Heart screenings keep pets healthy


Kristine Travis holds her Phoebe, a Great Dane, while Dr. Herb Maisenbacher examines her on July 15.

Cats and dogs are living more heart-healthy lives thanks to a cardiac screening clinic provided monthly by the cardiology service at the University of Florida Small Animal Hospital.

“Patients are brought into the hospital for a variety of reasons and in varying degrees of illness,” said Dr. Amara Estrada, an associate professor and cardiology service chief. “However, during our screening clinic, many different breeds and species are seen before they ever show any signs or symptoms of disease.”

Operated by Estrada and Dr. Herb Maisenbacher, a lecturer in cardiology, the clinic’s goal is to detect cardiac disease before it is passed on to future offspring. From house cats to agility dogs, any breed or species of companion animal that is predisposed to developing cardiac disease is eligible for the screening.

Clinics are held on a Friday each month and include a cardiac examination and an echocardiogram. Each screening takes approximately 20 minutes to complete.

“This brief exam is designed for presumably normal, healthy pets that have not been previously diagnosed with heart disease or murmurs,” Estrada said. “This is not a diagnostic work up. If the cardiologist finds any abnormalities, the pets’ owner will either be asked to schedule an appointment on a regular receiving day or the pet will be referred back to their family veterinarian for a complete work up.”

Kristine Travis, who breeds Great Danes, first learned of the screening clinic at a dog show where Estrada had performed echocardiograms on her animals. Travis was in the UF clinic July 15 with Phoebe, her first AKC champion. A 10-year-old champion fawn Great Dane, Phoebe received a screening from Maisenbacher, who gave her a clean bill of health.

“Heart health screening is of special interest to me, because I’ve experienced how devastating dilated cardiomyopathy, or DCM,  is with one of my own Great Danes,” Travis said, adding that she lost Phoebe’s half-sister at the age of 3 due to DCM.  “DCM is a serious concern within the larger Great Dane community as well as in my own family of Great Danes.”

She said she thought the cardiac screening clinic UF offers is a useful service for the canine community “especially for Great Dane breeders and owners.”

“Screening these animals for cardiac health is an important tool that responsible breeders utilize to help them make better informed decisions about pairing dogs for breeding, and for monitoring offspring,” Travis said.

UF’s clinic makes this type of screening both accessible and affordable for breeders who wish to obtain it for their dogs, Travis said.

“I was more than pleased at the attention my Danes received from Dr. Maisenbacher, the veterinary students and the staff during our visit to the hospital,” Travis said.

Vanir Harry Potter, aka "Hairy Bear," has flown more than 60 times to different cat shows. His owners believe in regular screening to keep him heart-healthy.

Vanir Harry Potter, aka “Hairy Bear,” is a 6-year-old champion Norwegian Forest Cat, a relatively new breed in the United States believed to be related to Maine Coons. His owner, ZellaJane Thomas of New Smyrna Beach, has brought her cat, whom she also refers to as “HB,” to UF’s cardiac screening clinic twice – once in July 2009 and once in June 2011. She learned about UF’s cardiology service from her veterinarian and said she was carrying on a tradition started by HB’s breeder, Cheryl McConnell, owner of the Van Ir cattery of Iowa.

McConnell diligently monitors the health of her cats, according to Thomas, and had Hairy Bear screened twice at Iowa State University’s veterinary school during his breeding career.

“He scanned normal before he bred his first litter, and she continued to scan him as he aged,” said Thomas, adding that she and her husband fell in love with HB after seeing him on McConnell’s website many times. The couple had developed a friendship with McConnell and when she decided to retire HB from breeding, the Thomases flew to Iowa to pick up the cat and bring him home with them to Florida.

“Knowing he had sired a litter and knowing we travel a lot with him by car and by air, we decided to do everything in our power to insure HB has a healthy life,” Thomas said. “We are willing to continue to scan this boy’s heart in an effort to assist his breeder with continuing to breed for health and temperament, and to provide our boy with the best possible health care–knowing that HCM can occur in any breed.”

To schedule your pet’s appointment with the cardiology screening clinic, contact the small animal hospital at 352-392-2235 and ask for either Bonnie Heatwole or Melanie Powell from the cardiology service.

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