Sadly, this particular respiratory condition is a progressive one but there are steps that can be taken to slow it down
By Dr Vince MacNally
Canine idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (CIPF), otherwise known as ‘Westie Lung Disease’ (WLD), is a respiratory condition which predominantly affects middle-aged to older West Highland White Terriers. It is a serious and progressive disease, the cause of which is unknown.
It typically results in:
- loss of exercise tolerance
- excessive panting
- difficulty breathing
Sadly, treatment in the great majority of cases is unsuccessful, and research into the factors which may contribute to its development, are ongoing.
Normal Respiratory Function
The lungs are essentially balloons which inflate with air when a breath is taken. This allows oxygen to pass into pulmonary blood vessels and be transported to every organ, tissue, and cell, where it fuels many vital, biological processes. On expiration, the lungs deflate expelling carbon dioxide – a waste product of cellular metabolism – to prevent it from building up to toxic levels in the body. For normal, healthy breathing to occur therefore, the lungs need to expand and contract fully during inhalation and exhalation, and to do this they need to be highly elastic.
When significant damage occurs in the lungs, normal, healthy tissue is replaced by scar tissue, in a process known as fibrosis. And because scar tissue cannot stretch, the more fibrosis there is, the less the lungs can expand and contract.
As the disease progresses, this can lead to:
- abnormal lung sounds
- altered blood gases (oxygen and carbon dioxide levels)
- pooling of mucus in the lungs
- respiratory infections
- airway collapse
- an enlarged heart
The main sign of WLD is laboured breathing with or without coughing. In the early stages, this may simply appear as a reluctance to exercise, or an inability to walk or run for as long as usual. Listlessness, quickly tiring when playing or going up and down stairs and sleeping more than normal are also common. These and other changes in behaviour, reflect a lack of oxygenation of the blood and resultant fatigue.
Many conditions affecting the cardiovascular, respiratory, and immune systems can cause signs similar to WLD. It is important therefore, that investigations be carried out, to confirm a specific diagnosis, so that the most appropriate treatment can be given. These typically include:
- blood tests
- bronchiolar washes (to extract cells for analysis)
- measurement of blood gases
- lung biopsy
- CT scan
Because WLD occurs predominantly in Westies, a genetic basis for the condition is highly likely. Research into this area, however, has not yet yielded any conclusive results. There has been some progress on the identification of certain biomarkers, as a predictor for the development of alveolar damage, but further work is needed.*
Although specific factors which contribute to the development of this disease haven’t been identified, it is worth avoiding anything which may increase the risk of pulmonary damage, such as:
- tobacco smoke (known to occur in people)
- untreated lungworm infections
- toxic volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) from paint, aerosols, wood preservatives, moth repellents, air fresheners, chemical cleaning products, scented candles** etc.
As there is no cure for WLD, the aim is to slow down the rate of progression of the disease as much as possible.
With this in mind, corticosteroids are used to reduce inflammation, suppress the immune system and minimise the formation of scar tissue.
Medication to dilate the airways, along with cough suppressants and mucolytics (drugs which aid the expectoration of mucus from the lungs), can help some dogs breathe more easily and comfortably.
In general, when the disease is diagnosed in the early stages, it can often be managed more successfully than in the later stages when lung pathology is more advanced.
Dietary changes, natural supplements, and remedies can all play an important part in maintaining quality of life in dogs affected by WLD, as with many other conditions.
High levels of antioxidants in particular wholefoods for example, can help to reduce inflammation in the body.
Blends of botanical and mineral extracts, proven to aid the body’s natural adaptive and recuperative powers, can soothe upper respiratory irritation, ease coughing, and help to maintain heart function.
Naturally occurring immune modulators, can help the body cope successfully with exposure to pathogenic microorganisms, increasing natural resistance to infection.
These and other benefits can be provided by clinically proven, natural supplements specially formulated for this purpose.
* L. Lilja-Maula, P. Syrja, H.P. Laurila, E. Sutinen, M. Palviainen, O. Ritvos, K. Koli, M.M. Rajamaki and M. Myllarniemi. Upregulation of alveolar levels of activin B, but not activin A, in lungs of West Highland White Terriers with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and diffuse alveolar damage. J Comp Path 2015; 152: 192-200.