Mabel, a 3-year-old Labrador from the UK, was diagnosed early this year to have a congenital tricuspid valve dysplasia — a condition in which heart valves are fused together. Generally, most dogs with this condition can survive without any surgical intervention. However, in Mabel's case, the fusion left her to have only two minute holes where blood can flow through causing her to feel extreme fatigue and heart failure.

Mabel is the first canine in the world to undergo an open-heart surgery to correct the heart failure. The dog was brought to the Royal Veterinary College's (RVC) Queen Mother Hospital for Animals in Hatfield where Dan Brockman, a professor specializing in Small Animal Surgery, led the six-hour long procedure last Feb. 15. Prof. Brockman used a fairly new equipment to reverse Mabel's heart failure.

Under anesthesia, Mabel's major veins were drained out of blood prior to entering the heart. The blood was then oxygenated by the heart-lung machine and returned to the major artery. The dog's heart muscles were injected with a cardioplegic solution to temporarily suspend the heartbeat allowing the surgeons to open the heart and examine its inner structures. Since the dysplasia is caused by the valve fusion, surgeons had to slice the valves open to widen the ventricles allowing proper blood flow.

The Labrador's 69-year-old owner, Annabelle Meek from Melton, Leicester acknowledged that the procedure has risks involved but she also knew that the operation would be more beneficial for her buddy.

"The operation itself is risky, much worse than most other operations. In our hands, for this type of disease, we have about an 80 percent chance of getting them through the procedure," said Prof. Brockman. "The owner has to gamble what life the dog has left against the promise of a more normal quality of life and life-span following the operation," he added.

The successful operation saw Mabel return home after six days of recovering in the intensive care. Post operatively, Mabel had a suspected blood clot and she was readmitted for a week but is now recovering well.

"This was the first time anyone has carried out open-heart surgery using the new equipment. I couldn't be more thrilled at the success of the surgery," Meek said.

In 2005, Prof. Brockman also performed an open heart surgery at the RVC alongside human cardiac surgeons and other veterinarians to learn more about the procedure.

Most dogs would not exhibit signs and symptoms of a heart disease as its body adjusts to compensate. However, as time goes by and as the disease progresses, the dog's body can no longer make necessary adjustments and the dog's health will deteriorate.

Heart failures in dogs are manifested by constant coughing, breathing patterns changes, behavioral changes, and poor appetite. Veterinarians advise dog owners to watch out for their pets' daily activities as subtle signs of heart failure in dogs are often mistaken as signs of aging.

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