Dog lovers and veterinarians have a new breed-specific database of diseases to help keep hounds healthy and dachshunds disease-free.
A recent study published in the Journal of Veterinary Medicine examined 82 breeds of dog to pin down which breeds suffer from which diseases.
"If we can anticipate better how things can go wrong for dogs, we can manage their wellness to keep them as healthy as possible," said study co-author Dr. Kate Creevy, of the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, in a press release.
This study can help pet owners and veterinarians to create health care programs for specific breeds.
For example, the researchers found that in general larger breeds are more likely to die of musculoskeletal disease, gastrointestinal disease and cancer. Smaller breeds, though, suffered from metabolic diseases, such as diabetes and Cushing's disease, at higher rates.
Some specific breeds were also noted to suffer from particular diseases.
Cardiovascular disease strikes these breeds more frequently:
Chihuahuas (19 percent of deaths)
Maltese (21 percent of deaths)
Fox terriers (16 percent of deaths)
Cancer strikes these breeds more frequently:
Golden retrievers (50 percent of deaths)
Boxers (44 percent of deaths)
Bouvier des Flandres (47 percent of deaths)
Some of these breeds were known to be at risk for the diseases, but others were not. The two toy breeds, Chihuahuas and Maltese, were known to suffer from heart problems, but the danger to fox terriers was previously unknown, explained the researchers.
The same was true of the high rate of cancer in Bouvier des Flandres, a rare breed. This study provides vets with an important tool when dealing with rare breeds, said the researchers.
"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 said. "But if you analyze records that have been compiled over 20 years, you can detect patterns that you wouldn't otherwise notice."
To create this wealth of knowledge about canine disease, Creevy and her co-authors scoured the Veterinary Medical Database to determine the cause of death for nearly 75,000 dogs over the 20-year period of 1984 through 2004. The causes of death were then classified by organ system and disease. The data was further broken down by breed, age and average body mass. Altogether, 82 breeds were studied.
Looking at such a large number of breeds lays the groundwork for further studies that will look at how genetic differences and similarities between breeds influence disease.
Since dogs are all from the same species, Canis lupus familiaris, they have many genetic similarities. But the large physical differences between breeds allow researchers to look at how a small number of different genes cause a wide variety of physical effects.
By combing genetic data with their recent study of clinical causes of death, the University of Georgia researchers hope to pinpoint some of the genetic influences on diseases like cancer.
Understanding disease in dogs could shed light on human diseases as well. Dogs and humans have genetic similarities, noted study co-author Daniel Promislow, a genetics professor at the University of Georgia, in a press release.
"Is genetic variation for disease due to a few genes that vary in the population and have a big effect or dozens or hundreds of genes with small effects? That's a basic biological question that we can address," Promislow said. "There's potential to learn a lot about the genetics of disease in general using the dog as a model."
IMAGE 1: A veterinarian medical assistance team (VMAT) member does a check-up on a dog injured during Hurricane Charley. (Wikimedia Commons).
IMAGE 2: A Chihuahua (Wikimedia Commons).