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Posted By: Sarah - Vet

Heart disease in Cavaliers

The Cavalier King Charles spaniel is an old and well established breed in the UK. With their engaging gentle natures, they make lovely family pets, and Thomas is a good example. He lives with his owners and 3 other Cavaliers. They make an impressive pack when they are all together.

Unfortunately, there are some health problems that are fairly common in the breed and one of these is a type of heart disease. Typically, the heart valves which separate the chambers of the heart become thickened and retracted at the edges and as a result, they don’t close fully. Then, when the heart beats, instead of the valve closing and all the blood being pumped around the body, some is squirted back into the top of the heart and it starts to enlarge. The early warning sign that a problem is developing is a heart ‘murmur’. This is an extra swooshing noise detected with a stethoscope alongside the typical ‘lub dup’ noises when the heart beats.

When Thomas first developed a heart murmur, the heart and pulse rate and loudness of the murmur were recorded so that we could check him regularly and follow his progress as it developed. By monitoring our patients regularly, we try to deal with problems as soon as possible. Sadly, we know that over time the valves are likely to deteriorate further to the point where symptoms start to develop showing that treatment is necessary. These typically include a lack of energy and a cough. Once this stage is reached and confirmed by x-rays or other tests as necessary, medication is available to treat the condition and these patients can often enjoy a good quality of life for years.

Up until now, there wouldn’t have been any treatment for Thomas before he started to show symptoms, but the good news is that a recent study carried out across a number of countries and over several years has shown that if we can identify these patients early on – when the heart is starting to enlarge but is still compensating for the faulty heart valve, a particular drug can help. It has been proven to delay the onset of symptomatic heart disease by over a year which is a wonderful prospect for Thomas and others like him.  

At Thomas’s next check, I noticed that although Thomas’s heart rate was steady, his murmur was significantly louder, so his owner was keen for us to carry out some tests. A blood test and X-ray showed that Thomas did have an enlarged heart and so was a suitable patient for this medication, which he has been on ever since. Six months on, he is brighter and more energetic than before with no signs of heart failure and managing to keep up with the younger members of the family.  

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