Increased incidence of megaesophagus in dogs in Latvia 2014-2016
Preliminary results Dr. Ilze Matīse, DVM, MS, PhD, Diplomate ACVP February, 2016
What is esophageal dilatation; what are the causes and the incidence of this disease?:
Megaesophagus (ME) is the generalized dilatation of the esophagus with decreased or absent motility. It is the most common cause of regurgitation in dogs and cats. Food fails to enter the stomach, remains in the esophagus, and is eventually regurgitated.
The disease can be congenital (clinical signs appears shortly after weaning) or acquired. Acquired ME affects dogs of various ages (mean age 7 – 15 years). There are numerous causes of ME – the most common is a neuromuscular disease myasthenia gravis (25% of cases). ME can also be one of the clinical signs in a wide range of diseases: neurological, muscular diseases (polymyopathy, polyneuropathy, dysautonomia); hormonal diseases (hypoadrenocorticism, hypothyroidism); esophageal inflammation – esophagitis; toxins – botulism, lead, organic phosphates etc; anatomical changes of esophagus – pathology of vascular ring; neoplasia; infectious diseases – canine distemper, neosporosis, tick born paralysis. If the cause of ME is not identified, it is classified as idiopathic ME. Most cases (50%) of ME in adult dogs are considered idiopathic.
Due to the diverse causes of this disease, the incidence of ME is rarely reported. The incidence of ME at the University of Missouri over an eight year period was reported to be approximately 1 per 1000 admissions (Guilford et al., 1990). Data about overall ME incidence in Latvia is not readily available. Only 4 dogs were diagnosed with ME at the Small Animal Hospital of Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Latvia between 2008 and 2012 (5 year period) therefore ME in Latvia before 2014 was considered to be a rare diagnosis.
The situation in Latvia in 2015: an unusual increase of ME cases:
During spring of 2015 small animal practitioners began noticing and reporting on the unusual increase of meagesopahgus (ME) patients in their practices. The Latvian Association of Veterinarians (LAV) together with the Latvian University of Agriculture Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (LUA FVM) started to gather information about these cases. In the period from April 2014 until May 2015 there were at least 70 dogs diagnosed with ME in Latvia (all confirmed by X-ray). Such an increase had not been observed or reported in any other country during this period (information from FECAVA directors).
In May 2015 the Ministry of Agriculture of Latvia funded the study investigating the cause of the ME outbreak in Latvia. The research was led by Dr. Ilze Matise, USA Board Certified veterinary pathologist (Diplomate, ACVP). Other researchers contributing were from the Veterinary faculty ( LUA FVM): Dr. Ivars Lusis, an epidemiologist, Dr. Kristine Drevinska, a small animal veterinarian; and Dr. Inga Piginka, a veterinary pathologist from the Latvian State Research Institute BIOR and pathologist at LUA FVM. The research was carried out by BIOR. A 6 month research plan was developed after consultations with various specialists in Europe and the USA representing a variety of disciplines: small animal internal medicine, neurology, toxicology and epidemiology. The most important goal of this study was to identify the cause of the sudden increase of ME cases. There also existed the serious concern of the underlying possibility that any “contaminant” that was affecting the health and/or killing of dogs may also have the potential to infiltrate the environment or food supply causing human disease. A retrospective study done in May 2015 was used to assess the epidemiological situation before the research plan for prospective study was designed. Locally made dog food was identified as one of potential risk factors; thus, the differential diagnoses included: acrylamide toxicity (toxic compound formed if carbohydrates are processed at high temperatures), botulism, dysautonomia, heavy metals (lead etc.), thallium, organic phosphates, toxicity of unknown substances, as well as myasthenia gravis.
Plan of the study:
1. To identify the characteristics of the affected dogs – predisposing factors (age, breed, weight, gender, place of living, indoors/outdoors, feeding, health prophylactic measures, other diseases); to compare ME dogs with a control group (any other dog without ME). In order to gather data, a questionnaire was designed in consultation with foreign specialists. According to the request from the dog food manufacturer some questions were added to questionnaire.
