Human lung disease found in dogs

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A new study has discovered that a rare form of pulmonary hypertension (PVOD), previously only thought to occur in humans, has been discovered in dogs.  This is the first time the disease has ever been documented in another species.

Kurt Williams, the lead author of the study conducted by Michigan State University said: “PVOD is considered one of the most severe forms of pulmonary hypertension.”

The findings, published in the journal Veterinary Pathology, found that this disease could be more common than previously thought.  In the United States, approximately 15 to 50 people per million are said to be affected by the disease, and in the UK around 7,000 people have pulmonary hypertension.  However, it’s also thought that more remain undiagnosed.

But what exactly is PVOD?

In a healthy person, blood flows efficiently through the pulmonary arteries from the right-hand side of the heart, picking up oxygen when it reaches the lungs.  Oxygen-rich blood from the lungs returns to the left-hand side of the heart and is pumped around the body to the muscles, where oxygen is needed.  However, when a person (or dog) is taking a brisk walk / running, the blood pumps around the body faster due to the increased heart rate – as a result of the body’s demand for more oxygen.  However, in an individual affected by PVOD, the walls of their pulmonary arteries will be thick and stiff; this makes it difficult for the arteries to expand to allow more blood through.  In other cases, pulmonary arteries may be blocked by blood clots and this can also impact the blood flow.

What are the symptoms of PVOD?

In humans, symptoms typically include coughing, an increased breathing rate and / or respiratory ‘distress’ (meaning it’s hard to breathe or catch your breath), there may also be a loss of appetite and chronic fatigue.

Why is this new research important?

The researchers in this new study found that PVOD acts in the same way for dogs as it does humans.  Consequently, dogs may experience similar symptoms to humans but these may not be recognised as quickly because the changes in health are subtle.

We know there are many similarities biologically between dogs and humans, and because PVOD has not been found in other animals until now, the canine disease may serve as a model for human PVOD.  Williams said: “Our colleagues in the human medical community are becoming much more aware of the many diseases shared by our respective patients and how together we can learn from each other.”

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