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Clinical trials in spontaneous disease in dogs: a new paradigm for investigations of sepsis


  • Cynthia M. Otto DVM, PhD, DACVECC

    1. Department of Clinical Studies-Philadelphia, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
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  • Part of this paper was presented at the 2006 Society of Critical Care Medicine Veterinary Post-Graduate Course in San Francisco, CA, the 2006 International Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Symposium in San Antonio, TX, and the 2007 Shock Society Symposium in Baltimore, MD.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to:
Dr. Cynthia M. Otto, Department of Clinical Studies-Philadelphia, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104. E-mail:


Objective: To provide evidence that naturally occurring sepsis in dogs provides a unique opportunity to test new therapies in clinically relevant settings.

Data sources: Human and veterinary literature.

Human data synthesis: Sepsis is a devastating condition responsible for most intensive care unit deaths. Most clinical trials targeting inflammatory mediators of sepsis have failed to improve outcome in clinical patients despite promising results in laboratory animal models. Animal models of sepsis fail to reproduce the clinical syndrome and therefore lead to conclusions that may not be relevant to clinical care.

Veterinary data synthesis: Sepsis is recognized but not well-characterized in companion animal species. Despite some species variability, the cardiopulmonary response to sepsis in dogs is similar to humans. Additionally, inflammatory and coagulation changes that accompany canine sepsis are consistent with those documented in humans. Sepsis secondary to canine parvoviral infection offers the advantages of relative population homogeneity, predictable course, and easy early diagnosis. The disadvantages of canine parvovirus are that it affects a predominantly young and healthy population and results in low mortality with aggressive supportive care. Septic peritonitis and pneumonia have high mortality but can be challenging to diagnose, have a variable course, and affect a heterogeneous population, which can be an advantage or a disadvantage.

Conclusions: Similar to trials currently being performed in canine cancer patients, veterinary clinical trials of new sepsis therapeutics may provide a unique opportunity to advance the treatment of sepsis in dogs, humans, and other species. Spontaneous sepsis from canine parvovirus, peritonitis, and pneumonia are common clinical conditions in which therapeutics can be tested.