Anal furunculosis is a painful disease that affects certain dogs. It causes inflammation, ulceration, and the development of tunnel-like lesions that can extend from the anus into the rectum and colon. It’s common in German Shepherds and is also seen in Leonbergers. Although anal furunculosis has been recognized for decades, its genetic underpinnings remain elusive. But that might be about to change.

Morris Animal Foundation has awarded a grant to researchers at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) in the UK to study anal furunculosis and identify the genetic risk factors behind its development. The grant is funded by the American German Shepherd Dog Charitable Foundation through Morris Animal Foundation’s Donor-Inspired Study program, which allows individual donors and foundations to directly support research topics for which they have a passion and there is a pressing need. Applications for this particular grant were reviewed and rated, based on impact and scientific rigor, by a Foundation scientific advisory board.

Details of the study

The grant’s recipients are Dr. Brian Catchpole, Professor of Companion Animal Immunology, and Dr. Lucy Davison, MRC Clinician Scientist Fellow and Professor of Veterinary Clinical Genetics at the RVC. Dr. Alison Hall, a Postgraduate Research Student and boarded veterinary internist and practitioner at the college, will be carrying out the research.

The team will sequence the whole genome from banked DNA samples of ten German Shepherds and three Leonbergers with anal furunculosis; and five German Shepherds and two Leonbergers without the disease. Other dogs will be recruited with Dr. Hall’s assistance.

“We’re building on work our team has previously undertaken on another complex disease, diabetes in dogs,” says Dr. Davison. “We can pull in all these big data sets from different studies and use our computational resources to prioritize genes of interest. One thing that’s important, and that we’re doing in this study, is to ask why certain dogs don’t get the disease. There might be something protective in these dogs that we can mimic in at-risk dogs.”

Once the sequencing is completed, the team will compare their findings to data from other dog breeds without the condition. This approach will allow the researchers to identify the most important candidate genes associated with anal furunculosis as a first step toward prospectively identifying at-risk dogs, as well as new treatment targets.

“What we learn from this work could also shed light on the immunological defects that lead to this perianal inflammation,” says Dr. Janet Patterson-Kane, Morris Animal Foundation’s Chief Scientific Officer. “A greater understanding of the immune response in these patients could have broader application to inflammatory conditions of German Shepherds and other breeds.”

“Anal furunculosis is a significant welfare problem for affected dogs and their owners,” adds Dr. Catchpole. “Treatment is lifelong and expensive. We hope our findings can shed more light on this disease and perhaps lead to new insights on treatment and prevention.”


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