My dog has tested positive for the MDR1 mutated gene. Now what?
If you are searching for the MDR1 mutated gene, you probably have a dog that was tested for this gene mutation or you are generally curious about veterinarian health. I previously wrote, MDR1 – Herding breeds may have a potentially deadly gene defect, which details the mutated gene. But for those of you that want the shorter version, I’ll provide a few facts before I explain what I did to protect Elliot.
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Facts for MDR1 mutated gene
Some dogs (herding breeds specifically) may inherit a mutated gene from one or both of their parents, which prevents their bodies from processing specific drugs. These drugs can build up in their brain causing neurological issues and possibly death.
Each parent donates a normal or a mutated gene to their offspring. As such, each dog born (not just herding breeds) is either Normal/Normal, Mutant/Normal or Mutant/Mutant. Dogs with the two copies of the MDR1 mutated gene are listed as Mutant/Mutant while one copy of the MDR1 mutated gene is Mutant/Normal.
Either way, they have a change in their genetic code causing the plasma membrane protein, P-glycoprotein to malfunction. This is most concerning in the blood/brain barrier. Injected or absorbed drugs travel via blood around the body. The P-glycoprotein pumps specific drugs out of the brain. When this malfunctions, the drugs remain in the brain and accumulate to toxic levels. Dogs present with neurological issues, seizures and sometimes death.
Fifty percent of Australian Shepherds possess at least one copy of the MDR1 mutated gene. So statistically, one of my two dogs had to possess the mutated gene.
My discovery of MDR1 mutated gene
I read about the MDR1 mutated gene while studying for one of my online vet tech classes. At the time, our girl Lexi was just a puppy and Elliot was 2 years old. My online research brought me to the Washington State University website that advertised DNA check swap testing for only $60 / dog. I ordered a test kit for Lexi that day. She was my main concern as she was still a puppy.
I was not concerned about Elliot. He already lived 2 years of his life. He was neutered without any issues even though some of the concerning drugs were pre-anesthetics. Monthly, he consumed heartworm preventative medication that contained ivermectin. All and all, he was a healthy dog and had no other real health concerns.
Having Elliot tested for the MDR1 mutated gene, was always in the back of my mind. I didn’t believe he had it, but I wanted to be sure. Money was not a concern. Life just got in the way of me testing my BIG PUPPY. After he turned 5 years old, I sent away for the test. His results came back in June 2019 and I was floored. Elliot was Mutant/Normal.
We bought Elliot at a pet store, but his health was never in question. Is this why he was dumped there? Did they know about the MDR1 mutated gene? After we purchased him, I grew suspicious that he came from a puppy mill. But what was done, was done. And we loved our Elliot more than anything. We taught him how to be a dog and unfortunately a dog obsessed with playing.
How we can protect him
Knowing of the existence of the problem compared to your dog being diagnosed with the MDR1 mutated gene is extremely different. More research coupled with working at an emergency animal hospital made me extremely paranoid. I see how most of the drugs on the problem drug list are used. I know they are very common in veterinary emergency medicine. So this is where I am most paranoid of everyone knowing his status.
Elliot lived his first five years without us having known about the MDR1 mutated gene. But this does not mean that I shouldn’t take steps to safeguard him if he gets out or lost.
Purchase an MDR1 alert tag
I purchased an MDR1 alert tag for his collar. I’ve mentioned his condition to many people and no one seems to have heard about it, except a few Vets. I’m hoping if he wears this MDR1 alert tag on his collar that someone will question it or look it up if he is ever lost or hurt. The one that I purchased, is engravable on the back. I suggest purchasing one (not necessarily this one) for any dog that possesses this condition. Make sure you reference your dog’s exact status, Mutant/Mutant or Mutant/Normal. And place the Washington State University website, where they list the current problem-drugs for the MDR1 mutated gene.
Below, is what I had engraved on the back. The front is standard for the tag.
Elliot / Drug Sensitive / MDR1: Mutant/Normal / vcpl.vetmed.wsu.edu/problem-drugs
Alert Veterinarians and caretakers
Tell your friends and family about his condition. Anyone that could possibly take care of your dog for a few days or even for a few hours. They don’t need to fully understand the condition (although that can help). Being able to relay his condition as MDR1-Mutant/Normal or Mutant/Mutant, is good enough when taking him to an animal clinic or emergency hospital. Make sure if he is triaged to the back, that you relay his status as soon as he leaves your sight. Don’t wait to talk to a doctor.
Create a list of the problem drugs
I created a list of the ‘current’ problem drugs in a small easy to carry 3.5” x 2” lamented card. Unfortunately, the problem drug list can be updated at any time. But I wanted an easy physical list, just in case, the website was not accessible at a particular time. Lamenting was easy at a Staples or an Office Depot. I had 8 made, one for myself, my husband, my vet, my emergency vet (workplace), one to keep in the house for easy access and for numerous pet sitters that we use.
I can provide my Word.doc to anyone that might want to print this out to have for their own use. Please use the Contact KiKi and let me know that you want a copy of my problem list file. You can also create your own, from the Washington State University website.
As you can see, Ivermectin is first on the list of problem drugs. Historically, people and veterinarians knew that some herding dogs were susceptible to ivermectin. A common historical phrase around veterinary medicine is ‘White feet don’t treat’. Ivermectin treats mange in dogs but is also a dewormer for large animals, in addition to other applications. In 2001, this historical phrase took shape in the discovery of the MDR1 mutated gene. And many other drugs were added to the list of problem drugs.
My next planned vacation is a cruise to the Caribbean, in April. I will, in essence, be out of the country. My family will watch the dogs (and the cats). I’m hoping my steps will be enough to safeguard Elliot, in the event that he needs medical care.
I never concerned myself over my pet’s safety while on vacation before working at an emergency animal hospital. There are many pets that become sick or injured while their owners are away and the pets are in the care of a family member or sitter. This does not mean that the sitter is neglectful, only that they don’t know or understand your pets as well as you do. Providing them as much information and contingencies as possible, even if it seems unlikely, is the best course.
Prior to my vacation, Elliot will go with me to work so that I can get him on record at the emergency hospital with his MDR1 mutated gene. But other than that I must trust that the MDR1 tag, the laminated problem drug card and spreading the word about his status will be enough to keep him safe.
What else can be done?
Does anyone have any other suggestions on what can be done to help keep an MDR1 sensitive dog safe? Educating others about this gene defect is my primary goal. Knowledge of the condition may help me or you, save a life.