Polyarteritis Nodosa


August 6, 2000

For the first 10 years that Bruce and I were breeding Keeshonden, I was bold enough to say that we were unaware of any problem in our line which could be considered of genetic nature. In 1990, that came to an end. We encountered a perplexing problem that stayed around to haunt us for about 3 or 4 years. I relay the following story so that all of you out there, who believe as I did, will realize that the possibility exists for you too to have problems.

We had a litter in which some of the puppies appeared to have a rare illness. At first we could not get a conclusive diagnosis. With much research we eventually found out that the symptoms and suggested treatment were similar to that of Polyarteritis Nodosa - commonly known as Beagle Syndrome. If properly diagnosed and treated it is a minor condition. If not, it can be life threatening.

The symptoms usually occur in dogs between the ages of 6 months and 2 years. The dogs are listless, go off of their food and appear to have pain and stiffness in the muscles in neck. Treatment should include antibiotics - although veterinarians are reluctant to administer antibiotics for what appears to be an injury. They are more inclined to suggest anti-inflammatory drugs, and pain killers. If antibiotics are not give promptly, and the dog is likely to develop a high temperature and his/her condition deteriorates. Then not only are the antibiotics called for, but the dog in question will also require steroids.

The first time that this showed up was in the spring of 1990. We had a litter of puppies (pedigree) that turned out to be exceptional - type wise. When they were 7 weeks old, I had them outside exercising. From inside the house I heard an airplane fly very over head. I was alarmed at how close it appeared to be. When I heard it for a second time, I ran outside to see an airplane fly directly over head - spraying. We had tent caterpillars that year and we had not been notified that aerial spraying would take place. I quickly bundled up my puppies and took them inside.

The following spring we had taken a puppy from that litter to a show in California. He became quite ill with symptoms that included high temperature, lethargy and severe muscle tenderness. The soreness and stiffness were most apparent in the neck. The dog had great difficulty lowering its head to eat and getting up from a laying position. We put the dog on antibiotics and he seemed to get better after a week or so. Two months later, the symptoms were back again. They occurred two days after receiving his 1-year vaccinations. At first we thought it was a reaction to the shots. He was put on anti-inflammatory tablets and muscle relaxants, along with the antibiotics and he got better. Two months later it happened again. He was put on steroids for six months gradually decreasing the dosage and the problem went away - for good.

Shortly after that I found out that 3 littermates were having similar problems. These dogs had been living in different places in North America since they were 9 weeks of age, so we ruled out environment as the problem. Although we believed that the immunity of these puppies may have been affected by the aerial spraying. Two of these dogs were tested at Veterinary teaching institutions (one in Indiana, the other in Washington) and no cause was found - no diagnosis given. Blood work indicated an infection, but that was it.

For a couple of years, I heard nothing more about it. Then more cases cropped up from other people's litters - dogs related to ours. In most cases, the symptoms appeared after the dogs were under some sort of stress (after vaccinations, going to shows, moving locations, etc.). All dogs responded well to antibiotics, given immediately. The ones who were not given antibiotics immediately did poorly until antibiotics were given along with steroids. Usually one long-term dose of steroids was all that was needed to eliminate the problem.

In my research I found out that a study was done on a colony of Beagles in the late 70's at Cornell University. I was told that the dogs in question were being studied for Polyarteritis Nodosa. Our dogs were displaying similar symptoms. I also found out that it was considered an autoimmune problem.

A couple of vets diagnosed it as Meningitis and steroids were not prescribed. In both cases the dog's condition deteriorated rapidly. In the first case the vet finally did use steroids and the dog recovered. In the second case, the dog was finally euthanized as the vet felt there was no chance of recovery.

A dog from the first affected litter, mentioned above, was felt to have suffered irreparable heart damage from recurring bouts. At the time of writing this dog is 12 years old - alive and well.

In an attempt to find out how often this problem had occurred, I sent out questionnaires to all of my puppy buyers, with about a 50% response. From this I gathered that males were getting it 5 times as often as females. In dogs that we bred, or that are related to ours, I am aware of 18 cases - 15 males and 3 females. One affected male was used against my wishes to sire one litter. In the resulting litter of 3 males and 4 females, 2 males and 1 female were affected.

In response to an article I wrote to an American Keeshond publication (one of 1st editions of Jabberwockees), I received some further information. This apparently had occurred in Keeshonden in the past. Unfortunately, the few people that did call were unwilling to share pedigree information with me. There were apparently several Kees with the problem in the early '80s. I was unable to obtain information as a result, which would shed much light on the subject.

For the past several years, we have not heard of any dogs that have developed this problem. I am no longer na´ve enough to believe that it will never recur. Therefore, with every puppy we sell, I give information about this problem to be given to veterinarians - just in case it should occur again. Hopefully, it will not; and if it does, it can be handled quickly and painlessly.

In humans it has been suggested that up to 35 percent of patients seem to have Polyarteritis Nodosa triggered by a viral hepatitis infection, either hepatitis B (in 20 percent to 30 percent) or hepatitis C (in about 5 percent). This suggests two things to me. First, we should suspect that Hepatitis vaccinations may play some part in this problem, and second, that when the problem occurs we should be doing blood work to check for the presence of Hepatitis in our dogs. For more information on the human condition, please go to the Human PAN support group by clicking here.



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