CAHF research: 2022-23

two small dogs in park
Photo: Caitlin Taylor.

Five research teams at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) have received nearly $93,000 in funding for research projects targeting a variety of health issues and questions in companion animals.

The WCVM’s Companion Animal Health Fund (CAHF) and another fund administered by the CAHF provided financial support for the research studies that are based at the veterinary college.

What is the risk of pathogens in imported dogs?

Dr. Tasha Epp, WCVM; and Drs. Sylvia Checkley, Chantal McMillan, Serge Chalhoub and Susan Cook, University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine

Over the past few years, there’s been a 400 per cent increase in commercially importing dogs from foreign countries. Importing animals can be a potential concern for both animal and public health, as they can bring zoonotic illnesses (diseases that can be transmitted between animals and humans) that are foreign to Canada with them.  

There have been many cases of dogs importing diseases such as canine brucellosis and leishmaniosis to Canada and the United States. These zoonotic illnesses and others may only be identified once the imported dog begins to show symptoms.

Through this study, researchers are analyzing results gathered from imported dogs that are brought to Western Canada. With the help of private practitioners, the research team is arranging for physical examinations as well as for blood and fecal tests on dogs arriving in Canada. The study’s findings will help veterinarians learn more about what pathogens that imported dogs may be potentially bringing to Canada.

Which types of white blood cell subsets are present in chylous effusions of cats?

Drs. Nicole Fernandez, Melissa Meachem and Ryan Dickinson, WCVM; and Dr. Laura Black, SpecialtyVETPATH

A chylous effusion is a milky fluid buildup of fat droplets and lymphatic fluid in the chest or abdomen. Chylous effusions are uncommon in cats, and while they are easy to diagnose, they can be difficult to manage and repeated drainage of fluid is often needed.

This study aims to determine if white blood cell subsets present in a chylous effusion are different than the subsets that are present in the rest of the body’s blood. Using four antibodies to evaluate four types of white blood cells — T lymphocytes, B lymphocytes, helper T lymphocytes and cytotoxic T lymphocytes — the research team will evaluate which cells are present in samples of feline chylous effusions and how these subsets might change over time. This information could be important in managing cats with chylous effusions and in particular, the effect on the immune system of removing lymphocytes when the fluid is drained.

Which method of blood transfusion is most efficient in dogs?

Drs. Jennifer Loewen and Nicole Fernandez, and Samantha Ekanayake and Madlyn Lung, WCVM

Just like humans, dogs can donate blood to other dogs. If a dog’s body attacks its own red blood cells or doesn’t make enough of them, or if the dog is bleeding profusely, the animal will need a blood transfusion to maintain its red blood cell counts.

In this study, veterinarians are looking for a better method to transfuse blood into dogs. Normally, clinical team members use a gravity drip system for blood transfusions, but it means that medical staff must carefully count the number of drips that pass through a clear filter. This method is time consuming and pulls staff away from other duties. As well, differences in size and activity in dogs make it hard to get a consistent drip rate.

In this study, the research team will compare two blood transfusion methods — a fluid pump machine and a syringe driver — to measure which option is more efficient with the highest number of surviving red blood cells. Using a fluorescent red dye called PKH26, the team will monitor the number of surviving red blood cells post-transfusion to determine the best method.

Which tissues are at risk during cancer treatment in dogs?

Drs. Monique Mayer, Sally Sukut, Koji Aoki and Brent Bobick, and Nava Hassani, WCVM; and Dr. Sheldon Wiebe, University of Saskatchewan College of Medicine

In dogs, the odds of developing cancer are one out of four — the same as in humans. When diagnosed with cancer, many dogs receive stereotactic radiation therapy, a type of treatment that uses precisely focused radiation beams to damage the DNA of targeted cancer cells.

Veterinary radiation oncologists must identify normal tissues around a tumour while developing a dog’s treatment. Normal tissues in the dog’s body have different radiation dosage limits that must be determined to avoid radiation damage. Identifying these normal tissues is done by drawing contours — or outlining the tumour and surrounding organs — on each computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) slice.

This study’s goal is to develop an open-access contouring atlas for veterinary radiation oncologists and a training tool for residents. By performing CT and MRI scans on three healthy dogs, the research team hopes to increase normal tissue contour accuracy and increase agreement between radiation oncologists.

What’s the effect of long-term prednisolone in dogs?

Drs. Elisabeth Snead, Mathieu Paulin, Suraj Unniappan, Anthony Carr, Kevin Cosford and Jennifer Loewen, WCVM

Glucocorticoids are a type of steroid drug that fight inflammation and work with the immune system to treat many health problems. Veterinarians reportedly use this type of medication in about 15 per cent of dog consultations.

Prednisolone is a glucocorticoid that’s used to treat allergic and inflammatory conditions in dogs. In cases where prednisolone is administered, it’s recommended to taper off the dosage in order to not interfere with the production of endogenous cortisol (which is present in stress responses) and known as iatrogenic adrenal insufficiency. So far, researchers don’t know the amount of time that the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is suppressed after glucocorticoids are taken.

Using clinically healthy beagles, the research team will randomly assign two groups to receive an oral anti-inflammatory dose of prednisolone for 70 days or an oral immunosuppressive dose for 35 days. In every dog, the team will test the animals’ adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) at intervals during the study and afterwards to document recovery of the HPA axis.


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