2. To understand and describe the pathology of the disease. Only dogs with a diagnosis confirmed by radiography (x-rays) were included in the study. a. Clinical signs of the disease, appearance, progress, response to treatment b. Blood tests – changes in the complete blood count ( CBC) and biochemistry tests c. Tissue changes in dead or euthanized dogs
3. Tests for toxins as possible causes of ME (test of tissues, blood and food samples) a. Botulinum toxins b. Acrylamide c. Heavy metals, thallium d. Organic phosphates e. Other unknown substances
4. Tests on dog food a. Bacteriological, chemical and toxin tests b. Quantitative analysis of food (microelements, supplements, vitamins)
Current results and conclusions:
Currently, only the first half of the research plan has been completed. The Control group of healthy dogs must be formed and similar information gathered and compared. Part of the planned tests have been completed and the botulinum toxin tests are nearly finished. However, the test for organophosphates and other unknown substances must still be done. The analysis of the dog food is also partly completed but the quantitative analysis still must be performed.
From May 2015 until December 2015, 70 new ME dog cases have been diagnosed – these are cases confirmed by X-ray and enrolled in the prospective study (samples collected and survey completed). The average number of ME cases is 8-9 per month. Thirteen of the 70 dogs in prospective study have died or have been euthanized due to poor health. Twenty veterinary clinics were involved in this study. The ME cases were found in 28 various counties. The greatest number of dogs (13) lived in Riga or its proximity. Affected dogs were from all regions of Latvia – both from urban and rural territories. In 30% of the cases more than one dog in the household was affected suggesting a common cause of the disease.
Results of the detailed questionnaire have been summarized. There were 54 complete questionnaieres from 60 dogs. The affected dogs were adults, 1-12 years old (mean age 6 years), mostly male (76%). 17 different breeds have been identified, predominantly: Bernese mountain dogs, Golden retrievers, Labradors, German Shepherds, Doberman pinchers. Only a few dogs represented small breeds – Toy terriers, Dachshunds. Most dogs were medium to large breed dogs with a median weight of 25 – 55kg. The age and breed profile of the dogs confirms that this disease is not a congenital form of ME. In Latvia’s dogs, ME is an acquired disease.
The first ME cases were observed early in 2014 and some of the cases enrolled in the study had symptoms long before diagnosis of ME was made. The most common clinical sign reported was regurgitation and/or vomiting (94%). Regurgitation occurred soon after the meal (67%) or during the meal (50%). Other common clinical signs were a changed voice or loss of voice – dysphonia (72%), difficulty breathing and coughing. Weight loss was observed in more than 60% of the dogs and fatigue in 52%. 64% of the dogs improved after treatment but 17% were too sick and died during the study. A greater number of ME affected dogs (53%) lived in restricted areas with rare access to chemicals (4%) or household waste (15%). Food supplements were used in 11% of dogs. Information about use of parasite control was as follows: 45% of dogs received tick treatment, 59% flea treatment and 70% internal parasite treatment. 72% of dogs were vaccinated during the last 3 years. Esophageal trauma or chronic disease were diagnosed in 2% suggesting that the ME disease affected previously healthy dogs.
The most common factor for ME affected dogs was the consumption of one particular, locally made dry dog food. 94% of all dogs were fed Brand A dog food. In most cases (86%) the food was stored in its original packaging which in 50% of cases was a combination of paper and polyethylene. In order to compare the incidence of the above mentioned factors in the whole dog population of Latvia, a control group will be formed and assessed. However, dog food remains under high suspicion since it is highly unlikable that 94% of dogs in Latvia are consuming one and the same food.
Blood tests show mild inflammation – possibly associated with the ME complication — aspiration pneumonia. Dirofilaria repens (a larval parasite transferred by mosquitoes, usually without any clinical signs) was observed in the blood more often than is typical (15% of cases). Serum chemistry tests showed mild muscle damage. Muscle atrophy was observed on postmortem examination of dogs. Another post-mortem histological finding was abnormalities in the nerves –a polyneuropathy and a loss of ganglion cells in the esophageal tissues. Anaerobic bacteria Clostridium baratii possibly capable of producing botulinum toxin F was discovered in the stomach of 33% dogs, however these isolates were negative for all botulinum toxin genes by PCR (A, B, C, D, E, F). Botulinum toxin was assayed for all blood samples and these results were negative. One more test remains for botulism – assesment of fecal samples of sick dogs for botulinum toxins (testing in progress in Sweden).
