Veterinarians recruiting dogs to help develop life‑saving test

PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University veterinarians are recruiting dogs to help develop a life-saving canine drug metabolism test.

The test could provide veterinarians with a quick-and-easy way to determine if a dog will have a potentially life-threatening reaction to anesthesia drugs or other drugs commonly prescribed to dogs.

Dogs of all breeds and sizes, age 1-12, are eligible to participate in the Drugs Optimized by Genomics (D.O.G.) Study.

Life-threatening unanticipated reactions to drugs are a common concern for dog owners and veterinarians. Like humans, all dogs are unique in the way their bodies process drugs. Some dogs, such as greyhounds and other sighthound breeds, metabolize (break down) drugs very slowly, making routine procedures that require anesthesia potentially deadly. In addition, some dogs metabolize drugs too quickly, making their prescribed dose largely ineffective.

Recently, Dr. Michael Court and members of his lab in the Program for Individualized Medicine (PrIMe) at the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine, discovered several genetic mutations in enzymes known to be essential for the metabolism of many commonly used anesthetic drugs, as well as many other drugs used in dogs. The discovery of these mutations led to the identification of three canine-safe drugs that are metabolized in the same manner as the commonly prescribed drugs and anesthetics known to cause problems for slow metabolizers.

The Court lab began developing their canine drug metabolism test with a two-part study. During phase one, investigators combined the three canine-safe drugs into a drug “cocktail” that was given in a very low, single dose to 12 client-owned canine volunteers. Small amounts of blood, saliva and urine were collected at specific timepoints to see when and how much of the drug cocktail could be detected in each dog.

Last summer, the Court Lab recruited Greyhounds and Golden Retrievers to see if their test could tell the difference between slow and normal metabolizers. Participants were given the same low-dose drug cocktail after which small amounts of blood, saliva and urine were collected at various timepoints. The researchers demonstrated that their test could differentiate between the two types of metabolizers and found blood and urine were the most effective samples for the test. They also narrowed down the timepoints at which blood and urine would be collected.

This summer, with the knowledge gained from the two-part study, Court and Dr. Tania Perez began recruiting for the D.O.G. Study. Using their test, they hope to identify poor metabolizers in a much larger canine cohort. Additionally, they plan to look at DNA from the dogs with the lowest drug metabolism to pinpoint where the genetic mutations occur.

Dogs that participate in the study must be comfortable at the vet clinic, healthy and not on any medications (flea, tick & heartworm preventatives and some supplements are okay). Owners need to be willing to transport their dog(s) to the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Pullman for the study. Canine volunteers who are shown to be slow metabolizers may be asked to come back for a second study day to confirm test results.

Find more information or enroll your dog.

Media contact:

  • Valorie Wiss, WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital, 509-335-0798,

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