Source:  News24 (Extract)
Posted:  February 14 2021

University of Pretoria veterinarians performed life-saving surgeries on two dogs, using a pioneering technique that is limited to well-equipped hospitals overseas.

Specialist surgeons, Dr Adriaan Kitshoff and Dr Ross Elliott, saved the lives of 7-month-old French bulldog Daisy and 6-month-old cocker spaniel Tallen, at the Onderstepoort Veterinary Academic Hospital, the university said in a statement.

“This procedure is limited to hospitals overseas with surgeons or internists with special interest in cardiology. It is only hospitals that have the equipment that can perform the surgery. This is a first in the 100-year history of the Faculty of Veterinary Science in Onderstepoort, and an exciting way to start the next century of veterinary service to the country.”

For the two canines, the groundbreaking process entailed using a balloon to dilate the opening of a heart valve.

The doctors said:

Both dogs have pulmonic valvular stenosis – an abnormally shaped or fused heart valve that is situated between the heart and the artery leading to the lungs. Both the patients had valves where a component had fused together. These valves are supposed to allow the blood to flow in one direction, meaning that they have times that they are closed and times that they are open, and these times are determined by whether the heart contracts or not.

The aim of the delicate surgeries was to increase the size of the opening by dilating the valve. For this, a long balloon-tipped catheter was placed in one of the neck veins.

“Through fluoroscopy (real-time X-rays), the balloon was guided through two of the heart chambers and through the small opening in the valve. After inflation of the balloon the opening was stretched (balloon valvuloplasty),” they added.

Possibility for ‘centre of excellence’

According to the veterinarians, the anatomy of a dog’s heart is similar to that of a human. It also consists of four chambers and four valves.

They said:

This is probably the reason why most of the clinical trials for heart transplants were performed on dogs. This set the stage for Dr Chris Barnard’s first successful heart transplant in 1967. The surgery is risky as these patients have heart disease and need to be placed under general anaesthesia.

“Due to irritation of the heart muscle as the balloon passes through it, it can result in abnormal heart rhythms during the anaesthesia that might need to be treated with medication during the operation.”

Post-surgery, the dogs are doing well, although they need follow-up heart scans every three months.

This is because in 15% of similar cases, the stretched opening of the valve can start to narrow again.

Daisy is a service dog that can sense when her owner, who has fibromyalgia, is in pain and sleeps on her as a means of comfort. Fibromyalgia is a muscle pain condition accompanied by various flare-ups such as moodiness, fatigue and joint pain.

The university said the successful surgeries allowed the hospital to help pets in similar delicate situations.

“This means we can offer a service not previously offered by Onderstepoort veterinary hospital. This also provides us with the opportunity to extend the life of special pets like these.”

“This groundbreaking surgery also creates the possibility of setting up a centre of excellence in minimal invasive surgery and cardiology at the hospital, and offering more advanced surgeries, such as valve replacements and heart transplants.”