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Database of Diseases Helps Keep Hounds Healthy

DogResearchers at the University of Georgia (UGA) have published a 20-year retrospective study of canine mortality. The study appears in the March/April 2011 edition of the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine.

Study data was compiled from the Veterinary Medical Database (VMDB) and included records for approximately 75,000 canine deaths from 1984 to 2004.

The study breaks down certain causeMusculoskeletals of death according to age, breed and size of the animal, and there were some surprises. For example, the Bouvier des Flandres, a rare breed, dies more often from cancer than the Boxer. The high rate of cancer in more common breeds like the Boxer and Golden Retriever is well-known.

According to study co-author Dr. Kate Creevy, assistant professor at UGA's College of Veterinary Medicine:

"With rare breeds, an individual veterinarian may not see enough cases to be able to develop the opinion on whether the breed has a high incidence of conditions such as cancer," Creevy says. "But if you analyze records that have been compiled over 20 years, you can detect patterns that you wouldn't notice otherwise."

The study also revealed that:

  • Large breed dogs die most often from gastrointestinal or musculoskeletal diseases, or cancer
  • Smaller dogs are most often victims of metabolic diseases
  • Gastrointestinal or infectious diseases most often claim the lives of younger dogs
  • Older dogs most frequently die from neurologic and neoplastic disorders
Dr. Becker's Comments:

According to Dr. Creevy, co-author of the UGA study:

“If we can anticipate better how things can go wrong for dogs, we can manage their wellness to keep them as healthy as possible."

As a proactive veterinarian, I certainly like the sound of that!

‘Managing wellness’ is a proactive approach to keeping pets healthy. It means building a foundation of good health with the right nutrition and lifestyle choices. It also means dealing with small health challenges before they become chronic conditions or full-blown disease.

Information about what dog is prone to which disease can help pet owners and veterinarians take proactive steps to reduce or even eliminate the risk to individual dogs.

This information should also be useful in diagnosing existing health problems.

Study Objective

The objective of the UGA study was to determine the causes of death by breed, for about 75,000 dogs over a 20 year period.

According to UGA study authors, past research has compared disease rates between purebred and mixed breed dogs. Those studies have revealed, for example, that the following conditions are more prevalent in purebred than mixed breed dogs:

Diabetes, on the other hand, occurs more frequently in mixed breed dogs.

Studies of large breed dogs have uncovered some interesting findings, including:

  • Generally speaking, dogs from smaller breeds live longer than large breed dogs, but with within a specific breed, bigger individuals are more likely to live longer.
  • Body mass is a more important factor in lifespan than height.
  • Smaller breeds have a greater frequency of certain insulin-like growth factor 1 alleles.

The UGA researchers separated deaths into two primary categories: organ system (OS) and pathophysiologic process (PP). Study authors “… hypothesized that causes of death, categorized by organ system (OS) or pathophysiologic process (PP), would segregate by age, body mass, and breed.”

The 11 OS (organ system) categories were cardiovascular, dermatologic, endocrine, gastrointestinal, hematopoietic, hepatic, musculoskeletal, neurologic, ophthalmologic, respiratory, and urogenital.

The 9 PP (pathophysiologic process) categories were congenital, degenerative, infectious, inflammatory (including immune-mediated), metabolic, neoplastic, toxic, traumatic, and vascular.

Organ System Study Findings

The five breeds with the highest rates of death due to gastrointestinal causes were:

  • Great Dane
  • Gordon Setter
  • Akita
  • Shar-Pei
  • Weimaraner

If your dog is a breed prone to bloat (Gastric Dilatation Volvulus), there are steps you can take to reduce your pet’s risk of developing this life-threatening condition.

Death from cardiovascular disease was most prevalent in:

  • Newfoundland
  • Maltese
  • Chihuahua
  • Doberman Pinscher
  • Fox Terrier

If your dog is a breed with high risk of heart disease, there is now a blood test available that can help with early diagnosis.

Musculoskeletal causes of death were most frequent in large breed dogs. The top five:

  • Saint Bernard
  • Great Pyrenees
  • Irish Wolfhound
  • Great Dane
  • Greyhound

Respiratory disease caused death most often in Bulldogs, Borzois, Yorkies, Afghan Hounds and Treeing Walker Coonhounds.

Pathophysiologic Study Findings

Cancer was a leading cause of death in this category for all breeds.

The 5 breeds with the highest incidence of cancer deaths were:

  • Bernese Mountain Dog
  • Golden Retriever
  • Scottish Terrier
  • Bouvier des Flandres
  • Boxer

There is now a canine cancer blood test available that is able to detect 85 percent of a variety of the most common types of cancers in dogs at the standard 95 percent specificity.

Infectious disease-related deaths were most common in these breeds:

  • Treeing Walker Coonhound
  • American Staffordshire Terrier
  • Greyhound
  • English Pointer
  • Cardigan Welsh Corgi

Trauma most often caused deaths in Australian Heelers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Jack Russells, Miniature Pinschers, and Australian Shepherds.

Keeping Your Own Canine Companion Healthy

You can’t predict the future for your own beloved pet, but you can certainly do everything in your power to make sure he’s healthy today.

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