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Vets’ school plea for help to save breed

Vets at the University of Liverpool are looking for Dobermann volunteers to participate in a study to combat heart disease.

The dogs will take part in a screening programme to detect early signs of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a heart condition that is particularly common in the Dobermann breed. Vets at the University of Liverpool have joined forces with the Dobermann Breed Council who represent all ten Dobermann clubs in the UK, to formulate this DCM screening programme.

The disease, which can affect dogs, cats and humans, causes the heart to become enlarged and weakened. Over a number of years the contraction of the heart begins to decline and the muscle becomes enlarged, but the dog’s owner may not detect any symptoms of the disease for some time. When the dog does show signs of heart failure the disease progresses rapidly and can be fatal within weeks.

Veterinary cardiologist, Nuala Summerfield, based at the University of Liverpool’s Small Animal Hospital, is leading the national screening programme for Dobermanns with DCM, which will be established at specific veterinary centres across the UK. The hospital is looking to recruit 300 healthy dogs over three years old to participate in the programme.

The screening programme will be free-of-charge, although participants will be asked to make a voluntary donation towards this expensive study.

A blood sample will be taken from each dog for a general health check and a part of this will be retained for DNA extraction and genetic analysis. An ultrasound of the heart will also be taken to measure the size of the individual heart chambers and to determine how well the heart is contracting. Data collected from the trials will be used to study the role of proteins and genetics in causing DCM.

Nuala explains: "It is important that we find treatments in the symptom-free stage, as once the dog begins to show outward signs of the disease, it is much more difficult to treat. Drug therapy used in the later stages of the disease has proved disappointing and therefore early routine screening tests will prove essential in saving lives of dogs with DCM.

"Currently very little is known about DCM in both domestic animals and human beings. Through this study we hope to form a more accurate picture of how the disease works and more importantly how we can prevent it.

"We aim to use this knowledge to identify if there are any genes involved in causing the disease, which will help scientists develop genetic tests to screen young dogs before the condition arises."

The national screening programme will be officially launched at the Midland Dobermann Club Open Show at Belper Leisure Centre, Belper, Derbyshire on Sunday, 20 February, where dog owners and breeders are invited to learn more about the disease and new research.

If you would like your dog to participate in the screening programme or attend the official launch please contact Carol Smith DBC Health Co-ordinator at the Midland Dobermann Breed Club on 0115 932 1698