Since the fall of last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved nearly a dozen drugs for dogs and cats that will be used to fight cancer, improve thyroid levels, control seizures, and prevent flea infestations and heartworm disease.

These drugs have the potential to improve, save or extend the lives of many beloved pets – but they may also be deadly to some animals with a gene mutation that is common in some herding and mixed breed dogs and about 4% of cats.

Dr. Katrina Mealey, a regents professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University, will now be able to more quickly identify which drugs are threats thanks to funding she received during the Cougar Cage event from the Palouse Club, a group of philanthropists and investors from the Puget Sound region dedicated to helping support the success of the university. The money will be used to purchase a flow cytometry unit that can accurately identify drugs that will be toxic to dogs flagged by a DNA test developed and patented by Dr. Mealey nearly two decades ago.

Dr. Mealey said she already has a list of roughly two dozen drugs she would like to test, including six that were requested by drug companies.

About this series

The Cougar Cage competition is a new way for WSU students, faculty and staff to secure private donor support through the Palouse Club for worthwhile projects that can help build the continued success of the University.

This series explores the first six projects to survive the competition and win funding from the group.

Modeled after the popular TV show Shark Tank, the first Cougar Cage match concluded in March. Future rounds are being planned.

“And once we get this going, I think there will be a lot of drug companies that want to send us drug compounds,” she said. “I was very happy that the Palouse Club felt that companion animal problems were important enough to fund. This is a real big opportunity for us.”

The DNA test developed by Dr. Mealey is used to identify animals with a mutation in the MDR1 gene. In dogs without the mutation, the gene properly encodes P‑glycoprotein, which is responsible for pumping drugs and other toxins out of the brain and back into the bloodstream where they can be safely metabolized. Those with the mutation are unable to properly pump out certain substances, including commonly used drugs.

The new equipment allows Mealey’s team to determine if a new drug is pumped by that protein.

“If it is, we know that that drug is potentially going to be a problem for the dogs and cats that have a defective version of P‑glycoprotein,” Dr. Mealey said.

Cougar Cage was modeled after the popular entrepreneurial TV show “Shark Tank,” giving students, faculty, and staff from across the WSU system the opportunity to receive between $20,000 and $50,000 in support.