WSU recruiting dogs to participate in drug metabolism study

Washington State University researchers are recruiting canines for a study they hope will lead to the development of a test to determine if a dog is at risk of significant adverse reactions to commonly used veterinary drugs.

The Drugs Optimized by Genomics (D.O.G.) study is focused on a group of liver enzymes, the cytochrome P450, responsible for metabolizing drugs, chemicals and even contaminants from the environment. 

Just as in humans, dogs exhibit unique variations in the enzymes, which affects how their bodies break down and eliminate the drugs. Some may process medications slowly, putting them at risk during routine procedures requiring anesthesia or when drugs are needed for pain. Conversely, some dogs metabolize drugs too quickly, rendering prescribed doses ineffective.

“If the enzymes are not working properly, the dog either gets toxic effects from the drug because they cannot break it down or the drug doesn’t work at all,” WSU veterinarian Dr. Tania Perez said. “The main goal of this research is to gain knowledge and information to better serve our patients. We want to make sure we are doing everything safely and giving them medications that will actually work and not cause adverse effects. We are trying to individualize the treatment and the way we practice veterinary medicine.”

Perez, an assistant professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine and an anesthesiologist at the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital, launched the study in 2019. To date, 106 subjects have been enrolled, including Marnie, a 4-year-old pug owned by Alyssa Wolfe. Marnie is the slowest metabolizer of drugs of any dog in the study, a factor that Wolfe, a veterinary assistant at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, now knows almost proved to be fatal to her beloved dog during a routine spay procedure.

“She basically died on the table, but they were able to do CPR and get her back,” Wolfe said. “We couldn’t figure out what caused it, but now we know it was related to how slow she metabolized the anesthesia drugs. If she ever needs surgery again, we know special anesthesia protocols to follow.”

Perez hopes to enroll about 100 more dogs into the study. Subjects must be between the ages of 1-12 years, weigh 11 to 176 pounds and have no underlying medical conditions.

To be accepted into the study, dogs must be comfortable taking oral medications and hospital environments, as a full day in the hospital is necessary for data collection. Participants will undergo a comprehensive physical exam, and owners will receive a $20 Amazon gift card as a token of appreciation.

Patients will be given a combination of drugs that have been proven to be safe to determine how fast their bodies can process them. This will be done by measuring the drug levels in their blood and urine. While most dogs do not experience any side effects, some have nausea that subsides within a day or two.

While any breed of dog can be accepted into the study, the researchers are especially interested in beagles.

“We know historically that beagles have differences to other breeds in the way they break down some of these medications, and one of the things we are also trying to see if there is a correlation with any other particular breeds,” Perez said.

Wolfe encourages other dog owners to participate in the study.

“You never know what you’ll discover about your dog,” she said. “This study gave us invaluable insights that could save Marnie’s life.”

Learn more about the study. Contact clinical studies coordinator Jennifer Heusser at to enroll your dog or for additional information.