Dysautonomia (DIS-auto-NO-mia) is a condition characterized by a malfunctioning autonomic nervous system... the system responsible for involuntary functions like the contraction of smooth muscles, the heart rate, regulation of the pupil size, and so on.
Dogs suffering from the disease typically have dilated pupils that don't respond to light, decreased tear production, and elevated third eyelids. They may also suffer from vomiting or regurgitation due to decreased motility in the digestive tract.
In the majority of cases, the disease is incurable and fatal.
Dysautonomia was first documented in horses in the United Kingdom in the early 1900s. "Grass sickness," as the equine version is known, is still a problem.
In 1982, researchers at the University of Bristol first diagnosed dysautonomia in a cat. What at first appeared to be an anomaly soon became an epidemic, with several hundred cats being diagnosed with feline dysautonomia across the United Kingdom and Europe.
Cases of canine dysautonomia have been diagnosed throughout Europe and in the United States.
In most areas, it's a sporadic occurrence. But for reasons that remain unclear, the highest incidence has been in Kansas and Missouri.
Missouri's first dysautonomia case was diagnosed in a cat in 1986, and only a handful of other feline cases have been documented.
The cause is unknown, and no one is sure why the incidence is so much higher in Kansas and Missouri.
What researchers do know is that there are some common threads in the histories of dogs afflicted with the disease:
The study confirmed suspicions that rural dogs tend to have a greater incidence of the disease. When those afflicted with dysautonomia were compared to rural control dogs, the affected dogs were more likely to have access to pasture land, farm ponds, and cattle, and to have consumed wildlife.
Dogs with dysautonomia were also generally young, according to the study-the median age was about 18 months. The disease occurred most frequently from February to April, with only a few cases identified during the summer or early fall.
The dogs who appear to be at high risk are mostly free-roaming dogs out in the country.
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