A strange illness that kills dogs and may affect humans is being investigated by a Far North vet.
“Go Slow” is an unknown muscle disease that turns top hunting dogs into shaking pups, sometimes killing them. It’s not recognised in other countries and is mostly found in Northland, veterinarian Jenni Petersen says.
Petersen has been investigating go slow for the last year with veterinarian Hayley Hunt who’s doing her PhD in pathology. Symptoms include shaking legs, restlessness, vomiting, breathing difficulties, bloody diarrhea and dogs getting exhausted quickly.
They believe the dogs are contracting the illness from eating wild boar that containing a toxin.
Petersen, who runs Nor Vets in Okaihau, says the disease typically takes between 8 to 10 hours to affect a dog after it eats the infected boar meat.
The disease attacks the part of the cell that converts oxygen into energy and kills muscles, she says.
It is thought go slow is caused by eating infected pig meat.
“It just depends how much of it they eat.
“It’s really quite painful for them.
“It’s like the cell dies away and then it’s gone. This toxin keeps working for 18 months.”
Hunt says the pig meat is still infected even after it’s been frozen and boiled.
Peterson says vitamin B seems to help but there is no cure yet.
“All you can do is put them in a cage and rest them. And get them off the [boar] meat.”
Hunt is looking at whether Go Slow could stem from plants.
“The big goal is to find out what’s causing it so we can treat it.
“There are some plants that are found in that upper part of New Zealand that could be toxic that the pigs are eating and the dogs are being exposed to.”
Peterson has put $12,000 of her own money into research. She says the next step is sending off healthy and infected dog livers to be tested at Auckland University to determine which pathway within the cell is being affected.
High incidences of Go Slow appear in Te Karae, Broadwood, Awarua, Pipiwai, Twin Bridges, Herekino, Paponga, Motatau and Dome Valley.
Shepherd Mike Moody says he’s lost around 15 of his dogs to the disease.
“My dogs started keeling over, going skinny overnight and then just wasting away.”
He says he got it himself six years ago when he lost 12kgs in 10 days and found himself exhausted. A doctor medicated him for leptospirosis and his symptoms disappeared. Since then he’s vaccinated all his dogs against leptospirosis and hasn’t had a problem. Moody never feeds his dogs pig and thinks the disease came from infected rats.
“The pigs have only got it because they’re scavengers. It could be in the sheep and cattle meat too.”