If your dog has been diagnosed with mitral valve disease, you might be feeling overwhelmed and unsure of what that will mean for your pet’s future. A reader asked me about managing the condition, and here’s how I explained the problem and its management to her. And good news: a surgical repair to the mitral valve is currently available in Europe and Japan and may be available in the U.S. soon!
Q: My dog has mitral valve disease. How is it managed?
A: The heart has four valves that open and close to let blood flow in and out as the heart pumps. The mitral valve can degenerate and become leaky, allowing blood to wash back from the lower left chamber of the heart to the upper left chamber. Called regurgitation, this action forces the heart muscle to work harder to pump that blood out where it’s supposed to go, enlarging the heart and eventually resulting in congestive heart failure.
Currently, the condition is most commonly managed with regular checkups by a board-certified veterinary cardiologist to plot the disease’s progress, as well as medication, if needed. Exams every three to six months can help your dog’s cardiologist keep tabs on the size of the heart and recommend medication before she tips over into CHF. Cardiologists at New York City’s Animal Medical Center recommend chest X-rays to determine whether the heart is normal size or enlarged, and whether fluid is building up in the lungs. Echocardiograms create a real-time moving image of the heart as it beats, and play a role in determining heart function.
When the heart becomes enlarged, the cardiologist may recommend starting the dog on one or more medications to keep CHF at bay. Medications that help include diuretics to remove excess fluid in the body and positive inotropes such as pimobendan (Vetmedin) to improve the heart’s ability to contract and pump blood forward. Vasodilator drugs help to relax blood vessels so that blood moves through them more freely.
There is no cure for mitral valve disease, but it can be managed for a time with medication. A surgical procedure to repair the mitral valve is available from veterinary surgeons in the United Kingdom and Japan, and it may become available at the University of Florida later this year.
Read more in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.