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Mark & Karen
Ramstead
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North Wapiti Siberian Husky Kennels
Iditarod 2007 - Tales from the Trail

June 18, 2007

 
The Snickers Memorial/Ulcer ResearchFund

I will confess that for a long while after coming home from Alaska I  just couldn't bring myself to deal with the Snickers Fund (see "Heartfelt Thanks" and "Snickers Memorial/Ulcer Research Fund" for more details). It wasn't that I didn't want to honor Snicker nor didn't appreciate all your  generous donations. It wasn't that Snickers isn't `present' everyday in our lives, she is. Not a day goes by that she isn't in my thoughts and/or mentioned in our conversations. Many nights I lie in bed and the last thing I do before falling asleep is replay the events from Grayling in my mind (Probably not `healthy' but it is the way I'm dealing.) I just wasn't quite ready to sit down and  devote myself to the project. 

Then, this week I picked up a lovely 20 x 30 picture of my team,  with leaders Snickers and Spider front and center, that I had framed for our wall. It's sitting leaning against the buffet waiting to be  hung maybe that was my motivation to get into the bank and get  this all dealt with. 

So, as of this morning, the Snickers Memorial Ulcer Research Fund has it's own bank account. I started it off with a healthy deposit  of cheques and I just finished adding up and transferring all the  PayPal Funds to it. As soon as they clear, the Fund will be sitting  at $2980.13. The list of donators is HUGE over 80 individual donations from around the world. We are very grateful and touched by this wonderful outpouring.

I have been in contact with Mike Davis, DVM, Phd of the Oklahoma  State University and he has explained to me the work that has been  done and that they are working on to find answers for the issue of  Gastric Ulcer in Working Sled Dogs. 

"Dear Karen,

Yes, you are correct that we had heard. Although I was up in  Anchorage for the pre-race week, I couldn't stay for the race this year and was instead following along online. All of the dog deaths  hurt, but Snickers particularly hurt because it was another reminder that, despite all our work, we've not got this problem solved. My team and I (and it is very much a team effort, along with Kathy  Williamson and Mike Willard) have been working on this for 7 years  now. We've made some progress, but obviously not enough. Continued progress does require money, so a pretty straight answer is: Yes, we can certainly put the funds to good use.

We had conducted a pilot study back in Dec 2004 in which we tested famotidine (Pepcid AC) as a preventative for gastric ulcers (funded  out of our personal funds). The exercise challenge was a simple 100  mile, 18 hr run (other studies have shown this to be sufficient to  get gastric ulcers started in trained dogs). The Pepcid worked beautifully, but we had to be cautious about the applicability of results since the challenge was certainly not racing conditions. We  repeated the study at the Copper Basin this year (funded by the  American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine), and our fears were partially confirmed. Although there appeared to be some beneficial effect, it was not the "slam-dunk" we were hoping for.  We plan on repeating the study at next year's Copper Basin using a  higher dose, with some additional changes to the experimental design  to catch any other unexpected surprises. This one is not yet funded, so any help would be appreciated. We've also got studies on  the drawing board for developing tests for gastric ulcers that don't require anesthesia and gastric endoscopy, but those have only recently become technically possible with the impending purchase of  the right machines, so I don't have a firm plan for those yet.

Please accept our condolences on the loss of Snickers, and I hope we can continue the fight to solve this problem for all sled dogs.

Sincerely,

Mike Davis, DVM PhD

So, this is where we will be forwarding the "Snickers Fund' to.

Just so you all understand a little about ulcers in working sled  dogs, Dr. Davis has written a nice article (in layman's terms) about the issue for our list.

Stomach Ulcers in Sled Dogs

Introduction The tendency of racing sled dogs to suffer serious illness from  stomach ulcers, suddenly and with little warning, has been  recognized for at least a decade. At the request of the sled dog racing officials and participants (most notably those associated with the Iditarod Sled Dog Race), our team has conducted numerous  investigations into the causes and possible remedies for stomach ulcers in sled dogs. The following discussion will summarize our findings and describe the next steps we believe should be taken to  continue our efforts to solve this problem.

How Extensive is the Problem?

The goal of our initial studies (conducting in 2000 and 2001) was to  determine the extent of the problem. At that time, the only information on what percentage of dogs had stomach ulcers was through observation of the dogs (i.e., seeing them vomit blood) or  from post-mortem exams of dogs that had died during a race. These techniques suggested a very low percentage of dogs had stomach  ulcers, but veterinary officials were certain that these methods were not at all sensitive, and there were likely many more dogs with stomach ulcers that were going undetected. The best way of  diagnosing stomach ulcers is to examine the stomach directly using  an endoscope (similar to what is done with humans). To date, we  have conducted 9 different studies that have included, in some manner, endoscopic examination of sled dogs after exercise, and these studies have yielded relatively consistent results: 

Approximately half of all dogs running a significant distance (100 miles/day or more) had evidence of stomach ulcers, provided they were not receiving any medication intended to reduce or eliminate the problem. 