The analyses of blood (20 samples) and food (17 samples) for acrylamide, heavy metals and thallium were performed at BIOR. None of these substances were above normal limits. In addition, 16 dog food samples were analyzed for bacterial, chemical and mycotoxin contamination at BIOR. No significant deviations were observed, including no anaerobic, botulinum toxin- producing bacteria were found. Due to ruling out these toxins other differential diagnoses must be considered for evaluation – see below. However, these results do not rule out food as the possible cause of the ME outbreak. Tests for organophosphates, levels of specific microelements, supplements and vitamins, as well as testing for unknown substances will be done in blood and tissues of sick dogs and in Brand A pet food. In addition to this further plans for this study include establishing a control group to evaluate risk factors, completing testing for botulinum toxins in feces. Meanwhile we are continuing to register new ME cases to follow the incidence of ME in Latvia. Specialists from Europe and USA are regulary contacted to discuss results and to provide guidance for the study.
Importance of research:
The increase of ME cases is unique to Latvia – we are facing an emerging disease. During the last 6 months 4 researchers and many veterinarians in Latvia have donated their time to investigate this disease, to find its cause, and to identify any risk factors. Due to this research and the increased public awareness, ME cases are being diagnosed faster and the proportion of lethal cases have decreased from 30% in the first half of 2015 to 17% in second half of 2015.
The significance of this research may be far reaching:
1. New cases may be prevented alleviating suffering and death of dogs.
2. Similar situations may be prevented from occurring in other countries.
3. A new cause of ME may be discovered and controlled/eradicated.
4. Understanding the cause of this degenerative muscle/nerve pathology may help in the understanding of similar human diseases.
If you have any comments and suggestion that could contribute to our study, please contact Dr. Ilze Matise firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information about ME – Everything the veterinarian and the dog owner should know has been available at LAV website www.lvb.lv since June 2015. The information was compiled by researchers and practicing veterinarians. Information in English about retrospective study is available here:
The Dogs Die, But The Caravan Moves On:
Zane Mače, IR, April 13, 2016
Tens of dogs in Latvia are destined to a torturous death, due to an esophagus that is crippleded by neurological damage. Veterinarians and researchers have suspected for a year now that the sudden outburst of a normally rare disease is linked to a locally manufactured dry dog food. No laboratory has found the cause, but the Ministry is unwilling to support further studies. Meanwhile, producer of this food makes donations to ruling parties.
Longhaired Dachshund Kurmis, age 9. He was fed dog food DOGO since 2012., and the first symptoms of illness, regurgitating food, started in February this year. Now he is able to eat only in a vertical position, propped up in a custom-made chair. Kurmis eats his daily meals propped up almost vertical, placed in a special chair that resembles a child’s high chair. He is nine, he is a Longhaired Dachshund. Each comfortless meal takes up to half an hour. He has 5 or 6 such meals a day, because his food, the consistency of sour cream with the addition of various medications, is eaten in small portions. Meal finished, he will spend an additional 30 minutes in his chair, to ensure that the food reaches his stomack – otherwise Kurmis will regurgitate his meal and particles of food may reach his lungs, causing a lethal infection. During the first weeks, Kurmis loudly protested this new order of things, barked and sometimes even managed to escape his chair. Now he is used to it, and only gives an occasional growl. He has accepted it, say his owners Laila and Māris Leja. So have they, too, accepted the dog’s diagnosis – enlargement of esophagus, or megaesophaus (ME).
