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Michigan Animal Health Foundation Funds Four Research Grants

MVMA’s non-profit arm, the Michigan Animal Health Foundation (MAHF), is a charitable trust founded in 1969 to give veterinarians and their clients an opportunity to fund critical research that benefits the health and welfare of animals.  Over the years, the foundation has been involved in a wide variety of research projects for both small and large animals.  The MAHF Board of Trustees met in June and evaluated several excellent proposals.  Trustees agreed to provide grants for four of the research projects:

Group Sow Housing – A ‘real farm’ video case study

Legislation and consumer pressure are leading to a global shift in the way breeding pigs are housed. Gestation crates (GC), in which sows are individually-housed in a confined space, are being replaced by group sow housing (GSH). The GC enables the sow to stand, lie down, and shift a few steps forwards and backwards. The alternative, GSH, provides the sow with space to turn around, perform more normal sow behaviors, and socially interact with other sows. As of April 1st 2020, Public Act 117 in Michigan prohibits the use of crates from when sows are confirmed pregnant to seven days before they are due to give birth. Prior to the transition, Michigan pork producers identified a number of educational requirements, including information on different designs, the costs involved, and employee training to manage group housed sows. Based on this, the MSU pork extension team created several factsheets providing information on the GSH options, and the Sow Housing Options Tool (SHOT), to financially compare the options for converting their operation.   

Combining the educational requirements, along with the issues identified in a survey of farm personnel, the aim of this project is to create a video case study involving Michigan pork producers with GSH already in place, focusing on the management of group-housed sows. This will assist other Michigan pork producers in transitioning to GSH as they use the video as an educational tool, in addition to the information already available. Providing practical perspectives on the day-to-day management of such systems will help other producers understand what to expect from their new system, and to solve any problems they may have during the transition.

Radiographic and Sonographic Quantification of Pleural Fluid Volume in Dogs

Pleural effusion is a common finding in veterinary patients seen with a variety of diseases including right heart failure, pyothorax, and chylothorax. Pleural effusions are suspected based on physical exams, with radiographs as the most commonly used modality to confirm them in veterinary practice. Clinicians subjectively grade pleural effusions as mild, moderate, or severe based on the radiographic appearance, but no method exists to exactly quantify the volume of fluid present using radiography nor can a clinician know the expected volume of fluid return when thoracocentesis is subsequently performed. In humans, computed tomography (CT) has been validated as the gold standard for pleural volume estimation but this modality is relatively expensive and not widely available in veterinary practice. Our objective is to improve the management of dogs with pleural effusions by improving the usefulness of thoracic radiography in fluid volume estimation. A method for veterinarians to use radiography to predict the amount of pleural fluid present and predict how much fluid return should be expected during thoracocentesis would greatly improve management of dogs with pleural effusions, preventing complications such as incomplete thoracic drainage and making repeat imaging after thoracocentesis unnecessary.

This study aims to 1) develop an equation that allows accurate prediction of pleural fluid volume in dogs using measurements made on thoracic radiographs, and 2) quantify expected fluid return from routine thoracocentesis procedures in naturally occurring effusions. This will be the largest cohort of pleural effusion imaging studied and the only prospective study on live patients with naturally occurring disease in veterinary medicine.

Vitamin D Plays an Essential Role in Optimizing Transition Cow Health

Dairy cattle develop transition period diseases that limit milk production, fertility and increase antimicrobial drug use.  Disease risk is associated with increased metabolic pressures and dysfunctional immunity that occur late in pregnancy through early lactation.  Dietary micronutrients are crucial for enhanced immune cell functions and improving production efficiency of transition dairy cows.  Vitamin D, for example, is not only essential for optimizing calcium homeostasis and lipid metabolism, but more recently is implicated in reducing the pathogenesis of chronic inflammatory-based diseases and reproductive disorders.  There are no epidemiological studies examining vitamin D concentrations in dairy cattle and the correlations between vitamin D and health and production.  Our preliminary data show that serum vitamin D concentrations were significantly lower in dairy cattle at the time of calving compared to the end of the lactation cycle and late pregnancy.  Dairy cattle obtain vitamin D following UV light exposure from sunlight or by ingestion.  Diminished appetite during the 2 weeks surrounding calving may limit dietary intake of vitamin D, leading to vitamin D insufficiency.   

We hypothesize that vitamin D insufficiency is associated with increased risk of transition cow disease and decreased milk production and fertility.  To test this hypothesis vitamin D concentrations in serum samples previously collected and stored as part of a USDA funded study from dairy cattle from 5 herds obtained before and after calving and at dry-off will be determined by Heartland Assays.  Using these data we will 1) Determine how serum vitamin D concentrations change with season, parity, and during the physiologic transitions of dairy cattle from dry-off to close up and early lactation and 2) Determine if serum vitamin D concentrations are associated with disease incidence, antimicrobial use, milk production and fertility.  The results from these proposed studies will have an immediate impact on dairy herd health management programs by providing the first evidence-based recommendations for serum vitamin D concentrations required to reduce the risk of transition cow disorders.

Prescribing Habits for Behavior Modifying Drugs

As the human-animal bond continues to strengthen in the United States, canine and feline behavior disorders have become a growing concern. Use of pharmaceuticals for behavior modification is a common practice in small animal medicine. Yet, most of these drugs are prescribed extra-labelly, as only three drugs are currently FDA approved for the purpose of behavior modification in dogs. None are approved for cats. The purpose of this study is to examine psychopharmacologic prescribing habits among veterinary behaviorists and general practitioners in small animal medicine. This study will examine prescribing habits for many commonly used medications including: fluoxetine, paroxetine, sertraline, buspirone, trazodone, gabapentin, amitriptyline, clomipramine, selegiline, acepromazine, diazepam, alprazolam, and lorazepam.

Veterinary behaviorists, behavior residents, and small animal general practice veterinarians will be contacted by social media and via e-mail and asked to complete a survey. The survey will detail the respondents experience with each medication, frequency with which the drugs are prescribed to dogs, frequency with which the drugs are prescribed to dogs, indications, dosing schedule, observed side effects, and perceived success of treatment. Discussion will compare variation in prescribing habits between general practitioners versus board certified behaviorists and behavior residents, as well as perceived success and observed side effects among drugs. Veterinarians commonly prescribe generic medications for canine and feline behavioral disorders which, at best, have only small case series to support clinical use. Numerous medications are available which are approved for use in humans but systematic evaluation for canines and felines is lacking.

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