By Dr. Nancy Kay
April 25, 2011
Sure, knowing the breed helps us predict the behavior we will encounter when we enter the exam room, but where “breed profiling” is most helpful is as it pertains to predicting disease. Show me a senior Saint Bernard and Iâ€™ll show you a dog with arthritis. Show me an English Bulldog with normal upper airway anatomy and dinnerâ€™s on me!
Such breed-specific knowledge is gleaned from years of practicing veterinary medicine but, more and more, these impressions are becoming evidence-based. The March/April Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine featured an article titled â€œMortality in North American Dogs from 1984 to 2004: An Investigation into Age- Size- and Breed-Related Causes of Death.â€ The data was collected from information provided by veterinary teaching hospitals and recorded in the national Veterinary Medical Database. The cause of death for more than 70,000 dogs and 82 breeds was scrutinized. The categorization went as follows:
- which organ system failed (cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, neurological, etc.)
- pathophysiologic process (trauma, infectious disease, cancer, etc.).
For example, if one were to look at all of the Boston Terriers in the study, 22 percent died with neurological symptoms and cancer was the cause of death in 30 percent.
Here are some other tidbits from this study:
- Forty percent of Dachshunds die from traumatic neurological disease Â (intervertebral disk disease).
That represents a staggering percentage. To have a Doxie is to expect disk disease, but this is generally considered a treatable condition. My assumption is that financial hardship (treatment often requires expensive diagnostics and surgery) and the decision to euthanize are the sad truths behind this high percentage.
- The breeds with the highest proportion of deaths caused by heart disease included Newfoundland, Maltese, Chihuahua, Doberman Pinscher, and Fox Terrier.
- The top five breeds that died as a result of musculoskeletal diseases included Saint Bernard, Great Pyrenees, Irish Wolfhound, Great Dane, and Greyhound.
This makes sense. When such large dogs have a tough time getting around because of sore bones, joints, or muscles, they become management nightmares and hasten the decision to euthanize.
- Cancer was the leading cause of death across all breeds within the study population.
Interestingly, the relative frequency of cancer peaked in the age group that included ten-year-old dogs, then declined within the oldest age group. Is the incidence of cancer increasing, or are we getting better at detecting cancer? Or perhaps both? Â The answer is not clear, however we feel certain that cancer is commonly inherited within certain breeds (Bernese Mountain Dog, Golden Retriever, Boxer, Bouvier des Flandres) in which approximately half of the population will succumb to the “big C.”
- Cancer occurred less commonly in smaller breeds of dogs (Boston Terriers being an exception).
- Larger breeds more commonly died due to diseases affecting the musculoskeletal or gastrointestinal systems.
- Traumatic causes of death were equally prevalent among larger and smaller breeds.
So, beyond the simple curiosity factor, how does all of this data help us?
Perhaps it will influence oneâ€™s decision-making when adopting a new dog. My current canine family members are both small mutts. Yes, I have to bend over more, but Iâ€™d grown weary of getting burned by the heartache that accompanies the diagnosis of cancer.
On a more global scale, this data is key to directing new and ongoing breed-specific research such as looking for ways to prevent musculoskeletal abnormalities in large breed dogs and tracking down the genetic basis for cancer in particular breeds.
Additionally, the information presented in this article serves as justification for veterinarians to recommend more comprehensive early disease-specific screening tests based on breed.
Last, if you share your home and your heart with a Dachshund, this data should entice you to invest some of your hard-earned money in a good pet health insurance policy (one that does not exclude coverage for disk disease in Dachshunds) or a large doggie-piggy bank reserved for medical matters. This way, when your little Doxie â€œslips a diskâ€ youâ€™ll be able to treat this treatable disease.
Curious about what this article had to say about your dogâ€™s breed? Feel free to ask and weâ€™ll let you know if it was included in the study.
Photo credit: Dunja Oertel