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Vets have developed a simple blood test to quickly spot the early signs of liver disease in dogs, a study suggests.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh say the test – based on insights gained from human patients – could help vets identify damage and start treatment early.

Current diagnosis is based on biopsies, which are expensive and can lead to complications.

Vets based at the University’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies teamed up with medical doctors to look at blood levels of a molecule known as miR-122 in dogs. This molecule is found in high levels in people living with liver disease.

Vets tested miR-122 levels in 250 dogs, including Cocker Spaniels, Labradoodles and Old English Sheepdogs. Those with liver disease were found to have significantly higher levels compared to healthy dogs or dogs with a different disease. The team now plans to launch a testing kit worldwide.

Lead vet researcher, Professor Richard Mellanby, Head of Companion Animal Sciences at The Hospital for Small Animals at the University of Edinburgh, said, “We have found a specific, sensitive and non-invasive way to detect liver damage in dogs. We hope that our test will greatly improve outcomes by allowing vets to make rapid and accurate diagnosis.”

Dr James Dear, Reader at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Cardiovascular Science and NHS doctor, who co-led the study, said, “I am delighted that the blood test we developed to improve the diagnosis of liver disease in humans can be used to help dogs too.”

The study is published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine.

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