The disease is incurable. Since March of last year, when veterinarians in Latvia started to raise alarm about the unusually high incidence of the disease, over 200 dogs have been diagonsed with it. This is a higher number than Penn State University clinic in the USA, that researched the disease earlier, had seen in a time span of 10 years. Before, this disease was not particularly common in Latvia, either, known in two forms – a hereditary abnormality that manifests itself immediately after weaning, or during the course of life as a complication of other illness, such as hormonal imbalance. The sudden outburst of illness alarmed veterinarians and upset dog owners. Last year, data analysis showed one common thread – these dogs were fed dry dog food DOGO, produced by Tukuma Straume. Ministry of Agriculture funded a study to find the cause of this outburst, however, a year after the first danger signals there are still no answers. Moreover – the chance to get any answers in in serious jeopardy, as the Ministry no longer considers it a priority.
STARVATION AND ASPHYXIATION:
Megaesophagus is a grave illness. Ingested food does not reach the stomack but rather remains in esophagus. The dog regurgitates it and breathing can transport particles of food into the lungs. Veterinary pathologist Ilze Matīsa-Van Houten, who headed the team of reasearchers studyding this disease, says in a healthy dog, the diameter of esophagus is about 3 cm, whereas in a megaesophagus patient – 8 cm. A healthy esophagus moves food towards the stomack by contracting and relaxing special muscles, but a damagaed esophagus turns into a sort of immobile tube. The animal will die of starvation, but, with the addition of a lung infection, the animal is no longer able to breathe.
Dog owners “IR” approached are clear about it – it is torture. Tatjana from Bauska, both of whose dogs fell ill, chose to euthanize her pets, no longer able to witness their suffering. German Shepherd mix, 12 year old Žoriks, was no longer able to breathe. His owner recalls how, on his last day of life, the dog was fighting to breathe for 16 long minutes, gasping for air and desperately looking for help with his people. Tatjana had used her hands to try and free his airway, pulled forward his tongue that was turning blue. That day the animal received his salvation – a lethal injection. Raitis from Jūrmala, who lost his energetic German Shepherd Karāts, recalls how the dog started to regurgitate food, was unable to stand up and withered away in front of his eyes, finally one day falling to the ground, lifeless.
And so the stories go, dog owners from all over Latvia without any apparent connection to each other. Iveta, the owner of 5-year old Rika, admits – she dreads the day she will have to make the decision about euthanasia. As the dog succumbed to illness, the life of her owners changed, the easy tossing of dry food granules into the bowl now replaced by feeding the dog in vertical position. Those with very large dogs or that do not have the special chair, hold their animals upright by hand and feed them thin porridge and finely minced meat. Inese from Iecava slowly spoon-feeds her 10 years old Golden Retriever Šēra. In March last year, veterinarians first noted the unusually frequent appearance of this normally rare disease. Similar cases had appeared a few times a year, but that spring, within a month, they had more diagnosed cases than previously during a calendar year. Questioning the owners, it soon became apparent that there is one common thread in their answers. Almost all dogs had been fed DOGO, a dry dog food produced by Tukuma Straume.
“It was difficult to believe (that food may be at fault), so we designed a retrospective study, we got in touch with veterinarians that had these dogs in their practices, ” says Matīsa van Houten. With the help of students at Latvijas Lauksaimniecības Universitāte, LLU (Latvian Agriculture University), veterinarians combed through patient information cards of the 70 dogs that had been diagnosed with megaesophagus the year before, 2014. Dog owners filled out detailed questionnaires detailing everything about their dogs – any trauma, other disease, living environment and feeding. Question about food was worded like this: Do you feed your dog homemade food or commercially produced food? If respondents chose the latter, then a further question – what brand? Analysing the data on 70 dogs, it was clear – 95% of these dogs had been fed either exclusively DOGO, or DOGO mixed with homemade food. This coincidence, coming to light for the second time, could no longer be ignored, and veterinarians alerted the Ministry of Agriculture of this danger.
