Mutation puts some dogs at risk of death

Greyhounds were only known breed affected until WSU research

ALANA LACKNER, Evergreen managing editor

A genetic mutation could cause anesthetics to be more dangerous for some dogs if left undiscovered before surgery.

The mutation causes certain dogs to produce less of an enzyme called CYP2B11, which breaks down anesthetics and similar drugs. The underproduction of this enzyme can lead to long recovery times after surgery and, in certain cases, can even be life-threatening.

Originally, scientists believed this mutation was only found in greyhounds. However, in a recent study, researchers at WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine discovered it can affect other dog breeds as well.

“We did surprisingly find [the mutation] in a few very common types of dog which were Labradors and golden retrievers,” said Stephanie Martinez, postdoctoral research assistant and lead of the study.

According to the study, approximately one in 50 golden retrievers and one in 300 Labrador retrievers have the mutation. This seems rare, but Martinez said it could still be a problem.

“Because there are so many in this country — they’re the [first and third] most popular — there’s a sheer number of dogs that would potentially be affected,” Martinez said.

Michael Court, another researcher involved in the study and a professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine, said that during the course of the study, he found his own dog was affected.

“The interesting thing was I included my own golden retriever — because I’m a golden retriever owner — in the panel and I found that my dog was actually a carrier of that mutation,” Court said.

Martinez and Court are now part of efforts to develop effective DNA testing that would allow dog owners to know if their dogs had this mutation ahead of time.

Because this mutation is so common in greyhounds, a method of working around it has already been developed, and Martinez said she believes this will likely be applied to other dogs who test positive for it.

“Greyhounds have their own completely modified anesthetic protocol and have for quite a while now, so it would suggest some of these dogs need to be treated the same as greyhounds, with slightly different drugs chosen,” Martinez said.

The goal would be to eventually provide screenings to puppies so that if surgery is needed later in life, veterinarians know to use the greyhound protocol. Though the number of positive cases is theoretically very small, it could provide many people with information that could ultimately save their dog’s life.

“The important thing is it all depends on how much risk you’re willing to accept, and one in 300 is a low number overall, so I don’t think it’s a big concern,” Court said.

Martinez said she believes that if people know that doctors are following proper procedures for their dog breed then they will be less scared of their pet going into surgery.

“I actually have two greyhounds myself and I’ve spoken with a lot of other greyhound owners,” Martinez said. “And it’s very stressful for greyhound owners to have their dogs undergo anesthesia, so anything we can do to make people feel a little more comfortable about having necessary medical procedures done … that’s great.”