Acknowledgement is given to the authors Drs C.C.B. Robinson & J.C. Vaudrey.
This article describes our experiences with one female Weimaraner puppy from 11 weeks to 5 years of age. We have not been able to exactly define the problem, except to say that it appears to be a malfunction of the immune system, that is appears to be genetically based and, although reluctant to say, it can be cured. We feel it can be controlled and this dog appears to have grown out of it.
The puppy was first seen at 11 weeks of age with soreness of the joints and bones, very miserable and with a temperature. It looked like a generalised infection and was treated with antibiotics and a little cortisone to relieve the pain. Three days later she was much worse, with vomiting and diarrhoea, both with blood in them and a very high temperature, dehydrated and obviously severely ill. She was given intravenous fluids and more of the same drugs as before. Over the next few days she gradually recovered.
Later we found out that three other pups in the litter had the same problem, one had died, and two others had been put down. A fourth was unaffected.
Over the next 6 months our pup had recurring bouts of the same problem. Usually she would suddenly go very quite and withdrawn and later show other symptoms. These varied but usually were a high temperature, vomiting and diarrhoea and a refusal to eat, and variously she had soreness in the kidney and bladder are. Straining to urinate on an empty bladder, blood in the urine and a virginal discharge. She also experienced a prolonged problem with Demodectic mange.
It became apparent that whatever the symptoms, they rapidly improved once cortisone was given and we usually gave an intravenous dose of Finadyne, a non-cortisone anti-inflammatory drug, as well. On some occasions she was back to her normal self by the time she reached home, half an hour after treatment.
We decided to put her on a low dose of cortisone tablets every second day. This controlled the problem unless she was stressed such as by showing, trailing or prolonged travel or exercise. Relapse from this stress were treated with temporarily higher doses of the tablets and if that wasn't enough, one dose of Finadyne would return her to normal.
We had taken blood tests at various stages. These showed that there was a severe inflammation or infection occurring, which could have been due to a bacterial infection, but we were never able to isolate any bacteria, thus it became that we were probably dealing with an auto-immune problem. This is where the dog's immune system, which normally only attacks invading foreign organisms, starts to attack the tissues of it's own body. Blood tests to confirm this were not conclusive, but the rapid response to cortisone therapy made it a likely diagnosis.
By the time she was 9 months old and the attacks appeared to be under control and reducing in frequency, but they still recurring if she was taken off cortisone.
At 15 months she did have a serious relapse, getting so sick that we contemplated putting her down, but her owner wanted to persevere and we were able to pull her through. But this occurred after she had minor surgery, further emphasizing how vulnerable she was to stress.
At 2 ½ years it was decided to spay her as by now we were getting hearsay reports of other related dogs having the same problem. Also this dog's litter sister, who had been unaffected, had a pup that was severely affected. It clearly was a genetic and inheritable defect.
Three days after the operation she had a relapse, but this time we were able to control it with tablets alone.
In the next few days she has had a further operation, again nothing brought on by her disorder but this time we gave her a dose of Finadyne and some extra cortisone before the operation and there has been no relapse at all.
The dog is now 5 ½ years old, but six months ago started to show side effects of the continuous cortisone therapy - lethargic, flabby appearance, drinking a lot and reluctant to exercise. We have been progressively reducing the dose since to the stage that we are now about to try without tablets. So far there have been no relapses and she has returned to her normal self. She appears to be 'growing out' of the problem.
Two months ago another pup came to us with the same symptoms. This pup is closely related to our original case and blood tests gave almost identical results to those on the first dog five years ago.
This one too responded rapidly to cortisone and Finadyne only, and she relapsed when stressed by showing, so she is given extra tablets above her 'normal' very low dose, when stress is anticipated. So far with good results.
It is an extraordinary condition and does not seem to be the same as reported in American Weimaraners. They have reported an Immune Deficiency Syndrome (similar to AIDS) and while some of our symptoms are the same, to us it seems more an Auto Immune disease. There is certainly no lack of response by the immune system - quite the opposite.
While we don't know what it is, we do know what it isn't. It isn't an infection nor a mineral or dietary deficiency and because of the very rapid onset and response to treatment, it isn't an immune deficiency.
But we feel we have established that it can be controlled and lived with and it seems they may grow out of it.
But more importantly, it does seem to be a genetic defect. All affected dogs have been closely related, and it appears that carriers occur - unaffected dogs that have affected pups. While the dogs do not need to be put down, it would seem prudent not to breed from them.
That we have been able to keep trying with this dog until we found a way to control her condition is a tribute to the persistence and devotion of her owner. We thank her; it is a privilege to work with her.
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