First off, a little explanation about the difference between heart disease and heart failure.

Heart disease means there is something wrong with the heart. This does not necessarily mean that the function of the heart as a pump has been compromised.

Heart failure means this pumping function is compromised, and the dog is being adversely affected in some way.

Until quite recently when we diagnosed a dog as having heart disease, we’ve been quite relaxed about it if the dog wasn’t in heart failure. If there was no way of monitoring an improvement in heart function, then there was no rationale to treating it. We now know that this approach is wrong.

A study concluded last year showed us very neatly that we can affect the long-term heart function of the dog, if we intervene early enough. These dogs lived longer, with a better quality of life.

The Study

Researchers took the drug pimobendan, and gave it to a number of dogs with enlarged hearts, but that were otherwise normal. These were just the sort of dogs that we would traditionally have said: “Yes, I can see evidence of heart disease, but as the heart isn’t failing, we’ll just monitor it until the heart’s function deteriorates, and start treatment at that point.” This time period is often many months, and sometimes years.

The group was divided in two, and one half given the drug pimobendan, the others a placebo. Studies like this are examined some way into the trial just in case there are problems. If giving a drug is resulting in more problems than the placebo group, you would halt it immediately. It simply wouldn’t be ethical to allow the patients to continue to suffer.

In this case, the results were so dramatically in favour of the drug treated dogs, that it was considered unethical to continue the trial. They couldn’t allow the untreated dogs to continue to suffer by denying them the medication. The study found pimobendan extended the symptom-free period by an average of 15 months. The dogs that received the drug also lived significantly longer than those receiving the placebo. Some have called this “The greatest discovery in veterinary cardiovascular research over the last 30 years, perhaps ever.”

Summing Up

So now we know that treating dogs with heart disease that have an enlarged heart, but before they’ve developed heart failure is the right thing to do. If you have a dog like this, it’s important to remember that these dogs appear to be normal. Their hearts are not failing. Treatment in the initial stages won’t make them look any different to you or me. However, we can be confident now that they will live longer, and with a better quality of life than they otherwise would have had.

You can read more about this ground-breaking study here.

So if you have a dog that we’ve previously said has a heart problem, but that we’re not currently treating for some reason, then please get in touch.