However, pulmonary fibrosis does pop up in the breed with regularity, first revealing itself as excessive panting and shortness of breath. The illness also tends to develop in the terriers' late middle-age (about eight or nine years), mimicking its typical onset in humans at about age 50 to 60.
Westies inevitably succumb to the lung fibrosis about a year and a half after their diagnosis, Corcoran said.
Still, "there's still the contentious issue of whether this is the same disease as occurs in humans," he said. The exact prevalence of the disease among Westies is also unclear, he added. That means the first aim of Westies-centered research will be epidemiological -- studying disease prevalence and gathering a core of dogs and their owners that researchers might follow going forward.
Getting postmortem samples of canine lung tissue will also be crucial to a better understanding of the causes of the disease, Corcoran said. But that has its own challenges, he added.
"Getting owners to volunteer their dogs for necropsy is always problematic," he said. In fact, it's often "harder in many instances to get lung pathology samples from dogs than it is from humans," Corcoran said.
"However, one of our plans is to try and build up a group of concerned owners who will volunteer to donate their dog when that day arrives. We've been having some discussions on that already with our colleagues in America," Corcoran said. "Hopefully, the more publicity that we get with this condition, the more we may get owners coming forward and volunteering their dogs for research."
Corcoran and the other experts said that a cure for IPF is definitely not around the corner -- the disease has been as tenacious in keeping its secrets as, well, a terrier.
But Westies may be just the foe in the fight against IPF requires. Corcoran pointed out that the dogs' tight breeding means genetic research could yield importan
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