In late May, a group of 4 scientists were given 6 months to find the cause. Unable to find the cause within the time limit set, the study worth 47 000 Euro was discontinued. The Ministry had alloted an additional 11 000 Euro, and 35 000 Euro was given by the State scientific institute BIOR, the laboratory where the testing was carried out. Pārtikas Veterināriais Dienests (State Veterinary Service) spend an additional 700 Euro, carrying out various tests. Ilze Matīsa van Houten, who has worked as a researched in the USA for may years, says: when starting this study, no one realized how large and complex it would be. “We have worked much more than it was at first planned.” In addition, the reasearcher says that initially the budget was much larger, 86 000 Euro, but Lauksaimniecības Organizāciju Sadarbības Padome (LOSP) (Agriculture Organizations Cooperation Council) had objected, calling the research project squandering of state money. “Why throw money away, when it is clear that (the illness) has nothing to do with food,” says Edgars Treibergs, Chairman of the LOSP Board. He points out that in other countries of the world this disease is not associated with food, and therefore he believes that the true goal of all the alarmists is to destroy the company Tukuma Straume. The leader of the organization that includes the Veterinary Association, is adamant that veterinarians should devote their full energy to treating agriculture animals. “But now Veterinarian Association is messing around with dogs, “ he angrily pronounces. In January, LOSP recommended that state money is spent only on research projects that will have a positive impact on agriculture, and in the future LOSP should have the last word to accept or reject any allocation of funds to veterinarians.
LOOKING A FOR A NEEDLE IN HAY STACK
The research team led by Matīsa Van Houten included the faculty of the Latvian Agriculture University, pathologist Inga Pigņika, epidemiologist Ivars Lūsis and veterinarian Kristīne Drevinska, trying to understand a disease that has nowhere in the world had such an outburst. The first conclusion was that the disease affects not only esophagus, but other muscles, as well. “It is basically neurological damage, “ says the researcher.
The next step was to understand what causes this damage. The one thing that stands out for all patients is feeding, the other – living environment, followed by vaccination, anti-paresitic medicine, other illness. As part of the research project, 54 dog owners were interviewed, and 54 questionnaires paint the picture of the typical patient – it is a male dog, about 6 years old, medium or large in size, both purebred dogs (German Shepherds, Labradors, Bernese Mountain dgs, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Newfoundlands, Dobermanns, Dachshunds, Pugs) and mixed breed dogs. Most patients lived in a fenced territory, in an outdoors yard or dog run, less frequently they were apprtment dogs. 94% of the patient dogs were fed DOGO. “We are not saying all dogs were fed this food, we have three, two Toy Terriers and a Dachshund, that were fed something else, “ says the researcher. The volume of patients that were never fed DOGO corresponds to the number of megaesophagus cases before the outburst.
The rest of the work took place in laboratory, where sample materials of 70 patients , and the food they ate, is reasearched, but the 13 dogs that died of ME and were donated to research, will have their tissue samples examined. Scientists started at the beginning, looking for substances that are the usual suspects – heavy metals, lead, acrylamide, botulism, thallium, but had to strike these from the list of potential agents of harm. Research is very time-intensive, as it can take from a day up to month to properly prepare on sample. As money ran out, research was discontinued in November last year, as the Ministry started having doubts whether the problem was indeed as serious as veterinarians portrayed it.
Meanwhile, scientists are positive that research must continue, as the samples have to be tested for other harmful substances, such as organophosphates, pesticides, ionophores. They also envisage a wide screening that includes 200 thousand various substances. Researchers are positive the disease is closely linked to food, even though there has been no conclusive proof so far. The Ministry of Agriculture does not think so. “We do not support DOGO being heralded as the guilty party, “ states Zanda Matuzale, Director of the Food and Veterinary Department of the Ministry. “Tukuma Straume has been very successful in this market segment, they have a wide variety of products, my cat eats DOGO canned food, refuses anything else and demands DOGO!” says the Ministry representative, noting that the main hostage of this situation is Tukuma Straume. Indeed, the dog owners we interviewed confirmed that their early experience with DOGO food had been positive, the dogs were energetic, with shining coats, and the price considerably lower than that of other brands. Tukuma Straume produces dog food for 20 years, the brand DOGO has been available since 2006. Board director Aivars Podnieks does not find the time for an eye-to-eye interview, but in writing, through his press secretary, maintains that DOGO has many loyal followers still. The company says in the first few years about 2000 dogs were fed their foods, but as of last year this number is closer to 33 thousand. “In Latvia, we own about 1/3 of the market share, and about 15% of our prodct is exported, “ Podnieks writes that late las year about 300 thousand tons of dry dog food were sold. Financial reports of the company show that Tumuma Straume, that produces also cattle food and chicken food, ended the year 2014. with 1.7 million of profit, and 1.1 million the year before.