Endoscopic evidence of stomach ulcers can be found after as  little as a single 100 mile run at a modest (8-9 mph) pace. 

The severity of the stomach ulcers does not seem to be  greatly influenced by how long the dogs are working (i.e., how many  consecutive days), but may be related to how hard the dogs are working (i.e., how many miles/day). 

In the majority of dogs, ulcers heal with 3-5 days of rest, so that during pre-exercise exams, most dogs do not have visible evidence of stomach ulcers.

We have found no evidence that a particular blood line or  feeding strategy is related to stomach ulcers in sled dogs (although  these issues have not been thoroughly investigated).

We have found minimal evidence of certain dogs being predisposed to ulcers. Many of our studies have involved similar groups of dogs, and there has been no tendency for the same dogs to  have stomach ulcers in different studies. However, we have found a very small number of dogs that do not follow these "rules", i.e.,  they tend to have severe ulcers, they do not appear to heal with  rest, and they seem to develop ulcers every time they run.

What is the Cause of the Problem?

We do not have a confirmed cause of the problem yet, but it is interesting to note that other athletic species like humans and horses also have high occurrence rate of stomach ulcers. The conditions between these species may not be identical, but there may be many similarities. Biopsies (small pieces of tissue) taken from dogs during endoscopic examination has shown that even when the  stomach appears normal (for instance, before exercise or a race), it  has extensive microscopic abnormalities that suggest an ongoing  disease process that may weaken the stomach. These microscopic abnormalities seem to resolve during prolonged rest between seasons, but the intervals between training runs may not be long enough to allow all of the abnormalities to heal. Chemical tests of the stomach have also provided evidence that the stomach is leakier  during exercise than normal, and that may be part of the overall development of the ulcers by letting stomach acid leak into the wall of the stomach and damage it. There is some evidence that the dog's  response to the stress of running can cause that leakiness, but this  is not a certainty, since it is possible that the leakiness causes the stress, rather than vice versa. We are reasonably certain that stomach ulcers in sled dogs are not caused by bacteria (like in humans) or by the type of food being fed (like in horses) based on  tests of the stomach biopsies and analysis of the distribution of the ulcers within the stomach.

How can We Prevent Stomach Ulcers in Sled Dogs?

One of the conclusions from our studies on the overall occurrence of  stomach ulcers in sled dogs is that most dogs effectively conceal  the stomach ulcers from the mushers and veterinarians. Since we had  little hope for detecting severe ulcers before they became a serious  problem, we focused our efforts on preventing the ulcers from developing. The most common method for preventing ulcers in other  species is to block the secretion of stomach acid. In one study,  dogs from 3 teams running in the Iditarod received either omeprazole (Prilosec) or a placebo daily, and were examined endoscopically at the end of the race. Omeprazole significantly improved the severity of the stomach ulcers, but did not completely eliminate them. Some of the drawbacks of omeprazole are that it must be given as a pill, which proved to be troublesome for mushers when faced with pilling 16 dogs/day for 10 or more days, all the while trying to race. In  addition, there was some evidence that dogs receiving omeprazole had a slightly higher likelihood to have diarrhea during the race. A study to see whether omeprazole could simply be placed in the dog's  food found that food significantly impaired the absorption of the  drug. Given the frequency that sled dogs are fed during racing, we elected to examine other drugs that inhibit acid secretion. Our  second study examined famotidine (Pepcid AC). We found that famotidine was well absorbed when administered with food, and could  simply be dropped into the dog's food (as long as the dog did not eat around the pill). Using a brief training run of 100 miles in  approximately 18 hours, we demonstrated that famotidine was  extremely effective in blocking the development of stomach ulcers at  a dose of 20 mg/dog once daily. However, a recent study under racing conditions found that this dose was not as effective as in  training, possibly because of the more strenuous nature of the  race. We have plans to evaluate higher doses of famotidine and  directly compare them omeprazole in a future study.

Goals of Future Studies

Identify the best drug, dose, and duration of dosing to  prevent stomach ulcers in racing sled dogs

Examine dogs training and competing at shorter distances to  determine whether these dogs are also at risk

Develop a diagnostic method for detecting stomach ulcers that does not require anesthesia

Determine whether preventing stomach injury during training  improves resistance to stomach ulcers during racing. 

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Further donations can be made via my PayPal account (northwapiti@xplornet.com) and please  indicate `For Snickers' when filling out your donation. Or you can  mail a cheque to me Karen Ramstead, Box 9, Perryvale, Alberta,  Canada T0G 1T0. Please make cheques payable to the `Snickers Memorial Ulcer Research Fund'.

Heartfelt Thanks
 
Donations to the 
Snickers Memorial -
Ulcer Research Fund
can be mailed to:
Karen Ramstead
Box 9
Perryvale, Alberta
T0G 1T0
Canada
Click on photo to see additional team photos with Snickers in the lead.
Snickers & Karen

Or sent via PayPal

I thank you all for helping us honor Snickers memory.

Karen

 

Karen's Diary - Iditarod 2007 Edition


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