An Expensive Discovery
By Pam Kadlec
This discovery cost not only dollars but also years of breeding may now be in jeopardy. A ten-month old female puppy was taken to the vet to see if any help could be found for car- sickness. What was discovered was a heart murmur. That heart murmur was then diagnosed by a veterinary cardiologist as pulmonic stenosis - a potentially fatal heart condition. That heart murmur started me on the road to research if any of the littermates also had this ailment.
Out of six puppies, three have the disorder. Two had already been spayed so their potential for spreading the disease was no longer an issue. The third pup, Bing, was a potential stud dog. His hips were pre-liminary x-rayed and he will most likely get a Good rating from OFA. His eyes were CERF'ed normal. Both parents are OFA Good and CERF normal. None of the pups were displaying any signs of discomfort; listlessness or coughing which may have set off warning bells to look for a problem. All are very active pups that love to retrieve.
Sammy, the dam of these pups had one litter previously. None of the four puppies from the first litter have any heart murmurs. So, what went wrong? The best guess is that the dam is a carrier. It is possible that the sire is a carrier. We just don't know. And, we won't know if we don't start seriously looking at this problem.
The article on pulmonic stenosis is the second time this disorder has been addressed in two consecutive issues of the BSS newsletter. This is a very serious problem and must be taken seriously. As most conscientious breeders, I have been concerned about hip dysplasia and cataracts. Now, we have heart conditions to worry about. The good news is that a qualified veterinary practitioner can detect a heart murmur. Since all heart murmurs are not equal, if detected, the pup needs to be examined by a veterinary cardiologist.
I went to Dr. Gilbert Jacobs who examined Sammy and Bing. He could tell, just from listening, that Bing has pulmonic stenosis. Once detected, Dr. Jacobs performed an echocardiograph with Doppler to determine the severity of the problem. Bing has to be neutered and a good, pet home found for him. Dr. Jacobs called N.C. State and the consensus is that surgery is not recommended. Bing will most likely live a normal life. He has to take 1/2 of a pill (25mg. atenolol) daily that thins his blood. He can handle moderate exercise but no more hunt tests or serious training. This is heart breaking for me since Bing is such a beautiful dog with a fantastic temperament. The final diagnosis on his two sisters is not available at this time. We hope that it will be no worse than Bing. Undiagnosed, a dog with pulmonic stenosis could drop dead from a heart attack.
Sammy did not display any audible sounds of a heart murmur. Since she is the dam of three pups with pulmonic stenosis he used the echocardiograph and the Doppler to see if there was any problem. Her heart is in the normal range and she would get an OFA rating but there is a minor abnormality in her heart. This points to the potential of the dam being a carrier. I asked Dr. Jacobs if this dam could be bred again. He said she could be bred but to make sure the stud dog - and if possible, the grandparents - have OFA heart clearances.
You can get your dog's heart OFA certified at one year of age, a long time before breeding age. Dr. Jacobs explained that pulmonic stenosis can be detected as young as three months of age. Believe me, all of my pups will have their hearts checked several times before going to their new homes. All of my breeding stock will be now OFA certified for hearts as well as hips and eyes.
If you know of any dogs that have this ailment and would like to help out in a study to find out where pulmonic stenosis is coming from in Boykin spaniels, please contact the Boykin Spaniel Society, Millie Latimer or myself. We can't get rid of it until we know where it is coming from.