Lifetime Study Seeks Insight on Heart Disease in Dobermans

December 3, 2018
Maureen McKinney

A team of veterinary cardiologists is looking to shed light on genetic and other factors that influence the development of dilated cardiomyopathy.

A team of 3 veterinary cardiologists is studying of the influence of genetic mutations on the development of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in Doberman pinschers.

Although DCM affects many canine breeds, it occurs in nearly half of all Dobermans. The inherited disorder can cause sudden death or can eventually lead to congestive heart failure.

The investigative team, which already has spent nearly a decade studying the disease in more than 1000 Dobermans, includes University of Florida (UF) College of Veterinary Medicine professor of cardiology Amara Estrada, DVM, DACVIM (Cardiology); Ryan Fries, DVM, DACVIM (Cardiology), assistant professor of cardiology at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine; and Nancy Morris, DVM, DACVIM (Cardiology), a specialist at Mass Veterinary Cardiology Services in Agawam, Massachusetts.

“Important questions have arisen during [our initial] evaluations, and we have now launched a prospective clinical trial enrolling 300 Dobermans that have been screened for DCM and followed longitudinally at our respective veterinary practices [and] national and regional shows,” Dr. Estrada said.

Nearly 200 dogs have been enrolled in the study to date, with full enrollment expected by February 2019.

“Although there are 2 known genetic mutations associated with DCM, dogs without either mutation have developed the disease, and dogs with one or both mutations might not ever develop the disease,” Dr. Estrada said. “We have multiple projects happening simultaneously that are designed to understand why some of these Doberman pinschers develop the disease and others do not.”


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Although genetics determines a risk for developing a disease, scientists don’t really know much beyond that, Dr. Fries added. “If you look at a population and all you know is the genetic status, you can make a statement such as '80% of dogs with this mutation will develop the disease,'” he said. “But what is unique about those 20%? What factors influence the 80%? Maybe our study will shed some light on those factors, in addition to providing basic information about the entire population.”

The $12,250 study is being funded by the Doberman Pinscher Club of America. Participating dogs will be followed over their lifetime, with screening tests, owner surveys, and outcomes recorded for each.

The investigators acknowledge that tracking each dog will require a full complement of collaborators. “We will call on our cardiologist colleagues around the country to help us follow these dogs, as well as provide regular screening at national shows, regional shows, and at our respective institutions,” Dr. Fries said.

Additionally, the investigators are trying to evaluate whether environmental factors, diet (including supplements), and daily activity affect expression of this disease.