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Dobermann owners asked to help study into dog heart disease

Dobermann owners throughout the UK are being asked to help veterinary research in the largest ever study of their breed – and help protect their animals from heart disease.

The three-year study ‘PROTECT’ (Pimobendan Randomised Occult DCM Trial to Evaluate Clinical symptoms and Time to heart failure) is being carried out by investigators in the UK and Canada.

The study aims to recruit 70 dogs which will involve screening over 400 dogs to find suitable animals.

Simon Swift, a Veterinary Cardiologist from the University of Liverpool and one of the 15 UK investigators explained that approximately 11% of all dogs will suffer from heart disease at some point in their lives.

One of the more common conditions is dilated cardiomyopathy or DCM, which causes the heart muscle to become weak so that eventually the heart is unable to pump effectively. This can take many years meaning that a dog can have heart disease for a long time before symptoms will be visible. However, eventually it results in the appearance of signs of heart failure, such as weakness, exercise intolerance, difficulty breathing, coughing and weight loss.

The condition is most common in large (e.g. Dobermanns) and giant (e.g. Great Danes and Irish wolfhounds) breeds of dog. It can however, occur in smaller breeds such as Cocker spaniels.

The outcome for dogs with heart failure as a result of DCM used to be very poor. However, in recent years, treatment of dogs in heart failure with a regime including the drug pimobendan (Vetmedin®, Boehringer Ingelheim Ltd) has dramatically increased both quality of life and survival time. This has led veterinary cardiologists to question whether using the medication in the pre-clinical phase might be able to further improve the outcome for these dogs.

The question being asked in the PROTECT study is whether pimobendan given to Dobermanns prior to the development of signs of congestive heart failure will increase the interval before development of failure and increase overall lifespan.

When Dobermanns develop DCM, it appears that their rate of deterioration, once signs are showing, may be more rapid than in some other breeds. This makes it all the more important to identify the individuals who are likely to be affected early so that they can be cared for most effectively. Therefore, PROTECT will focus on this breed.

The study is seeking to screen purebred Dobermanns between five and nine years of age, who are currently showing no signs of heart failure and are otherwise in good health.

If the dog is suitable for screening, the owner will be offered a free consultation, and a detailed diagnostic examination by one of the UK’s leading veterinary cardiologists. Should the dog be identified as having hidden signs of heart disease, it will then go on to a free trial to see whether pimobendan is able to help delay the onset of symptoms of heart failure.

Dog owners who think their dogs may qualify for the study should contact their vet to discuss referral or contact the PROTECT information line on 01344 742574 and leave their details.

Mr Swift added, ‘Careful, precise monitoring and appropriate treatment can immeasurably improve the quality of life for a dog and bring peace of mind for the owner. PROTECT is all about ensuring we have the best possible knowledge about these drugs to make sure we make this happen.’

Leading the UK study, Philip Watson of Boehringer Ingelheim commented: ‘We are delighted that we have 15 UK vets taking part in this ground-breaking research. The size of the PROTECT study and the participation of some of the UK and Canada’s leading cardiology experts can only illustrate the vital importance of this piece of research.’

The study is supported by the Dobermann Breed Council (DBC) which is representative of all the 10 Dobermann Clubs in the UK.

Carol Smith, health co-ordinator of the Dobermann Breed Council, said: ‘Dilated Cardiomyopathy can affect a significant proportion of Dobermanns.

‘I strongly appeal to Dobermann owners to come forward to support this research programme into heart disease in Dobermanns.

‘If we can find out more about why the Dobermann is so susceptible to this disease we stand a good chance of saving many dogs’ lives and reducing suffering to the dogs and sadness and worry to their owners.’