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Active immune system worsening liver disease in dogs

A new study has found that the high concentration of ammonia in dogs with liver disease causes increased levels of inflammation.

A dog being examined by two vets.

Medicine clinicians from The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Science and The Roslin Institute have found that liver disease in dogs causes their immune systems to go hay-wire resulting in high levels of inflammation, which in turn makes the dogs even sicker.

Liver disease in dogs is a major health issue. The reason for the disease is rarely known and treatments are largely supportive instead of treating the underlying cause. Alongside poor recovery rates, it can also have a severe effect on a dog’s quality of life.

Previous studies have shown that dogs with liver disease often have high levels of ammonia and inflammatory molecules in their systems, and that if you treat the underlying liver diseases, the concentration of both decrease. However, it was still unclear why dogs with liver disorders had this high level of inflammation.

This new study has found that the high concentrations of ammonia found in dogs with liver diseases causes the immune response to go unregulated. Although inflammation is a natural (and very useful) response to infection, when it is incorrectly activated it can cause huge issues within the body.

This research found that the high levels of ammonia causes neutrophils - important white blood cells which act as the 'front line' of defense to invading microbes - to activate. This in turn causes an inappropriate 'pro-inflammatory' state within the dogs, worsening their illness.

The team now plan to look at what these neutrophils are doing in dogs with liver disease more closely and hope to harness this information to develop better treatments for patients with liver disease and prevent the immune system from being inappropriately activated.

Liver disease is a huge issue both in human and veterinary medicine. This study shows how the relationship between ammonia and the inflammatory response strengthens the dog’s role as a model of the human condition. By understanding how the disease works, new therapies can be investigated to the benefit of both veterinary and human patients.

Craig R. Brehenylead scientist, R(D)SVS and The Roslin Institute

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The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies