Q: I have a 9-year-old cocker named Buffy that has lost weight to the point she is skinny and no one has been able to figure out why. I took her to another veterinarian yesterday and she found an abnormal heart. This explains why she appeared to faint frequently. She collapses, walks wobbly and cannot even walk across the room without collapsing. She immediately performed an EKG and found an irregular heart rate of 45-50 beats per minute. She said there was no p-wave. She has referred me to a specialist, but do you think it is fair to Buffy to drag this out?

A: In a word, yes, but you should not postpone her visit to the specialist. It sounds like Buffy has “atrial stand still.” Her heart has a right and left atrium that receives blood and sends it on to the right and left ventricles for distribution to other parts of the body. If her atria are not working to contract and push blood in the right direction they may need help in the form of a pacemaker. The specialist will certainly check the overall function of her heart before recommending the surgery. If there is nothing else wrong with Buffy’s heart, the implantation of a pacemaker should be curative, certainly the surgeons will determine first that she is otherwise healthy before moving forward with the planned pacemaker. Soon, if she does not already have it, Buffy will move into congestive heart failure and all its complications.

Surgeons at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater can perform this surgery. The surgery itself will require the availability of a pacemaker for use in Buffy so you will need to check on availability. Occasionally recycled human pacemakers are available for use in dogs.

Once the pacemaker is in place, Buffy’s heart should beat at the more normal rate of 80-90 beats per minute and be able to supply her body with needed oxygen and nutrients. They may recommend also keeping her on Omega-3 fatty acids for the rest of her life to promote heart health. Once Buffy’s heart is functioning normally she should be able to gain her weight back and may live a long, normal life and die of something totally unrelated to her heart.

DR. M. MARGARET KING, a longtime Edmond veterinarian, is a guest columnist. If you have any questions for her, send them to 1900 S. Bryant, Edmond, OK 73013.

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