Local Dog With Unusual Heart Problem
We had an unusual case come through the hospital recently. Unusual in that we don’t see dogs with heart block very often and unusual because of the medical technology involved.
Sadie is a 9 year old German Shepard mix. She stopped being her usual active self. She was lethargic to the point where getting up and walking was difficult. Her parents, Karen Kayser and Curt Klatt, brought her in. During her exam, one immediate concern was her low heart rate, only 37 beats per minute. Normal heart rate in a dog would be 60 to 100 beats per minute.
Testing and Diagnosis
After Dr. Taylor, Dr. Rogers, and our Certified Vet Tech, Tracy, performed and evaluated an electrocardiogram (ECG), they suspected Sadie had a heart issue called Atrioventricular (AV) Heart Block. This condition has varying degrees of severity and our team at Den Herder Veterinary Hospital thought Sadie’s was severe. They recommended Sadie head to Lloyd Veterinary Medical Center at Iowa State.
Karen and Curt headed to Ames and the veterinarians there confirmed Sadie did have AV Heart Block. Hers was the most severe, a third degree or total heart block.
How Does Heart Block Work?
Think of the heart like a house. The walls of your house contain wiring for electricity. If major damage happens to a wall, the lights won’t work because the room isn’t getting electricity.
Heart walls have electrical wiring inside them as well. If damage happens to the heart walls, this can affect the electrical wiring. The most common damage to heart walls comes from hardening of the tissue, scarring, or some type of inflammation.
The heart’s electrical wiring tells the chambers of the heart to beat. And the chambers need to beat in a certain order, at a certain time, in a certain way. When this doesn’t happen, the heart isn’t working efficiently. Usually complications arise like an enlarged heart or fluid on the lungs. This was the case with Sadie.
In Sadie’s heart, the top portion of the heart (the atria) was beating normally (around 60 per minute). Because of the total AV Heart Block, the lower portion of the heart (the ventricles) wasn’t getting the message “hey, pump that blood” as it should.
Miraculously, the heart has an emergency back up, called an escape beat, where the ventricles will beat if there is no signal after too much time has passed. This beat is much slower (only around 30 bpm) and simply inadequate for what the body needs. This was why Sadie was feeling so lethargic and fatigued; her heart wasn’t delivering the blood to her body.
Science Geeks: this video is a great basic description of what was happening to Sadie’s heart.
The bad news? There is no cheap and easy medicine to fix the problem. The good news? A pacemaker will fix a total heart block. The great news? Dogs can wear a pacemaker!
The doctors at Iowa State Veterinary Teaching Hospital inserted a pacemaker (in the neck) to control the heart rhythm and keep the blood flowing normally.
A few days in the hospital at Iowa State and she is as good as new–crazy haircut and all!
The fact such technology exists thrills us. Having a facility close by with the know how to use it makes us feel grateful. We’re going to guess Karen and Curt feel the same.
Sadie will have to take it easy for a few months, no running and jumping in the leaves, but her prognosis is good. The biggest daily change is she needs to wear a harness now, not a collar. A collar could move or damage the pacemaker in her neck.
In under a week, Sadie went from barely being able to stand to up to being back with her family almost as if nothing was wrong. It boggles the mind how animals have the power to heal so quickly!
Sadie and her family should have many more happy years together. We wish Karen, Curt, Sadie and the rest of their family the best!