Saturday, December 07, 2013

My Heart and His

Last month while I was on vacation, Fletcher stayed with my best friend, and she noticed that he was panting on his walks. Since Fletcher will be 15 on January 1, that puts him roughly equivalent to a person in their nineties! He comes to the clinic every few months for a full workup anyhow, so I brought him in after I returned. The first step was a physical exam, and, for the first time ever, I heard a heart murmur while listening to his chest. We took blood samples for a geriatric screen and took chest x-rays, which were normal. I decided to take Fletcher to see Dr. Margiocco the cardiologist at Canada West Veterinary Specialists to learn more. I was worried that my heart dog's heart might be failing.

We are very fortunate to have access to veterinary specialists locally, including dentists, ophthomologists and surgeons. They are a great help to general practitioners like me, to give us further insight into specific body systems and diseases, and to provide advanced diagnostic tools and treatments, like ultrasounds, MRIs, and arthroscopy. Fletcher's cardiology appointment consisted of taking a history, a physical exam, blood pressure measurement, ECG and cardiac ultrasound. When Dr. Margiocco went over the possible reasons for the murmur and why doing an ultrasound is important, I was relieved to hear that everything I have been saying to my own clients is correct!

The ultrasound pinpoints to the murmur to a specific valve and looks at the thickness of the heart walls. This allows us to know if there is a disease of the heart muscle, which carries a worse prognosis. Fortunately, Fletcher's heart was functioning well, and the murmur was a caused by the degeneration of a single valve, which can happen with age.Veterinary Partner sums up what degenerative valve disease means. Fletcher's mitral valve is affected, the most common type.

Fletcher hiking at 13 years old
Fletcher will continued to be monitored with x-rays of his chest and ultrasounds of his heart. I'm also changing around his pain management, in case that caused the panting. The most important piece of advice I received, was to continue letting Fletcher do the activities he enjoys, like hiking off leash, and let him go at his own pace. Regardless of diagnosis, this is what we all should do, to live life to the fullest.