Canine Heart-Related Heartache
I’m sad to report that we now have a second terminal illness in the house. Our eldest dog Ginko (who is a lab + greyhound mix and 13 1/2 years old) was diagnosed Monday, October 7, with both leaky heart valves (due to old age) and premature ventricular contractions (a heart arrhythmia). We’re hopeful, but heartbroken.
I haven’t yet picked up the full written report from the veterinary cardiologist, but the headlines are as follows:
- Ginko’s heart valves are wrinkly around the edges, so they don’t close completely. This, over time, can lead to congestive heart failure.
- The bottom of Ginko’s heart is not beating correctly. One of the “symptoms” of premature ventricular contractions (PVC) is sudden death.
In dogs, 60% of the time the PVC is secondary to inflammation or cancer somewhere else in the body (spleen, liver, etc.). It’s not too big of a jump to assume hemangiosarcoma. In the other 40% of dogs, no underlying cause can be found. BUT, an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) shows that Ginko has NO structural reason for the arrhythmia (no cardiomyopathy, for example).
Ginko’s PVC heart beat goes like this:
- Normal heart beat
- Extra beat (the ventricle contracting too soon)
- A stronger-than-normal beat. Because his heart fills with more blood than usual during the pause following the PVC, the next beat has extra oomph.
I didn’t ask our veterinary team, but (based on what I learned from my mom’s fatal heart conditions) I suspect that the “sudden death” possibility comes either because the PVC leads to even more dangerous heart arrhythmia (such as ventricular tachycardia, where the heart gets way out of sync and essentially pumps itself dry) or that final super STRONG beat overwhelms the heart.
Then, we have the specter of possible cancer looming.
We do not plan to go looking for a tumor via abdominal ultrasound or other methods. The truth is this: Even if we found something, we likely would not treat it. Why put him through the tests?
So, we’re essentially in management and/or hospice mode with both dogs for the remainder of their lives — however long that is. In both cases, “cure” is not possible.
Our goal for Ginko has always been to get him to at least 15 years old. That’s 18 months from now.
Right now, both he and Lilly seem OK, and for that we are thankful.
We’re putting Ginko on a heart drug for the premature ventricular contractions called Sotalol. Our regular vet will listen to his heart in about 10 days, then in a month or so, he may have to wear a heart monitor from the veterinary cardiologist for a day or two to see if the meds are helping.
There is a chance he could survive quite a while, but he also could drop dead. Our veterinary team wanted us to be prepared for that. (As if you can prepare for something like that.)
The news is less than 24 hours old for us, so I’m still in the major boo-hoo stage — merely the latest in a never-ending, 5-year-string of boo-hoo stages.
We have renewed reasons to be grateful for every day. That does not mean, however, that it’s easy.
We’ll do our best to continue to give Ginko — lover of fetch and Sofa Captain — the best possible life. This news simply hits home that he’s an old, old boy with old-boy medical problems. He is no longer my super-healthy, rock-steady elder statesman, and that breaks my heart.
If nothing else, your pal Roxanne is proof of just how much heartache one girl can take and remain standing.