Amber did not have the best start in life, her original owner wasn’t kind to her and life was difficult. Amber was eventually rescued and found her forever home with her new owners and their other German Shepherd ‘Morse’. Amber fitted in quickly and became a much loved member of the family.
In July 2014 Amber developed a soft cough and didn’t seem to be behaving like her normal self; she didn’t want to play as much with Morse and couldn’t keep up as well on walks. Amber’s owners quickly noticed the changes and brought her into the Bideford branch for an examination. Jon one of our Veterinary Surgeons, examined Amber during the examination he heard that she had a heart murmur and some unusual beats.
Heart murmurs can sometimes cause no problems but can also be a sign of a heart condition so Jon, one of our Vets, advised further tests on Amber’s heart and chest to diagnose why she was feeling unwell. Another of our vets and our Director Bill Slee is currently undergoing further study in cardiology so carried out a range of tests on Amber including an echocardiogram (ultrasound examination of the heart), chest x-rays and taking some samples of fluid from Ambers chest which were sent to the laboratory for analysis. He prescribed some medication to support Amber’s heart. The samples from the fluid showed no signs of infection confirming Bill’s diagnosis of primary cardiac disease.
Cardiac disease is not a condition which can be cured, close monitoring and a range of medications can be prescribed to help support the heart, slow down progression of disease and improve quality of life. Some patients can be stabilised for years with no visible signs of having the condition.
Amber’s condition improved and for a month all was well but then her cough returned so further medication was prescribed to prevent fluid from collecting on her chest. This medication was not able to manage the problem and two days later sadly Amber suddenly worsened and her owners rushed her back as she was very poorly. Amber’s head was down and the short walk into the surgery had left her breathless. Amber’s heart rate was fast but it still wasn’t strong enough to pump oxygenated blood around her body.
We admitted Amber into the hospital to have further tests to see if we could stabilise her condition. We took conscious x-rays of her chest which required Amber to lie very still whilst everybody leaves the room, this is extremely difficult for dogs and not something we ask of them often but Amber was so well behaved and trusted us so we were able to take the x-rays we needed. The x-rays showed that Amber’s heart condition was developing very quickly.
When the heart is not working properly it compensates by beating faster so the animal can carry on as normal. However the heart then becomes tired so the faster beating becomes less efficient. The muscle of the heart also becomes thickened; this is why when an animal’s heart begins to fail it sometimes becomes enlarged. The chambers on the right side of the heart are responsible for sending blood to the lungs to collect oxygen and then the blood returns to the left side of the heart. The chambers on the left side then send this oxygenated blood around to the rest of the body. When one side of the heart is not working properly the blood on this side flows more slowly which causes fluid from within the blood to leak out. This can happen in different areas, in Amber’s case within the chest making it more difficult to breathe. An electrocardiogram (EGC) looks at the rhythm of the heart and showed that Amber had irregular beats, another sign of her progressing condition.
As Amber’s condition was so serious she was immediately started on an intensive course of treatments, made possible by having a nurse on site at our hospital 24 hours a day to administer medication and monitor her condition. Diuretics helped her body to excrete the excess fluid that was in her chest to help make breathing easier and a combination of other medications helped her heart to beat in a normal rhythm and more efficiently.
After 24 hours Amber began to feel better, she started to eat and felt a little brighter. One of the effects of the diuretic medication is that it made Amber drink and pee a lot! So Amber had to take many trips outside to the grass! Amber’s owners were so dedicated they came to visit Amber every day, encouraging her to eat food which they had cooked and taking her outside to enjoy the sunshine. They were delighted to see small improvements each time they visited.
Amber’s treatment continued until she was well enough to go home and was prescribed a range of medications to control her condition. She continues to visit the surgery regularly for monitoring tests.
Throughout her treatment Amber has been a star. Her gentle nature and enthusiasm for fuss makes her a pleasure to have in the hospital. It was so lovely for us to see her improve so quickly after being so seriously ill.
Amber’s owners continue to work very hard scheduling her medications to make sure she stays well and it is always lovely to see her return to the surgery with them all looking so happy.