts/

YOUR golden retriever could save lives!

golder retriever puppies with motherOK, I’m not assuming that your golden retriever is going to rescue mudslide victims, sniff out bombs or detect low blood sugar levels. But if you have a golden retriever, it’s entirely possible that your dog could help save lives by advancing scientific knowledge. Interested?

The Morris Animal Foundation’s Golden Retriever Lifetime Study is enrolling golden retrievers in an attempt to learn how to prevent cancer and other diseases in dogs. They’re hoping to enroll 3,000 dogs- could your dog be one of them? Click here to find out more about the study.

Golden retrievers are awesome. They’re one of the most popular breeds, but unfortunately, many die of cancer. Information gained from the dogs in this study will benefit all breeds and could possibly help humans, too. And it’s an easy enough job; during annual vet visits, it’s as simple as quick blood and urine samples sent off for analysis.

Do you own a golden? Do you have a friend with a golden retriever? Pass this along; let’s help them fill this study!

http://www.denverpost.com/rss/ci_25443269

Dogs helping dogs AND kids with osteosarcoma!

Young girl and German shepherd dogAn opportunity for dogs to help people AND other dogs? It’s a win-win situation. It turns out that the biology of the most common kind of bone tumor in dogs (osteosarcoma) is that same as the biology of these tumors in children. By working with dogs with bone tumors, researchers can try different kinds of drugs in an attempt to increase the dog’s lifespan. While there’s no guarantee that a drug that works on these dogs will work in a human patient, researchers can get more information about the way the drug works on this particular cancer. This information will help them make a more educated guess as to whether or not it would work in a human. And while it would definitely be amazing if they could translate their results into humans, at the very least, they’re working hard to find an appropriate treatment for dogs with this disease!

In some research studies, animals are specifically bred for the particular study. In this study, their clinical trial involves pets that already have cancer. It’s estimated that only 5% of dogs with osteosarcoma will live past the age of 2. Awesome research- check it out!

http://www.kgw.com/news/local/Cancer-research-for-dogs-could-help-children-248458851.html

Your dog really DOES understand you!

Boy hugging his dogAs humans, we use ‘voice areas’ in our brains to recognize who is talking and determine the speaker’s emotion. The question: Do dogs process voices in the same way? Are dogs in tune to their owners’ emotions? The dog is often referred to as ‘man’s best friend.’ And new research is proving just how right that is!

It turns out that dogs also have dedicated ‘voice areas’ in their brains- and they’re in the same location as a human’s voice area. In a study looking at how dogs process different sounds, researchers in Hungary trained dogs (golden retrievers and border collies) to lie still in an MRI machine during brain scans while listening to dog and human sounds.

The study found that both humans and dogs were able to read the emotions of the other species correctly, and both responded to the emotions of the other species in similar ways.

What does this mean? Maybe the dog is man’s best friend because he really GETS us. If you own a dog, you’ve probably experienced this before. And now, when you think your dog is recognizing that you’re happy or sad, you can rest assured that you’re probably right!

http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-dogs-stay-brain-scans-20140219,0,7375654.story#axzz2u0H82AuT