'Game-changing' treatment for dog heart disease already saving lives

Dog owners, particularly those with older pets, are all too familiar with the threat of heart disease. Mitral valve disease, one of the most common forms of heart disease in dogs, eventually affects almost all dogs that live to a certain age.

Now, the University of Minnesota Veterinary School has introduced a new procedure that's proven to be a game-changer in the treatment of this disease, and it's saving lives.

Louie, an 8-year-old King Charles Cavalier, was diagnosed with a heart murmur a couple of years ago during a routine check-up, the first indication of mitral valve disease. This condition involves the thickening and folding back of a valve in the left side of the heart, hindering blood flow and eventually leading to serious heart issues and death.

Dr. Chris Stauthammer, head of cardiology at the University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center Lewis Small Animal Hospital, points out that 90 percent of dogs that live to be 13 years old will eventually face mitral valve disease. While some dogs may live two to five years or more on medications, many are never diagnosed.

Research has shown that the ripple effect of enlarged hearts and congestive heart failure blamed on mitral valve disease is especially common in smaller breeds. These include Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Toy Poodles, Whippets, Dachshunds, but all animals are susceptible. In humans, the common fix is open-heart surgery. However, for dogs, that option is not only risky but can cost up to $50,000 and isn't currently offered anywhere in the United States.

With the introduction of a game-changing medical device from a Chinese company, Dr. Stauthammer decided it was time to try a new approach. Louie was the first patient to receive the new procedure in February, and the team has since successfully treated about half a dozen dogs in the same way.

The V-Clamp procedure is expensive, with a cost likely between $10,000 and $20,000. Despite this, it presents a more affordable and less risky alternative to open-heart surgery.

Louie's owners are grateful for the new lease on life that the procedure has given their beloved pet, underscoring the notion that good health in a family member is truly priceless.