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MaryDee Sist DVM
1629 Meech Road
Williamston, MI 48895


Saluki Health Survey: Results
-MaryDee Sist, DVM

The Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights has published a Guide to Congenital and Heritable Disorders in Dogs (revised 8/97- It lists 334 congenital and genetically transmitted diseases alphabetically (with a brief description of the condition) that occur in purebred dogs. Salukis have a relatively small number listed -14, Greyhounds and Afghans have 24, while Golden Retrievers have 42 and German Shepherds have 70. Dr. George Padgett says that he listed conditions occurring in a breed in his book Control of Canine Genetic Diseases, if a single case was reported in the literature of the Veterinary Medical Data Program at Purdue University and the condition follows family lines or has been reported to be genetic in the breed, other breeds or other species. Thus what has been reported in the literature might not reflect what health conditions are currently seen in Salukis.

For example, the Guide lists anesthetic idiosyncrasy, behavioral abnormalities, neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis, eye conditions (cataracts, corneal dystrophy, entropion, persistent pupillary membrane, progressive retinal atrophy, retinal detachment, retinal dysplasia) blood and immune disorders (hemolytic anemia, thrombopenia, Von Willebrand's disease) and hypothyroidism as inheritable disorders in Salukis.

As a Veterinary practitioner who has been involved with the breed for nearly 30 years, I had not heard of many of these conditions commonly occurring in Salukis. I had, however, experience with heart conditions and cancers seemingly prevalent in the breed. Saluki Health Research, with SCOA health committee support, conducted a "Perceived Health Problems in Salukis" survey in 2000. This survey was conducted to see what conditions are known to occur in our population of Salukis. And thus helping focus research in areas of major health problems of Salukis.

Although just over 100 surveys were returned, generalizations could be made from the responses. Disorders were judged to be of minor occurrence in the breed if they were checked as known to occur in Salukis in less than 10%, and of significant occurrence if greater than 30%.

Rated by the number of responses, the survey clearly showed that there were major areas of concern. The categories with the most responses were Cardiac disorders, cancers and then blood and immune disorders. Hypothyroidism, cysts, skin allergies and sudden death were other areas noted with as having a significant incidence.

CARDIAC DISORDERS: Cardiomyopathy had the highest of all responses with 49% marking it as known to occur. Murmurs, congenital heart defects, congestive heart failure and heart valve disease were all significant, with arrhythmia's having the lowest incidence of 20%. This shows a good awareness of the prevalence of heart conditions in our breed. However, our ongoing heart pathology study shows that the incidence of cardiomyopathy that we have found is low, with only 2 cases documented, while the incidence of other heart conditions found in this select population is high. Over a third of the respondents were aware of heart valve disease (which was the most prevalent condition we found) and congenital heart defects (very low in our group) occurring. Most knew that these could result in murmurs and congestive heart failure. The heart does compensate for a leaky valve by enlarging over time, but this is not a primary cardiomyopathy. Fewer Salukis were known to have arrhythmias which can predispose a dog to sudden death. Thus routine examinations repeated periodically, especially as the Salukis age, are important for diagnosing heart conditions and possibly avoiding erroneous diagnosis of sudden death or cardiomyopathy.

The second category that had a significant number of responses was CANCERS. Nearly a third knew of Salukis with mixed mammary tumors (in reproductive disorders, 48 checked mammary tumors) and hemangiosarcomas. Liver or spleen tumors, squamous cell carcinomas and lymphoma and leukemia were all frequently known to occur. However, cancers were also frequently marked in other categories such as skin tumors and musculoskeletal cancers. This makes various forms of cancer apparently quite prevalent in our breed. Whether this is due to the environment, genetics or due to the extended life span of our dogs verses those in the desert clearly needs exploring. Further, it is important to have lumps and bumps on Salukis examined. Microscopic examination is often needed for a diagnosis and treatment options. It is also important to delve into family histories to determine if there is a heritable nature for various cancers. The incidence certainly suggests this and makes further investigations warranted.

