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Case study: cardiac ablation cures Labrador's ventricular pre-excitation

Bob with CUHA cardiac teamBob, an eight-year-old yellow Labrador, was born with tricuspid valve dysplasia. The condition was manageable up until the last six months when his owner, Pamela Schwartz of Farmington, N.Y., witnessed repeated episodes of racing heartbeat in Bob. During these episodes, Bob was only able to sit down and stare. These episodes could happen up to twice a day and last for one to two hours.

Bob’s primary veterinarian, Dr. Stuart Gluckman ’72 of Mendon Village Animal Hospital, referred Bob to the Cornell University Hospital for Animals (CUHA) after determining that Bob would need more specialized treatment for his condition. Schwartz then brought Bob to CUHA to be evaluated by the cardiology service. During this visit, Dr. Flavia Giacomazzi, second-year cardiology resident, and Dr. Romain Pariaut, associate professor of cardiology, identified ventricular pre-excitation in the dog, which likely explained the clinical signs that Bob experienced, including the tachycardia.

Based on the results of the cardiology tests performed, Pariaut and Giacomazzi determined that Bob was a candidate for cardiac mapping and ablation. This consists in finding the precise location of the extra electrical pathway with catheters that are threaded through blood vessels into various spots in the heart. The pathway is then ablated using heat that is delivered through the tip of a catheter.

Cardiac ablation is the recommended treatment for this condition in people. HoThe cardiac ablation systemwever, it is rarely performed in dogs, because it requires specific equipment and expertise that can only be gained after several years of training. Currently, cardiac ablation is only available in less than five veterinary centers in the world, including the United States.

Fortunately, CUHA’s cardiology section has studied arrhythmias in animals for many years under the leadership of Dr. Sydney N. Moïse, professor of medicine, and Pariaut, who was a resident at Cornell between 2002 and 2005, and joined the faculty last September with the goal of developing a clinical program dedicated to the treatment of arrhythmias with ablation. “To start this project, we purchased an ablation system,” explains Pariaut. “The expertise in cardiac ablation comes from Dr. Roberto Santilli, an Italian veterinary cardiologist and adjunct professor of cardiology at Cornell, who has more experience than anybody else in this field of veterinary medicine.” 

The Schwartz family agreed to move forward with the procedure that could restore their dog’s quality of life. On February 26th, the CUHA cardiac team performed the procedure under the supervision of Santilli. The extra pathway was located and successfully ablated. Bob was able to leave the hospital the next day, and is expected to have no recurrence of his heart problem. He will come back to Cornell for recheck evaluations over the next several months.

CUHA cardiac ablation team at work “Our experience with Cornell was wonderful,” says Pamela Schwartz. “From the great care he got from the surgeons, to the constant updates we received from the wonderful students, we were absolutely positive Bob was in great hands.”

Since the procedure, Bob’s symptoms have disappeared. “He has a whole new lease on life,” says Schwartz.  “He’s like a two-year old again—chasing squirrels, swimming in the pool—he’s having a ball.”

The CUHA cardiology service will continue to offer cardiac ablation to eligible canine patients under the expert guidance of Santilli.

“We are excited that the collaboration with Dr. Santilli will continue, as he has agreed to spend 10 to 15 weeks a year at Cornell for the next several years,” says Pariaut, “and that we will be able to offer this new treatment modality to many dogs.”