Any new medical technique or procedure must undergo many tests before being used on a patient. In most cases, these procedures are first tested on animals. Because there are a number of similarities between the human and canine body, some human technologies are now being used to treat dogs. One such example is the hyperbaric chamber, which provides oxygen therapy for dogs to aid in wound healing and infection control.
Recently, human medical techniques and skills were used to save the life of Rumpole, a young Havanese dog with pulmonic stenosis. In this condition, the blood flow of the heart valve between the right ventricle and the arteries to the lungs is obstructed, causing shortness of breath and a reduced ability to exercise. It's usually treated by threading a catheter through a vein and into the right side of the heart. A balloon is then inflated to stretch the narrowed area and restore normal blood flow.
In Rumpole's case, however, other changes to his heart made this technique impossible to perform. After veterinarians from the University of Florida collaborated with pediatric heart specialists from the University of Florida Health, the decision was made to attempt a technique that was used to treat children with the same condition. They performed open-heart surgery on Rumpole and placed a metal stent in the narrowed area, then inflated it with a balloon. This stent cleared the obstruction in blood flow and the pup has recovered very well.
Rumpole isn't the only pet to have benefited from technology used to treat people. Mitral valve disease is a common condition in dogs that occurs when the valve between the chambers on the left side of the heart is deformed. The result is that blood flows backwards. This leads to congestive heart failure and symptoms of coughing, weakness, and collapse. This condition is usually managed with long-term medication, but it is a progressive condition and affected dogs don't have a long lifespan ahead of them.
Leo, a two-year-old Australian Shepherd from Michigan, was suffering badly from the effects of a damaged mitral valve. Veterinarians from Michigan State University performed open-heart surgery and placed a supportive ring around the valve, which improved its function and eased Leo's symptoms.
Japanese veterinarians have completely replaced a damaged mitral valve in a Shih Tzu when their usual technique to repair the valve failed. The defective tissue was cut away and replaced with a metal valve. The dog recovered from the surgery, but had some episodes where clots formed in the valve and affected its function. When the clots were cleared with anti-coagulant medication, the artificial valve worked well again. Ultimately, this little dog survived for over two years with its metal heart valve.
For many people, their pet is as important to them as their human family. These cases show that there are opportunities for dogs to benefit from technology that's usually reserved for people. We hope that in the future, more of these medical advances will become available for our pets.