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A global research network yields big results for dogs with kidney disease

Photo: wolfsavard via Flickr CC

A diagnosis of a rare kidney disease known as glomerular disease in canines used to spell uncertain and often heartbreaking news for pet owners.

Now, thanks in part to the work of one University of Minnesota researcher, that’s no longer the case. The life-threatening kidney disease, which affects a dog’s ability to filter blood, is now better understood than ever before.

“Historically, when an animal arrived at the vet’s office exhibiting signs of glomerular disease, we weren’t able to do much for the dog,” said David Polzin, D.V.M., Ph.D., an expert in kidney disease with the U of M College of Veterinary Medicine. “The prognosis was grim and few dogs lived more than a month or two.”

Although glomerular disease is estimated to affect less than one percent of dogs, it appears to be more common in areas where dogs are exposed to Lyme disease. In Minnesota, Lyme disease appears to be the most common cause for glomerular disease in dogs.

Recognizing the potential for better treatment options, Polzin and Larry Cowgill, D.V.M., Ph.D., a professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of California, Davis, organized a team of 18 scientists from around the world.

Beginning work in 2008, the researchers first had to organize a global network to procure quality tissue samples from dogs with glomerular disease. As new locations for tissue analysis began to pop up, data began to amass.

Kidney biopsies obtained from 201 dogs with glomerular disease (out of 1000 total kidney biopsies collected) were gathered and pathologists began to look for patterns. The patterns they found would prove essential for future veterinary workers comparing and diagnosing glomerular disease. The patterns would also lead to new guidelines for diagnosis.

Before releasing new recommendations, however, the team had to decide what to recommend for animals testing glomerular disease-positive.

How to treat the problem

David Polzin, D.V.M., Ph.D.

“There was no agreement for what should be done to treat a diagnosed animal,” said Polzin.

So the team called upon kidney specialists, or nephrologists, and other experts for thoughts on how to best treat patients diagnosed with glomerular disease under the new recommendations.

Five years after the project began, the team issued formal guidelines in a special supplement to the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine. The guidelines recommend different consensus-based and evidence-based disease treatments for standard disease therapy, immunosuppressive treatment, and treatment for dogs testing positive for an infectious agent such as Lyme disease.

The new categorizations for disease in canine kidneys improved upon the human-based categorizations formerly used. The new classification system for glomerular disease improved past methods as well.

“These new recommendations have improved a dog’s chance,” said Polzin. “More dogs have an opportunity to be diagnosed and treated successfully, and go on to have longer, healthier lives.

  1. February 20, 2014 9:45 am | Nicole Hertell Says:

    I was wondering where I could find more information on this article? Our dog Sampson was recently diagnosed with kidney disease but with the high cost of tests we are unable to look into it further. Sampson has had Lyme disease too! Any info will be helpful Thank you

    • February 24, 2014 10:59 am | Health Talk Says:

      Hi Nicole,

      We’re sorry to hear about Sampson’s diagnosis. You can find the full scientific findings discussed in this post online in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine’s Special Issue: International Renal Interest Society Consensus Clinical Practice Guidelines for Glomerular Disease in Dogs. However, the best information on glomerular disease and how it might relate to your dog is going to come from a conversation with your veterinarian.

      Best wishes,
      Health Talk

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