2018-07-11 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Does your birthday effect how susceptible you will be to heart disease? It may with dogs, according to a recent study from the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn). Dogs born June through August are at higher risk of heart disease than those born other months, rising to the highest risk in July.

Researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at UPenn published their findings in the May 2018 Scientific Reports. A correlation to outdoor air pollution may be the culprit. This study supports earlier findings in humans pointing to the role of early gestational exposure to fine air particulates and increased risk of heart disease later in life. Dust, pollen and soot are examples of air particulates.

The next finding puzzled me. Researchers said: “Breeds not genetically predisposed to cardiovascular disease, such as Norfolk Terrier, Berger Picard, American Staffordshire Terrier, English Toy Spaniel, Bouvier, Border Terrier, and Havanese were found to be at highest risk. Also, breeds born frequently in July--Norfolk Terrier and Berger Picard - were at increased heart disease risk.”


Visualize the air particulates like pollen and dust that people and dogs inhale. Visualize the air particulates like pollen and dust that people and dogs inhale. I am tuned into English Toy Spaniels (ETS) because of my 15-year-old Charlotte born in a Lindenhurst hoarder house. I am convinced her sire was the purebred ETS among the 33 dogs in this neglectful situation. In fact, this week marks the 15th anniversary of the SPCA and Babylon Shelter raid and seizure of the 27 surviving dogs and 10 cats abandoned at this Greene Street address. Charlotte was one of the older puppies at that time. There were several litters. Most of the young puppies died because of the neglect.

I’m surprised ETS were included in the study breed list because English Toy Spaniels, like Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, are prone to heart disease, especially mitral valve disease (MVD). This is a degenerative condition caused by a weakness in the mitral valve, which allows some blood to flow backward in the heart. In both breeds, dogs as young as seven or eight years can suffer from MVD which progresses. We were fortunate. Charlotte didn’t show symptoms until a year ago, and now is on four different cardiac meds twice a day. Her younger sister Minnie succumbed to the same disease at 13.

Back to the UPenn study- Overall, dogs have a 0.3 to 2 percent risk of developing heart disease depending on breed. The research team found that risk climbs to the greatest level in dogs born in July, who have a 74 percent greater risk of heart disease than would typically be expected.

“It’s important to study dogs because the canine heart is a remarkably similar model to the human cardiovascular system,” said Mary Regina Boland, PhD, an assistant professor of Biostatistics “Also, humans and dogs share their lives together and are exposed to similar environmental effects, so seeing this birth-season cardiovascular disease relationship in both species illuminates mechanisms behind this birth-season disease relationship.”

The Penn team studied data from the Orthopedic Foundation of Animals on 129,778 canines encompassing 253 different breeds. Since the significant association between birth season and cardiovascular disease was found in dogs that are not genetically predisposed to the condition, the authors say the effect supports an environmental mechanism.

This period between June through August is also a peak period for exposure to fine air particles - such as those produced by factory pollution - a finding echoed in a September 2017 Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association human study reported on in the Penn Medicine News Blog.

For both dogs and humans, outside air pollution during pregnancy and at the time of birth appears to play a role in later development of heart disease. In the prior study, the team investigated data from 10.5 million patients from around the world, including the United States, South Korea and Taiwan. One key finding was a link between first-trimester exposure to fine air particulates and nine percent increased risk of the heart rhythm irregularity known as atrial fibrillation (Afib) later in life.

Afib afflicts two percent of people under 65 in the United States - a total of 5.5 million people. In the human study, people exposed to peak air pollution during the first trimester of their mother’s pregnancy were found to be at a nine percent higher risk than usual.

Taken together, the two study findings lead the authors to suggest pollution is a possible mechanism for the increased risk. Because dogs’ pregnancies are shorter than humans (lasting only 2 months), the proposed mechanism is still thought to be through the mother’s inhalation of air pollution effecting the uterine environment, which in turn effects the developing cardiovascular system of the baby or puppy.

Only breeders who chose to provide their dogs’ data publicly were included in the study. (Some breeders and owners may choose not to disclose this data). Also, some variables that influence cardiovascular disease risk, such as diet and exercise, were unavailable in the data.

The researchers note future studies may be valuable in shedding light into why specific breeds are more susceptible to cardiovascular disease, as well as further work on the effects of birth season on later risk of specific diseases.

For Adoption: Speaking of heart disease- Simba was adopted from Babylon Shelter as a kitten but his owner ran into health problems so the shelter took Simba back a year ago when he was two. Simba has been diagnosed with heart disease and is doing great on his daily medication. Simba takes his meds each morning in a pill pocket treat. he loves to be pet and does well when loose with the other cats during free time. Call Babylon Shelter at 631-643-9270.

Faith is a loving and well-behaved Basset mix, about 1 year-old, at Last Hope in Wantagh. She came from a crowded Kentucky shelter, and did quite well at the LI Vette Car Show last Sunday. Call Last Hope at 631-946- 9528.

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