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Vets use human heart procedure to treat dogs


VETS AT Edinburgh’s prestigious Veterinary School have adapted a technique used on human heart patients to give dogs with irregular heartbeats a new lease of life.

The university's Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies is the first centre in the UK to offer a procedure that uses radiofrequency.

It is used in humans to burn the excess cardiac muscle that causes the heart to short-circuit and beat irregularly. Until now, the £3,000 treatment has not been readily available for dogs. The treatment works by stopping the heart from short-circuiting and causing a particular kind of irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia, called Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome.

The condition appears to be most common in Labradors, although it is also found in other breeds, such as boxers and beagles.

Without intervention, the dogs would need to have medication for the rest of their lives and if untreated, the arrhythmia can lead to heart failure.

Three procedures have been carried out so far by the cardiology team at the Hospital for Small Animals at the Royal (Dick) School.

Geoff Culshaw, head at the cardiopulmonary service at the hospital, said: ‘Labradors are normally energetic dogs. If they need to be placed on lifelong medication to control their arrhythmia, it can become problematic for the owner.

‘Medication can cause dangerous side effects and may not work, so that these lively dogs can go into heart failure at a young age. The operations we have carried out have been immensely successful.

‘The dogs have been given a completely new lease of life and the owners have been spared the difficulty of giving medication twice daily to their pets.’

Harvey, a one-year-old Labrador from Motherwell, was among those treated with the new procedure after being referred by his vet.

He had a heart rate of 340 beats per minute - three times above what is considered normal. Carole McNamee, 26, who owns Harvey with her partner Scott Davies, 28, said: ‘It was extremely worrying when we found out how high Harvey's heart rate was.

‘We could see his chest going up and down and Harvey was not himself and completely off his food so we took him to the vets.’

The procedure involves placing catheters into the heart, via veins in the leg and neck. Vets are then able to form an electrical map of the heart, locate the excess muscle and then cauterise it from inside the heart.

‘Knowing that Harvey will now not need to be placed on medication for the rest of his life is great,’ Ms McNamee added.

‘The operation has completely changed him and he is healthy and active as any Labrador should be and enjoys good two-hour long walks in the woods.’