Colo. pet owner finds pacemaker gives poodle power
October 11, 2010
FORT COLLINS – When Raven, a 3-year-old poodle, began fainting after every walk she took with her owner, she became a candidate for a pacemaker – a medical device common among humans but seen sparingly in dogs.
The otherwise bouncy standard poodle could not generate enough of a heart rate to feed oxygen to her brain, prompting frequent blackouts.
That led Raven’s owner, Mary Gabler, to Dr. Janice Bright, a cardiac surgeon at Colorado State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
And in July, Bright implanted Raven with a pacemaker.
The device – about the size of a half dollar – gives Raven’s heart the electrical boost needed for her to live a normal life.
“I can tell she already has much more energy – so much so (that) all she wants to do is chase cats,” Gabler said.
Thousands of humans are given pacemakers annually. But in Colorado, only about 100 animals receive one. Just Bright and a handful of other veterinary cardiologists perform the procedure in the state.
A few people are put off by the cost – for Gabler, a Littleton resident, the tab was $2,500.
Bright, who has been putting pacemakers in animals since 1984, has implanted about 200. Her patients have included a horse, a miniature donkey and a ferret.
“We’ve been putting them in animals for almost as long as humans have used them, and we’ve never looked back,” Bright said.
There is, however, a problem emerging for veterinary cardiologists. Nearly all the pacemakers are donated either by mortuaries – who remove pacemakers from human bodies before they are cremated – or by manufacturers after the devices have surpassed their shelf life.
But more and more donations are being routed to Third World countries to help the hearts of children.
Bright understands humans are a priority over pets. “I don’t begrudge the fact that more (pacemakers) are going to help people.”
Still, she said, “It’s getting more and more difficult to get the equipment we need.”
A pacemaker consists of two parts – a battery-powered generator and a wire lead. There could be plenty of donated generators, Bright said, but not enough leads.
The procedure calls for Bright to make a small incision in an animal’s neck. She then inserts the lead into a large vein and lodges it in the muscle fibers of the heart.
The generator is then placed in a fold of skin on the back side of the neck. The whole process takes about two hours.
Most pets are raring to go after the operation. But owners are told to keep the animals quiet for a couple of weeks to make sure the lead and generator are firmly implanted.
Owners also are asked not to use a leash because pulling on the neck could damage the lead wire, Bright said.
Gabler said Raven’s energy level has improved so much that “I really don’t see how I can keep her quiet for much longer.”
The lust for life that returns to dogs and cats after an implant is the payback Bright craves.
“We want them jumping around and running and being their obnoxious selves,” she said. “It makes me feel good to see that.”