Canine cardiology: twin dogs get heart surgery

7 December 2012

Owner Cassandra Howard and Dr Niek Beijerink with Little Man and Hippo.
Owner Cassandra Howard and Dr Niek Beijerink with Little Man and Hippo.

Little Man and Hippo are fluffy Finnish Lapphund puppies who are cute, playful and dearly loved by their owner Cassandra Howard. However, the twin puppies have a serious heart condition that would most likely kill them within their first year of life if left untreated.

Dr Niek Beijerink, the Small Animal Cardiology Specialist at the University of Sydney's Veterinary Teaching Hospital, will perform rare life saving surgery on the twins on Thursday 5 December to correct the defect in their hearts.

"The defect in the puppies' hearts is called patent ductus arteriosus, which means they have an abnormal opening between their aorta - the largest artery in the body - and their pulmonic artery. Before puppies are born, it's normal for these two arteries to be joined, but directly after birth it should close over," said Dr Beijerink.

"If left untreated, there is roughly a 65% chance the dogs would die of heart failure before they reached one year of age," said Dr Beijerink.

"The defect is relatively uncommon - I think your average vet would see it less than once per year. As a cardiology specialist, I see about ten to twenty cases per year. But it is really unique to see this defect in identical twin puppies - I've never seen this before."

The puppies have been at the University Veterinary Teaching Hospital since Wednesday and are due to be released home on Friday.

"The surgery will cure the defect, as I'll put a plug or coil in the section where the two arteries are in contact, which will close it almost entirely. It's keyhole surgery - I'll put a catheter in the femoral artery or femoral vein to reach the heart - so it's not too invasive for the little dogs," explained Dr Beijerink.

"It is a very rewarding procedure."

The dogs were born on 26 September and appear to be identical twins as their coat colour is exactly the same including a signature white spot between their shoulder blades, they have the same heart condition and they were born right after each other in a litter of seven.

"The surgery is a team effort, with anaesthesia, radiology and cardiology working together in the University Veterinary Teaching Hospital," said Dr Beijerink.

Canine cardiology is relatively rare in Australia. There are only five small animal cardiology specialists in the country, with Dr Beijerink having moved to Australia from The Netherlands 15 months ago to take up the position at the University of Sydney.

Little Man and Hippo live with their owner, Cassandra Howard, in Tuggerawong on the Central Coast of NSW.

"The boys are both very fun loving and delightful characters - they live each day with joy. Little Man is very active, verbose and has such a love of life. Hippo is gentle, caring, quiet and easy going," said Mrs Howard.

"At their six week health check, the vet detected a heartmurmur. We then sought specialist advice at the Sydney University Veterinary Teaching Hospital who diagnosed the patent ductus arteriosus," explained Mrs Howard.

"Some people may have just put them to sleep, but to do this would be heart breaking, when they can have an operation which will fully cure them and live the rest of their lives as they should."

"I greatly thank the treating surgeon, Dr Niek Beijerink, for saving our twin puppies and also greatly reducing his standard fees for these two boys."

Contact: Katynna Gill

Phone: 02 9351 6997

Email: 28300141232c034548261d3e2e04233625290e692a2d10451601