Life Saving Surgery Saves Tiny Puppy With Heart Defect

A tiny Maltese puppy called Carter had live saving heart surgery at Washington State University with a new procedure for a deadly but common congenital heart defect.

There have been a small number of other facilities that have performed the procedure, but the puppy was the first ever dog to undergo the new procedure at Washington State University.

The procedure is heralded as a much safer option for dogs diagnosed with patent ductus arteriosus or PDA. This occurs when a critical blood vessel, the ductus arteriosus, doesn’t close after birth.

A routine veterinary check-up determined that Carter had PDA due to a heart murmur. Carter was fortunate in this instance as his heart murmer was identified when he was 6 weeks old and only 4.5 pounds.

PDA is life threatening for puppies and without surgery often culminates in a poor outcome. It has been normal for sugeons to perform a thoracotomy to treat the condition. But for dogs under 6 pounds, opening the chest for heart surgery is fraught with risk.

Another standard option for surgery has been to use a catheter. A surgeon guides a catheter through the femoral artery in the dog’s leg to the heart. Then a small device closes the ductus arteriosus. While the outcome for a dog has been good, small dogs in particular have endured long recovery times.

The new procedure, though, involves a small incision in the neck. The inserted catheter then has a shorter route to the heart through the larger jugular vein. The outcome for small dogs is much better, and there are less complications in recovery. Often the dogs can be released home only after 24 hours.

At WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital, Dr. Anna Golden, who performed the surgery, said: “The day after his surgery, Carter was already brighter and more active than before. This procedure will allow him to live a normal, happy life.”

A veterinary resident and a veterinary medicine student pose with a Maltese puppy.
Dr. Anna Golden (left); Ashalynn Bilton-Smith (right) Photo: Ted S. Warren | Washington State University

Fellow resident Dr. Kya Fedora-Degarmo also said: “It is pretty awesome to be able to offer a minimally invasive option for these dogs instead of them having to have a thoracotomy.”

While PDA is not breed specific, there are hereditary factors that can cause a dog to be more susceptible to the condition. A DNA collection was made by WSU as they wanted to research how PDA may be passed generationally from one dog to another. As Carter had the trait, Carter’s owner said that he will be neutered, and his mother spayed, so that the condition is not transmitted to offspring.


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