There have been cases in the world that food causes disease in animals. Researchers point to a case in Britain a couple of years ago, when food caused disease in cats, but in 2003. the food ECO was removed from store shelves in Estonia, as several animals had got ill. DOGO, however, is still in stores, even though to correlation is strong. Since the start od the DOGO saga, the company has redoubled their marketing efforts, praising their locally made food.
Dace Grinhofa, senior expert of Food and Veterinary Department, Enforcement division, explains that Food and Veterinary Department may recall a product only if there is conclusive proof that a product does not satisfy a set of safety criteria, according to normative acts of the Republic of Latvia. “We have researched several hundreds of substances in this food, it is like looking for a needle in haystack, “ says Grinhofa, who has visited the Tukuma Straume factory 15 times, and found no breach of regulations. So insists Podnieks, who points out the ISO9001 certificate as proof, that certifies a system of quality control at the company. “In flu season, can you blame bakeries as most patients will have eaten bread? All dogs must eat something, “ concludes the board memeber. He says it can take years to research the true cause of this disease, meanwhile, stopping production without sufficient cause, will bring a great financial loss not only to Tukuma Straume, but also to the state and local government, since “Tukuma Staume is a large enough taxpayer and employer.”
Meanwhile scientist Matīsa van Houten compares the DOGO situation with the Zolitude tragedy when a collpased roof of supermarket Maxima killed over 50 people in Riga – “all the documents were in order there, as well.” The leading reasearcher believes – just because the harmful agent has not yet been identified, does not mean it’s not there. Of course, in the absence of conclusive proof the researchers, veterinarians and dog owners do not say that DOGO is definitely at fault – but the correlation is so strong that you cannot just close your eyes and ignore. Meanwhile, the Ministry disagrees. Māra Viduža, board director of the Veterinary Association has been admonished by the Minister of Agriculture, Jānis Dūklavs (ZZS). “It was not a dialogue, it was a loud monologue, “ says Viduža who perceives this as pressure in the DOGO case. Unofficial sources indicate – the Minister had declared he would never allow to sink a growing company due to some dogs. Dūklavs, when questioned by IR, stated that, in the absence of proof, no one has the right to put down a Latvian company. The Minister repeated that, so far, laboratory tests had identified nothing harmful. Meanwhile, the Food and Veterinary Service will continue to monitor company Tukuma Straume, whereas the Ministry plans to contactEuropean Commission for help, asking whether any more laboratory testing is indicated to ascertain the dog food is safe
Since early this year, the Ministry, veterinarians and laboratory BIOR have engaged in tug-of-war about the further course of any research. The Ministry refuses to allocate any more funds to this research, stating this is not a priority, the number of sick animals is not sizeable, and doubting the very possibility that a harmful agent will ever be found. Continued research will cost about 30 000 Euro. Tukuma Straume has come forward with such a sum, but having research funded by the producer may raise daoubts about the independence and transparency of any further research. This doubt is further fuelled by a three-sided contractual agreement between Ministry of Agriculture, BIOR and Tukuma Straume, prepared in March. All further agreements with the group of researchers would fall to BIOR, but already the lead scientist point out a number of stipulations she cannot agree to. For example, the contract prohibits the research group to talk to the press and to consult wth foreign experts without written authorization by BIOR leadership. Matīsa van Houten says during Pahse 1 of the research project researchers had contacted experts in USA, and help may be on the way, but, according to the new agreement, researchers would have no say in this.
