A Dog's Heart Gets Bigger
Considered the gold standard for humans for the last 20 years, minimally invasive surgery is just beginning to be offered to pets by university veterinary hospitals and a few specialty veterinary hospitals like Michigan Veterinary Specialists (MVS).
If you’ve had arthroscopic surgery to repair damage to knees, angioplasty for coronary artery disease, a pacemaker placement, or laparoscopic surgery to the abdomen, you’re aware of the many benefits of minimally invasive surgery. Instead of one large incision, the surgeon makes one or more mini cuts the size of a keyhole. A tiny camera is then inserted into one of the small incisions allowing the surgeon to see what is going on inside. Often times, the surgeon is able to repair the damage then and there.
This was the case for Bailey, a Wire Fox Terrier who had recently been adopted by Frank and Phyllis Heritier of Warren, Michigan. Bailey was immediately sent over to see Drs. Sarah Achen and Laura Delellis, veterinary cardiologists at MVS, after her primary care doctor detected significant heart problems.
“We took Bailey to see our regular veterinarian, Dr. Gray at Abbey East Animal Hospital, to get routine dental cleaning and such. When she listened to Bailey’s heart she said she wouldn’t do anything on her as she had the loudest heart murmur Dr. Gray had ever heard,” said owner Frank Heritier.
Only a week after adopting her, the Heritiers found out that Bailey had a heart murmur that would require a non-invasive procedure called a balloon valvuloplasty. Bailey would likely become lethargic, have difficulty breathing and could die in the very near future if she didn’t get the treatment she needed. The Heritiers were heart sick about the decision they had to make and were within two hours of giving her back to the rescue organization when they decided to keep her and proceed with treatment.
Drs. Achen and DeLellis explained to Bailey’s owners that a balloon valvuloplasty is much like a human angioplasty in which a balloon on a wire is inserted into an artery then filled with saline to expand the narrow heart valve. This new, minimally invasive procedure meant that Bailey wouldn’t need to go through a risky, open heart surgery and would instead only have tiny incision on her neck.
Two months post operatively Bailey is back home and doing well. Already, the Heritiers have noticed a difference in Bailey’s energy level. “She plays fetch for 30 minutes at a time non-stop. She also goes for a daily walk,” reported Frank. As she’s settled in, Bailey has claimed Phyllis’ bed pillow and her heart. There’s no doubt she’s found her forever home. Said Frank, “We didn’t have the funds to do it [the procedure], but we found a way and we’re not sorry we did it.”
|Bailey is a happy camper these days.
The diagnostic tool that allowed the MVS cardiologists to perform the valvuloplasty on Bailey, and can help perform many others such as bone biopsies and pacemaker placement, is called fluoroscopy. Michigan Veterinary Specialists is one of two veterinary hospitals in the state that uses fluoroscopy – a sophisticated machine that takes x-rays at a speed of up to 30 times per second creating real-time video of the patient’s internal landscape. The fluoroscopy images guide the doctor in performing a corrective procedure.
There are multiple benefits of minimally invasive surgery over open surgery and they include:
- Shorter anesthesia and surgery time
- Less pain, leading to less pain medication needed
- Minimal scarring and quicker recovery
- Lower risks than with open surgery (e.g. infection, hemorrhaging, mortality)
- Patient can go home on the day of the procedure
- Ability to treat and cure diseases which previously had no options
One of the best things about minimally invasive procedures is that dogs and cats can now be treated for conditions that were previously untreatable or in which the surgery required would itself be life-threatening. If you’d like to explore minimally invasive surgery for your pet, please ask your veterinarian for a referral to see an MVS specialist.