Are oxygen levels lower in aging dogs?

Veterinary student Lyndsay Kong. Photo: Robyn Thrasher.

Equipped with a BSc in zoology, there’s no question that Lyndsay Kong has an interest in animals. Kong, a second-year veterinary student at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine(WCVM), has a passion for companion animal medicine and sees her future career heading in that direction.

“I’m probably going to work in a small animal private practice when I graduate,” says Kong. “But I’d like to explore the many different options within the field of small animal medicine.”

In the meantime, Kong is gaining research and clinical experience during the summer while she works with Dr. Elisabeth Snead, a WCVM associate professor in small animal medicine, and Dr. Kristyna Musil, who just graduated from the veterinary college in June 2011.

Kong’s main project focuses on establishing reference values for arterial blood gases in lean and obese geriatric dogs.
“In humans, the concentration of oxygen in your arteries tends to go down with age,” explains Kong. “We want to see if this also happens in dogs.”

The project will compare lean dogs to obese dogs and researchers will also attempt to compare dogs living in an urban versus rural area and those living with smokers versus non-smokers.

“I’ll also be comparing blood gas values between our current benchtop blood gas analyzer and a new portable analyzer to see if they give similar values,” says Kong. The veterinary student is also doing a retrospective study on cases of canine Addison’s disease that have been seen at the WCVM’s Veterinary Medical Centre over the last 10 years.

Originally from Calgary, Alta., Kong has learned a lot while at the WCVM and says her favourite subject so far has been physiology. “You learn all the little details on how bodies do everything that they do,” explains Kong. “There’s so much and it’s so complex, but it all works. It’s very cool!”

Although Kong was unsure if research was for her, the clinical relevance of this project quickly changed her mind. “I really like that I’m part of a study that will have a direct impact on what we do in the clinic,” says Kong.

If oxygen levels are found to be lower in aging dogs, then this may change current treatment recommendations. Kong points out that in some healthy older dogs, lower than normal oxygen levels may be considered normal and oxygen therapy may not be required.

Having developed a new appreciation for animal health research, Kong highly recommends doing a summer research project. “It’s a very fascinating field with a lot of potential implications for veterinary and human medicine,” says Kong. “You learn so much and it’s very rewarding. It’s definitely worth pursuing even if you don’t intend to make research the focus of your veterinary career.”

Robyn Thrasher of Edmonton, Alta., is a second-year veterinary student at the WCVM. Robyn is producing stories about the veterinary college’s clinical services, research program and its researchers as part of her summer job in research communications.


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