While most people have no problem drinking a nice cold mojito, a young dachshund puppy named Mojito was having trouble swallowing anything at all until he underwent a revolutionary procedure to save his life.
Dr. Stanley Marks of the School of Veterinary Medicine collaborated with Dr. Peter Belafsky of the UC Davis Medical Center (UCDMC) in Sacramento to transfer existing medical treatments for humans for use on an animal for the first time.
The Newman family adopted Mojito, a one-year-old longhaired dachshund, late last year. They began to notice that he was having difficulty swallowing both food and water, and decided to take him to Dr. Lisa Hess at the Loomis Basin Veterinary Hospital. There, Hess diagnosed Mojito with a general swallowing disorder, and sent him to Marks at UCD for a more detailed second opinion.
“Vets are in many ways learning to be like pediatricians,” Marks said. “Much like a baby can’t tell you what is wrong, animals depend on detailed observations and clinical tests to determine the causes of problems.”
Marks and his team initiated a series of diagnostic tests to better understand what was afflicting the young dachshund.
One advanced tool they used is known as a video-fluoroscopic swallow. The patient swallows five to six boluses of liquid barium, which serves as a contrast agent for an external camera that takes videos similar to the still photographs taken by x-ray machines.
“It was pretty apparent what was going on with Mojito,” Marks said. “He was trying to swallow through a bottleneck, and nothing was getting through.”
According to his owners, Mojito would take as long as 10 minutes to swallow a single mouthful of food or water in a laborious exercise of coughing and retching.
The veterinary team diagnosed Mojito with cricopharyngeal achalasia, a congenital condition that inhibits circular throat muscles as the top of the esophagus from relaxing.
After the diagnosis, Marks decided to reach out to long-time friend and colleague Belafsky, who had collaborated in the past with the veterinary school and viewed such collaboration as mutually beneficial.
“This is truly a group effort,” Belafsky said in a press release. “We are combining the best of our human and veterinary research and surgery teams to advance science and medicine.”
The first step the team took was to employ a treatment familiar to many in a different form. Botulinum toxin A, commonly known as Botox, is a muscle relaxant frequently used in cases of cricopharyngeal achalasia. The problem lies in its temporal nature; within four to six weeks, the effects recede and the problem returns.
To achieve a more permanent solution, Marks and Belafsky decided to pioneer the transfer of an existing treatment used for humans for over a decade to be performed on Mojito.
In the past, cases like Mojito’s were approached externally, with surgical incisions made through the neck to perform the transection on the esophageal muscle. The incision enables the muscle to loosen, allowing food and water to travel more easily from the mouth to the stomach.
Marks and Belafsky proposed a laser myotomy, in which a carbon dioxide laser is used to perform the transection through the mouth in a minimally invasive manner.
“It was totally unique,” Marks said. “Never, ever, ever has this been done on a dog, anywhere on the planet.”
The UCDMC allowed the team to borrow a laser unit costing hundreds of thousands of dollars for the treatment, which took less than 30 minutes.
Marks calls the collaboration a complete win-win for all the parties involved, as it allows for the transfer of knowledge from one profession to another, and saved the life of an otherwise doomed puppy.
In an interview with CBS news, dog owner Phyllis Newman said that the $2,000 spent on the revolutionary procedure was well worth saving a member of the family.
According to Marks, Belafsky assists with veterinary medical cases like these free of charge, for the benefit of both the animals and the researchers involved.
“We’re starting to see this more often,” Marks finished. “These animals are much more than just a loving pet, but an intricate family member that plays a really important role in peoples’ lives.”
BRIAN GERSON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.