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Breakthrough drug could delay a leading cause of death in dogs

A breakthrough drug may be the answer to managing the most common form of canine heart disease, potentially extending the lives of dogs worldwide.

The global EPIC study, led by Professor Adrian Boswood of the Royal Veterinary College, has found that treatment with the drug pimobendan delays the onset of heart failure secondary to mitral valve disease (MVD), the most common form of heart disease in dogs.

The results, published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, found that treating dogs with enlarged hearts – an early warning sign of progressive heart disease – before they displayed any outward signs of the condition delayed the onset of heart failure by an average of 15 months, with dogs that received the drug also living significantly longer than those receiving a placebo.

Evidence was so conclusive, the study was terminated early following an interim analysis as it was deemed unethical to continue to withhold treatment from the placebo group.

Heart disease is one of the top five causes of death of dogs in the UK1, with MVD accounting for the majority of cases.

The disease is caused by the deterioration of one of the heart valves and predominantly affects small breed dogs, including cavalier King Charles spaniels, dachshunds, miniature poodles and terrier breeds.

It is also a common condition in elderly humans.

Professor Boswood described why regular heart health checks are so important for dogs: “The vast majority of dogs with this heart disease will show no signs of the problem for quite some time, although they may have a heart murmur.

“This makes it crucial that all owners get their dog’s heart checked regularly by their vet. This is especially true for small breed dogs over the age of 7 years old, as this is when the risk increases.

“The exception is cavalier King Charles spaniels, who are around 20 times more prone to this heart disease and can be affected much earlier in life, from around 5 years old, so need to be checked earlier and more regularly.”

A recent survey of dog owners found that more than half (53 percent) of small breed dog owners did not think their dog was at risk of developing heart disease, despite MVD being more prevalent in these breeds3.

However, more than one in three (34 percent) would want to do anything possible to prevent their pet from developing the signs of heart disease.

For more information about the EPIC study:

1.        D.G. O’Neill, D.B. Church, P.D. McGreevy, P.C. Thomson, D.C. Brodbelt (2013). Longevity and mortality of owned dogs in England, The Veterinary Journal Volume 198, Issue 3, December 2013, Pages 638–643
2.        OnePoll Survey of 2000 UK Dog Owners, September 2016

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