In addition, the proposed contract has an Appendix that will be distributed to media at the end of Phase 2 of research. The document available to IR reads, in part, that “Even though the true causes of the disease were never found, the performed tests allow to completely exclude food as the causing agent in this disease,” so says the press release of a study that has not yet been finished. The text contains pre-fabricated quotes by various scientists, including blank spaces to insert the person’s name. “It seems to me that Tukuma Straume finances this research project with the single goal to polish their reputation, that is not acceptable to me, “ stresses the scientist.
The director of scientific institute BIOR, Aivars Bērziņš, claims he only wanted to ensure a quality project. “I cannot allow a situation that independent volunteers do things, but they have not signed for any responsibility, “ comments the boss of BIOR.
But as I talk to him I get the distinct feeling that persons who would have to fight for finding the truth, are all looking for excuses. Bērziņš for example insults veterinarians – saying that earlier (when only a few cases ME a year were diagnosed) veterinarians were unable to make the correct diagnosis. He said he doubted that there was any actual increase in the number of diseased animals – it was all just unfounded verbal clams of their owners. In reality, each case has tangible proof – an x-ray of esophagus. “Is there really no other factor than DOGO, only DOGO, “ chimes in representative of the Ministry Matuzale. He reproaches Latvian Veterinary Association that they had nver worked out guidelines on how to feed dogs. “How high the food dish should be placed, how much water, how much physical activity,” she keeps looking for other potential causes of the disease, adding that dry dog fod should be either soaked or mixed with canned food before feeding.
Representative of the Veterinarian Association, Lita Konopore, is shocked at such claims from the Ministry – if producer believes their food may only be fed to animals in one specific position, it is the producer’s duty to clearly show any such instructions on packaging. “The claim that dry dog food can be inherently harmful to dogs, unless fed in a certain body position, can be considered as destruction of a whole industry, “ states Veterinary Association. Laboratory research shows neurological changes in the affected dogs, that have nothing at all to do with what position the dog was fed dry dog food, streses Konopore. Within the last few months, while research went on, the work of researchers was constantly doubted and belittled. “Disbelief in data, attempts to discredit. Tukuma Straume asked us how we could be sure the sicks dogs actually were fed DOGO, maybe the owners were lying,“ explains Matīsa Van Houten. She calls the handling of the situation hugely irersponsible. To keep research going, she plans to apply for a grant in USA and thus get the money needed for independent research. A nueropathologist in Germany has been in touch and offered assistance. “I do not want to fight. I want to do what I do best – research, “ says Matīsa Van Houten.
Dogs owners are confused, torn by not knowing the cause of the disease, and also a sense of guilt. “When all the talk about DOGO started, we smirked at it, thought it was silly, and told all our friends to keep feeding DOGO, “ says Māris Leja from Tukums, who wanted to support a local manufacturer. But now that their other dog, 7-year old Labrador female Sāra, is also sick, and Kurmis has become very weak, the Lejas bitterly regret their decision.
The owner of two dogs who are already dead, Tatjana, has been in touch with Tukuma Straume, asking them to take back the unopened bags of DOGO food, but company representatives arrived full of reproach and anger, saying Tatjana had purposefully blackmailed the company, and that her veterinarian had been bribed to give the wrong diagnosis. “My feeling is that I have poisoned my own dogs,” says the shocked woman through tears. “I gave them that food, and now I shall always have a sense of guilt.” Other owners feel similar remorse, especially those who continued feeding DOGO after the debate in press had already started. “We are responsble for what we have tamed,” reminds Agnese, the owner of a mixed breed dog who died of the disease. Meanwhile it seems the producer will attempt to tame political parties. Podnieks, board chairman of Tukuma Straume, last year at the outbreak of scandal has started making donations to political parties that control the Ministry of Agriculture and the government. First in April, then in August, he made a money transfer for a total of 11 000 Euro to the party Vienotība, but in February this year he donated 5 000 Euro to party ZZS, represented my the minster of agriculture, Jāni Dūklavs. The name of this businessman has never before been found on donation lists of any political party, but now he has decided to facilitate the development of the country, “by supporting those political forces that I think can improve the position of this country.”