Veterinarians at the Teaching Hospital at Washington State's College of Veterinary Medicine recently implanted an internal defibrillator in a 2-year-old boxer named Honus.
This marked the first time that a defibrillator had been installed in a nonhuman patient. Honus had suffered from chronic ventricular tachycardia. The case was reported in the July 2003 issue of DVM magazine.
Honus had been seen at the teaching hospital every 10 days to two weeks due to fainting spells from circulatory collapse. "We'd adjust his medication, but then he would always return within two weeks through the emergency service again. We felt as though we had nothing to lose to try this therapy," said resident cardiologist Lynne Nelson, DVM, Diplomate, ACVIM.
Medtronic, a Minneapolis-based medical technology company, donated the defibrillator, which had enjoyed years of successful installations in human patients with similar cardiac problems.
With the assistance of Dr. Lahmers from the faculty staff, the device was implanted just under the skin of Honus' chest. A wire is run into the heart from there through a vein in the neck. The four-hour procedure used fluoroscopy to ensure correct placement of the device in Honus, who was up and walking the next day.
Vice President Dick Cheney is a famous person who has such a defibrillator installed.
Defibrillators can function as pacemakers, stimulating the heart, but they also can do more. The defibrillators can be programmed, as can any computer chip, to differentiate abnormalities in the heart and decide on a treatment regimen according to the circumstance. In extreme circumstances, these devices can give the heart a jolt to stimulate it (much like a paddle defibrillator), which a regular pacemaker cannot do.
Before readers assume that veterinarians in every town will have access to these defibrillators, let me clarify. These units sell for about $30,000 apiece, so their use is not practical for dog owners. Yet, ultimately older units that are off-line for human installation may become available for veterinary use at a more affordable price.
For now, at least we know the procedure can be done successfully and extend the life of at least one lucky boxer.