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(Q) What is Protein-Losing Disease and is it serious?

(A) Protein-losing diseases can occur in two forms: Protein-losing Nephropathy (PLN) which affects the kidneys and Protein-losing Enteropathy (PLE) which affects the intestines. Research is showing that PLE and PLN are closely associated and may occur together. PLE is currently the most common type. Both diseases cause the loss of large amounts of protein, in the urine (PLN), and in the feces (PLE). Because protein is such an essential nutrient to the body its loss is a very serious problem. Most Wheatens affected by protein-losing disease are between the ages of two and six years, however, it has been diagnosed in dogs as old as eleven years. The female seems to be at more risk than the male.

(Q) What Causes PLN and PLE?

(A) The exact cause or causes of PLN and PLE are still unknown. There may be many different causes including: inherited defects, infections or toxic substances. There is strong evidence that Protein-losing diseases are genetically transmitted, however the exact mode of inheritance is not completely understood. Another possibility is that affected dogs may be producing antibodies against their intestines and kidneys. A food allergy, particularly to glutens in the diet, may be stimulating the production of these antibodies. Gluten (gloo'ten) is the protein in wheat and other cereal grains such as rye, barley, or oats.

(Q) What can I as an owner do?

(A) With the possibility that glutens are causing a reaction in the intestines, the safest route for Wheaten owners, at this time, is to check their dog food and dog treat labels, and avoid foods with glutens until research gives us more information. Uniting the intake of glutens will reduce the intestines chronic exposure to a possible antigen that may cause health problems. A gluten free diet means no foods containing any form of wheat, rye, barley, or oats. Corn, rice and buckwheat do not have the same protein, and can be used in gluten free diets. Always read the labels as manufacturers change ingredients periodically. Key ingredient words to watch for and avoid are: wheat flour, wheat gum, farina, durum, graham flour, gluten flour, Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (when the vegetable source is not identified), malt, barley, malt syrup, oat flour, oat gum, tritacale, and semolina.
Early diagnosis is the key to helping your dog live as long and comfortable life as possible. This is where the owner can work with the veterinarian by observing their dog for any changes in their health status and accurately reporting these to your vet as soon as possible. If you observe any of the signs or symptoms listed below contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. Early intervention is the key. Every dog should have an annual check-up by your veterinarian (older dogs should be checked semi-annually), and at regular intervals, blood chemistry and urine tests should be performed to establish and monitor baseline values.

(Q) What are the signs of PLN?

(A) Regardless of the cause most forms of kidney disease will result in your dog showing some or all of the following signs:
    - increased water consumption
    - increased urination/ or no urination
    - listlessness/depression
    - decreased appetite
    - vomiting
    - changes in skin and haircoat
    - poor growth in young dogs

If your dog displays any of these signs or symptoms have them checked by your veterinarian as soon as possible.

(Q) How do the Kidneys Function?

(A) The kidneys are vital organs that act as a specialized filtering system to remove waste materials from the blood stream which are then eliminated via the urine. They also regulate the volume and composition of the body's fluids. Many things can affect the function of the kidneys and the exact cause is often difficult to confirm. Your veterinarian, by examination and special diagnostic tests, can determine if your dog suffers from PLN. The signs of kidney disease may appear suddenly or develop slowly over time and they may be produced by other diseases. PLN is difficult to diagnose and the initial stages of the disease may be mistaken for liver, glandular or other enteric or kidney diseases.

(Q) What are the signs of PLE?

(A) Regardless of the cause most forms of intestinal disease will result in your dog showing some or all of the following signs:
    - weight loss
    - diarrhea
    - vomiting
    - ascites (abnormal accumulation of fluid within the abdominal cavity.
      May cause swelling of the abdomen).
    - changes in skin and haircoat
    - edema (abnormal accumulation of fluid in body tissue)

If your dog displays any of these signs or symptoms have them checked by your veterinarian as soon as possible.

(Q) How do the Intestines Function?

(A) The mucosa (lining) of the small and large intestines forms a semipermeable barrier (molecules that are the right size or composition are able to pass through the barrier) that controls the transmucosal movement of fluid and electrolytes and restricts that of larger molecules. Alteration of the mucosal barrier by PLE results in the excessive loss of protein-rich fluids.

(Q) What if one of these diseases is Diagnosed in my Wheaten?

(A) The first step in managing PLN and/or PLE is obtaining an accurate diagnosis as early as possible. If a diagnosis of PLN and/or PLE is made it is important to determine the extent of impairment and then decide on the most effective methods of management. Hopefully with proper management the symptoms and effects may be reduced to slow the progression of the condition, thereby extending the dog's life and providing at least a comfortable if not normal lifestyle. A Veterinarian Information Pamphlet is available. This pamphlet includes information on testing for Protein-Losing Diseases and a list of veterinarians who are doing research on these diseases and who will act as consultants to your veterinarian.

(Q) What is being done to find the cause?

(A) There are several ongoing research projects studying PLN and PLE at universities in the United States. Progress is slow due to the difficulties in gathering information from affected dogs who are spread over a large geographic area.

(Q) Can my veterinarian and I help?

(A) The key to further diagnosis and study of the disease is the collection of uniform clinical evidence (symptoms displayed by affected animals) and biochemical evidence (abnormal blood and urine values) from all veterinarians treating dogs that are ill. Diagnostic precision can be increased by looking for and obtaining the same information such as: checking and recording all possible symptoms of affected dogs, performing all of the required blood and urine tests in the same way, biopsies of the same organs that look for the same cell changes and autopsies that look at the same organs. When the answer will be found cannot be predicted, but to increase the probability of finding the answer we must encourage and support the ongoing research. If you have a Wheaten affected by PLN and/or PLE have your veterinarian contact one of the veterinarians doing research on PLE and PLN (there is a Veterinarian information Pamphlet available from Wheatens on the Red) or simply follow the link and print it out for him or her.

(Q) What are Wheaten breeders doing about these diseases?

(A) Conscientious breeders are carefully assessing the health of their dogs and planning a breeding program that reduces the risks of passing on defects to the puppies they produce. However, it must be remembered that our current knowledge is very limited and there is still much to be learned.

Published by Wheatens on the Red
551 McNaughton Avenue
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada R3L 1S7
(204) 284-2114

Prepared by
Helen Larson
Healthy Wheaten Coordinator

August 1995

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