Researchers from the Michigan State University discovered a rare lethal form of pulmonary hypertension only thought to affect humans can now be found in dogs. The study published on Feb. 29 in the journal Veterinary Pathology states that the previously classified human lung disease may be more common in dogs than people.

“Our research is the first to document the existence of pulmonary veno-occlusive disease, or PVOD, in dogs,” says lead author Kurt Williams, an expert in respiratory pathology in the university’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “PVOD is considered one of the most severe forms of pulmonary hypertension.”

Pulmonary hypertension or PH only affects 15 to 50 people per million annually in the US alone. The disease stems from abnormal blood vessels development in the lungs, causing the heart to pump blood harder to provide oxygen throughout the body.

lung disease

Kurt Williams, an expert in respiratory pathology in Michigan State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, has discovered a rare, severe form of pulmonary hypertension in dogs. Credit: G.L. Kohuth

In PVOD, the pressure increases in the small veins in the lungs due to blockage, leading to heart failure. Symptoms can include increased respiratory rate, cough, respiratory distress, chronic fatigue and loss of appetite. Experts say that the disease’s fatal progression can last up to only two years.

“The same process happens in canines,” adds Williams. “These dogs also come in with similar symptoms as humans, yet because subtle changes in health may not be recognised as quickly in dogs, death can occur quickly once the animal is seen by a veterinarian.”

As of now, there are only a few effective treatment options are available for patients with PVOD. Lung transplant remains to be the best choice.

While not a lot is known about PVOD, the researchers suggest that the dog disease could serve as a model for human PVOD.  Its discovery on dogs can help provide more insights into the pathophysiology of the disease in humans.

“It’s cases like this that help to remind us how important veterinary medicine is to medicine in general,” concludes Williams. “Our colleagues in the human medical community are becoming much more aware of the many diseases shared by our respective patients and how together we can learn from each other.”