Staffy cross Atlas and his precious heart – Pet of the Month!

1 Jul 2017 | Pet of the month

Atlas is a six year old, rescue Ridgeback cross Staffy that was brought in by his owners who were concerned with his sudden and unexplained lethargy.  Claire, Atlas’s owner explained “Atlas is only six, we have had him since he was three – we rescued him from a charity in surrey Rescue Remedies who specialise in re-homing Staffies. Since the very first day this boy has showed us so much love and total devotion, it doesn’t matter where you are or what you are doing, as long as he is with you!! He is very cheeky, intelligent, and talkative, he loves his walks and running around before preforming his famous dive bombing, so when he started lagging behind on walks, losing energy and virtually passing out we were extremely worried about him.   We took him to Quantock to be checked out – we have been clients there for four years.” 

Hannah one of our vets checked Atlas’s heart rate and found it to be much lower than expected. She explained “We found that Atlas had a really slow heart rate – 56 beats per minute whereas normally I’d expect a dog of his size to have a heart rate between 75-100bpm.  We carried out a blood test to rule out hypothyroid disease which could have explained some of his clinical signs, but this was fine so we investigated his heart further.”

Atlas had a heart scan and ECG and this uncovered the problem, he was suffering from ‘Third Degree Atrioventricular Block’. “Third degree AV block is very serious” explained Hannah, “the natural pacemaker and electrical conducting system of the heart stop sending the right messages and the heart contracts abnormally and inefficiently, resulting in the clinical signs we saw in Atlas.  Sufferers can otherwise quite appear well but because their heart isn’t beating properly they are at serious risk of sudden death.” 

Atlas was sent directly up to Langford a respected Referral Centre near Bristol, where he promptly had surgery to fit a pacemaker. This is major but not uncommon surgery for dogs. Hannah explained “The pacemaker – an electronic device that maintains the heart rate by stimulating the heart to contract it fails to do so – is the same as used for humans. It is inserted under the skin at the side of the dog’s neck. A lead or wire which conducts the electrical ‘spark’ passes under the skin to the jugular vein in the neck, through it and into the heart. The pacemaker monitors the heart beat and stimulates the heart to keep it going if it fails.”

Surgery was a serious decision for Claire and Shawn, Atlas’s owners – not least because of the recuperation process. “Once in position it was critical that Atlas stayed completely immobile and inactive for around four days whilst the pacemaker stabilised.  This isn’t easy for a six year old Staffy cross! Harder for us was the four weeks afterwards when the only activity he was allowed was an occasional toilet break on the lead!  But he recovered really well and was soon absolutely dying to have a run and jump around! Keeping him quiet was not easy! We had to give him lots of extra personal attention and calming cuddles on the sofa!  Now a few weeks later, I’d say he’s absolutely back to normal and enjoying lots of physical activity again. It’s really wonderful to see him back to his normal fun loving, energetic self.”

Hannah nominated and was delighted that Atlas was awarded Pet of the Month – “He’s a really lovely boy and with his artificial pacemaker he can expect a very good quality of life. It was ideal that Claire and Shawn brought Atlas in so quickly when they noticed his symptoms. He’ll need occasional check-ups to monitor it’s all working ok but he should be fine from now on! We’re delighted for him and his owners.”

Cocker spaniels, Pugs, and Doberman breeds are predisposed to heart defects leading to complete heart block but heart conditions can affect any dog. Congratulations Atlas, we’re so pleased for you!