Dysautonomia: A Rare Disease Plaguing Dogs in the Midwest

Dysautonomia: A Rare Disease Plaguing Dogs in the Midwest
Dysautonomia: A Rare Disease Plaguing Dogs in the Midwest

(Picture Credit: Korneeva_Kristina / Getty Images)

In Missouri, a man recently lost his dog to an incredibly rare—but highly fatal—disease plaguing dogs in the Midwest. According to KCTV 5 Kansas City, Paul Miller was heartbroken after losing his dog, Boomer. After seeing his dog become sluggish and struggling with vomiting, the 70-year-old man took him to a local vet.

Unfortunately, Boomer passed away shortly thereafter. It was at that time that Miller learned his dog had contracted canine dysautonomia (CD).

Canine Dysautonomia: Fatal and Severely Under-Researched

Like most dog parents, Miller had never heard of canine dysautonomia until Boomer contracted it. And according to Dr. Glen Cook, his veterinarian, that’s generally the case. “Dysautonomia has not been largely taught in medical curricula,” said Dr. Cook.

The Merck Veterinary Manual says dysautonomia, also known as Key-Gaskell Syndrome,  is a degenerative condition that targets multiple neural pathways. Usually, initial symptoms will appear identical to respiratory or gastrointestinal issues. But, without early diagnosis and treatment, symptoms will drastically worsen.

The first case of canine dysautonomia was found in the UK in 1983, says the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). Almost ten years later, a second case appeared in Wyoming. Since then, the Midwest has become a hotspot of dysautonomia, particularly in Wyoming, Kansas, and Missouri. In 2017, the Kansas City area reported the most CD cases anywhere in the United States.

Alarmingly, nobody knows what causes CD. However, known risk factors include dogs living in rural habitats and dogs who spend more than 50% of their time outdoors. Unfortunately, because the disease is so rare and highly localized, researchers have a hard time securing funding.

In Lieu of Research, Awareness and Education Are Paramount

Brant Schumaker, Ph.D, is a researcher with the Wyoming State Veterinary Laboratory at the University of Wyoming. Schumaker has spent considerable time and effort studying CD. Although dysautonomia is a severely grave disease, Schumaker says “it’s not always a death sentence”. Early detection and diagnosis, he says, can increase survival.

Schumaker has been studying CD for years now, but sparse funding has pushed the project to the side. According to Susan Foster, a CD activist who works with Schumaker, “There is currently no other research program in progress anywhere else in the US”. Currently, the best diagnosis method involves measuring pupil contraction.

Until more funding for research can be secured, the best course of action is to create awareness about canine dysautonomia. In Miller’s case, losing Boomer pushed him to help spread the word about CD. 

“It doesn’t matter what age you are,” says Miller. “If you get attached to an animal, it’s part of your life. It’s hard. I just want people to be aware of this disease.”

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