BLOOD & IMMUNE DISORDERS were the next most prevalent category. Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia and allergic reactions to vaccines were most commonly checked. Hypothyroidism was the second most prevalent condition checked and a great majority of cases are due to autoimmune thyroiditis. Allergies and dermatological disorders including skin allergies, demodetic mange and autoimmune skin diseases, as well as autoimmune thrombocytopenia were frequently known to occur. However, other immune disorders were relatively rare with Rheumatoid arthritis, Lupus, hypoproteinemia, and bleeding problems (including von Willebrands) having a low frequency of occurrence. The immune system certainly affects all organ systems. Heredity can play a role in some immune conditions, but some can also be induced by tick-borne diseases and other environmental exposures. Future research will help clarify the immune systems role in many disorders.

Cysts and lipomas were the most commonly encountered DERMATOLOGICAL DISORDERS with conditions with a known immune component and skin tumors also frequently checked. Sparse coat and alopecia had a fair incidence which might be more apparent due to the Salukis short coat.

REPRODUCTIVE DISORDERS: Mammary tumors had a 45% incidence with retained testicles at just under 30%. Small litters, pyometra, dystocia or c-sections, infertility, abortion or reabsorption, and prostatic infections were fairly common. While some of these conditions could be due to mismanagement, reproductive health is crucial to the health of a breed.

MUSCULOSKELETAL conditions were next in frequency. Injuries of the toe and foot, fractures and muscle/tendon/ligament problems were common. Since the activity level of the dogs was beyond the scope of this survey, it is not clear whether this occurred in dogs competing in the open field. However, panosteitis, osteochondritis dissecans and hip dysplasia, which are known to be inherited conditions especially prevalent in large breeds, was relatively unheard of in Salukis.

Hypothyroidism was a commonly checked ENDOCRINE DISORDER. However I question if this is truly a correct diagnosis with normal Salukis testing low for the most commonly assayed thyroid hormone (T4). Only Cushings disease, which can be induced by giving steroids, was more than infrequently encountered with Diabetes insipidus and mellitus, Addison's and low blood sugar after exercise being of low occurrence.

Inability to gain weight was most common GASTROINTESTINAL condition. Bite or tooth problems and pancreatitis were checked the most frequently, but not commonly. However, conditions known to be inherited (portosystemic shunt, megaesophagus) or have an immune component (inflammatory bowel disease, chronic diarrhea) were not frequently encountered.

Over a quarter of the respondents knew of a Saluki with seizures in NEUROLOGICAL DISORDERS. Seizures can be from many different causes including liver problems, metabolic imbalances, tonicities, brain injuries or tumors, or due to epilepsy. Further diagnostics for any seizuring dogs are certainly warranted to rule out organic causes. Nearly a fifth marked abnormal or problem behaviors, but these could range from severe problems like aggression to minor problems like shyness due to little socialization. Paralysis and disc disease were of minor occurrence.

For EYE/EAR PROBLEMS only cataracts and deafness were known to be more than a minor occurrence. However, these are always associated with advancing age. Sudden blindness, Progressive Retinal Atrophy and glaucoma, know to be inherited in other breeds, were rarely encountered. Routine screening, unless there is a family history, might not be necessary.

Only incontinence in URINARY DISORDERS had more than a minor occurrence. This certainly is expected with advancing age. Bladder/kidney stones, cystinuria, chronic interstitial nephritis and glomerulonephritis were all rarely known to occur.

RESPIRATORY DISORDERS including nasal tumors and lung tumors, pneumonia, pneumothorax and chronic infections were rarely encountered.

For the OTHER category, only sudden death commonly occurred. This is unfortunate, for sudden death dogs should be examined to determine the cause of death. There is no sudden death disease or syndrome. Aneurisms are a very unusual occurrence in dogs and I wonder if these were truly diagnosed or supposed due to findings no obvious cause of death on a gross examination.

From the results of this survey, cardiac disorders, autoimmune conditions and cancers were clearly the most common health concerns for our Salukis. These areas clearly need further research investigations.

On a more positive note, it seems that we have a relatively healthy breed in other areas. Many of the conditions, known to be inherited in various breeds of dogs, were found to occur with a relatively low frequency in Salukis. It is possible that routine screening of dogs in previous generations before breeding them has greatly decreased the incidence of conditions reported by others. Or it is possible that published reports might be generated from experiences with just a few individuals that were not representative of the population.

Without conducting and participating in health surveys, even though they might just involve perceptions or generalizations, we can't know the incidence of conditions affecting our Salukis. We need to be open with our own dog's health concerns and share these with other breeders to ensure the future health of our ancient breed.

MaryDee Sist, DVM

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