Dog’s diet and cardiovascular health: link?

Second-year veterinary student Cathy Miller. Photo: Robyn Thrasher.

Owning a myriad of animals – including a 16-year-old grey quarter horse gelding, a 14-year-old grey miniature mare, a herd of 30 commercial beef cows with calves, a rough collie cross dog, a teddy bear hamster and a fish tank full of red wag platies and goldfish – it’s no wonder that Cathy Miller decided to strive for a career in veterinary medicine.

“I remember always looking up to the veterinarians who would come out to my family farm when I was a kid,” says Miller, a veterinary student entering her second year at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM).

Hailing from Ponoka, Alta., Miller’s experience at the College so far has been very busy and challenging — but rewarding at the same time. And after eight months of hard work during her first year, there’s one thing that Miller would advise to all future students: “If you don’t understand something, just ask!”

Miller eventually sees herself practicing in a mixed veterinary practice in rural Alberta, but during her summer break, she decided to get a taste of research. With her supervisor, Dr. Lynn Weber — a WCVM assistant professor in the Department of Veterinary Biomedical Sciences — Miller is studying the effects of nitrogenous diets on cardiovascular health in dogs. Peas are an example of an ingredient that’s high in nitrogen and may be found in some dog foods.

“Compounds made from nitrogen, such as nitrous oxide, help mediate the dilation of blood vessels in the body,” explains Miller, adding that this vessel dilation can reduce blood pressure.

Miller hopes her investigation will demonstrate the link between diet and cardiovascular health not only in dogs, but also in humans. “The results we get with our dogs will be somewhat representative of what one might expect to happen in humans,” she says. “So our research is applicable to human medicine as well.”

While working on her project, Miller has found research to be interesting and a good learning experience. Most importantly, she’s had the opportunity to observe and practice some veterinary skills.

“So far, I’ve learned how to use an ultrasound machine, put in an intravenous catheter and collect blood,” she says. “I always thought research was very scheduled and dry. I never expected to be performing clinical skills while doing research. It’s something I’ve really enjoyed this summer.”

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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