This year has been an unforgettable one for all of us. The spectre of coronavirus has impacted on many aspects of our lives including health research into animal disease.
Sadly, this year has seen the Animal Health Trust forced into liquidation. Founded in 1942 the AHT was an independent animal charity which received no Government funding and employed in excess of 200 vets, scientists and support staff. The Trust provided clinical referral services for both small animal and equine cases and was highly regarded for its work in the fields of infectious and genetic diseases, oncology and stem cell research.
In 2009 the Kennel Club entered into a partnership with the Genetics Research Department at the AHT and over the years this has proved a fruitful union doing much to advance our knowledge of the genetics of a number of important canine diseases and leading to the development of DNA tests for 22 of them. These tests are applicable to around 50 different breeds so their use has helped to reduce the incidence of the conditions within the gene pool and to directly avoid the birth of thousands of dogs doomed to be afflicted by painful or life limiting conditions.
Like many charities the Animal Health Trust had been struggling with funding in recent years and unfortunately this was greatly exacerbated by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, leading to the Trust officially going into liquidation on 31st July of this year.
At breed level the AHT partnered the University of Missouri in the development of the DNA test for Spongioform Leuco Encephalo Myelopathy (SLEM) and was the laboratory which provided the test in the UK .It was also storing a large number of DNA samples intended for use in research into trying to establish the genetic basis of Canine Epileptoid Cramping Syndrome(CECS) also known as Paroxysmal Gluten Sensitive Dyskinesis(PGSD).
Dr. Cathryn Mellersh, leader of the team at the Kennel Club Genetics Centre at the AHT, has managed to arrange for the DNA material being held at the AHT to be transferred to the University of Cambridge where it is hoped that much of the research and testing will recommence. Unfortunately this has caused problems with SLEM testing. At present this means that the only laboratory which offers SLEM testing is that of OFA/University of Missouri. They are prepared to accept samples from the UK, so if anyone urgently needs tests done before they resume in the UK they could utilise their service .If it proves likely that there will be an extended period before the test becomes available again in the UK we will look at perhaps making more use of this facility. The latest news on that in January is, however, positive and it is hoped that the Kennel Club and the University of Cambridge will soon come to an agreement which will enable testing to re-commence.
On the subject of SLEM I am pleased to report that there have been no confirmed cases of any affected puppies having been born this year. Although it may have been difficult to have potential breeding stock screened this year we now have a sizeable number of dogs known to be CLEAR, either by testing or hereditarily. Provided at least one member of a proposed mating pair is known to be CLEAR no affected puppies will be born.
Breeding advice continues to be that it is irresponsible to mate a CARRIER or UNKNOWN to anything other than a CLEAR and that any pups from such matings should not be bred from until their genetic status has been ascertained.
One of the casualties of the Animal Health Trust closure has been a delay in Mark Lowrie's further research into CECS/PGSD. The proposed investigation into trying to identify possible genetic factors involved in the condition has been put on hold. Hopefully the project will continue.
Gall Bladder Mucocoele(GBM) has again been the subject of much interest this year. We know that after a meal, cholecystokinin(CKK) is released by the duodenum and that its function is to cause release of digestive enzymes from the pancreas and also contraction of the gallbladder with the release of bile into the intestine via the common bile duct.
Research by Barker et al has shown that dogs affected by GBM have reduced levels of CCK as opposed to unaffected animals. They also show an increased immune response of IgA, an immunoglobulin which has a role in maintaining mucous membranes within the body. It is postulated that a combination of these two factors results in gallbladder hypomotility thus allowing for the accumulation of bile and mucus within the biliary system. It is also suggested that PGSD could be an underlying causal factor but further studies will be needed to confirm this.
Last year it was announced that Border Terriers had been removed from the list of breeds being monitored for late onset hereditary cataract. Very few cases had been recorded over the years so this seemed like a sensible move. However, though true that few cases had been confirmed it was equally true that only a small number of animals had been tested.
We know that cases are being recorded in North America and in Scandinavia so it would be naive to assume that we don't have the condition in the UK. Unfortunately previous requests for details of confirmed cases have met with a poor response. However, this year possible cases have been recorded in two littermates and their breeder has kindly put the information into the public domain. The Breed Health Group is keen to try to establish if this is a significant issue within the British Border Terrier population and if we need to be encouraging more widespread eye testing. It would be appreciated if owners could fill in a questionnaire for all eye tested dogs, clears included. These may be downloaded from the Breed Health Site--- borderterrierhealth.org.uk .
There has been a better response to our request for owners to fill in questionnaires this year and including the respondents to the CECS/PGSD one we have had 75 returned including 10 from overseas. These questionnaires help us to monitor both existing and emerging health issues and it would be great if as many owners as possible could fill them in for all their dogs even those which they regard as being completely healthy.
Of the 64 dogs from the UK ,age range 8months-18years, 16 were reported as having no health issues. The remaining 48 animals suffered from a range of conditions with a few unfortunates having multiple health issues.
The conditions reported were:
ENDOCRINE (12) consisting of: Cushing's Syndrome(8), Hypothyroidism(3), Diabetes(1)
ORTHOPAEDIC(4):Osteoarthritis(3), Bilateral rupture of anterior cruciate ligament(1)
CARDIOVASCULAR(3):Congestive heart failure(2), Patent Ductus Arteriosus(1)
DIGESTIVE(16): GallBladder Mucocoele(9), Pancreatitis(2), Inflammatory Bowel Disease(5)
NEOPLASIA(7):Lipoma(3), Mammary(1,) Soft tissue sarcoma(1), Testicular(1), Warts(1)
NEUROLOGICAL: CECS(10), Other seizures(2)
BEHAVIOURAL ISSUES(3): Aggression(2),Excessive timidity(1)
DENTAL ISSUES (2)
OCULAR(10) :Progressive Retinal Atrophy(1), Underdeveloped optic nerve(1), Diabetic cataract(1), Senile cataract(1), Cataract detected at BVA eye exam(6)
4 clear BVA eye examinations were also reported.
We also received 11 reports from overseas- Canada, Denmark, New Zealand and the Netherlands. 3 dogs had no health issues and conditions reported in the others were: CECS(1), INFLAMMATORY BOWEL DISEASE(1), MAMMARY TUMOURS(1), ALLERGIC SKIN DISEASE(1).
5 Eye exam results were declared,1 of which had bilateral cataracts and the other 4 were clear.
It is encouraging that owners have been responding to our requests for details of confirmed cases of Cushing's Syndrome, GBM ,CECS/PGSD and also cataracts and I hope that more will continue to do so.
The Breed Health Group declared our intention to set up an Open register for Cushing's Syndrome and we are considering it for other conditions. We appreciate all survey forms completed and would ask as many as possible of those reporting these conditions to give permission for their dog's details to be published.
Remember, sharing knowledge is the best way to maintain good health within our breed.
Eddie Houston B.V.M.S, M.R.C.V.S
Breed Health Coordinator