Tiny Chihuahua undergoes life-saving heart surgery at WSU

Closeup of Lola, a tiny Chihuahua-mix, wrapped in a blanket.
Lola received treatment for a potentialy fatal heart condition at the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

By all appearances, Lola was a perfectly healthy puppy.

Rhonda Roueche said her tiny Chihuahua-mix was an energetic ball of energy that loved to run and play with both her human family and her four-legged buddies, including her two cat sisters, Ellie and Midnight, and her canine packmates, Snowflake and Rocco.

Hidden, though, was a serious and potentially fatal heart condition, patent ductus arteriosus, or PDA, which to correct most often requires a procedure available only at facilities with specialized cardiology services like Washington State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

“It was discovered during her first trip to the vet for shots when she was 12 weeks old,” Roueche said. “When we went in for a follow-up visit a few months later, there was a high level of concern because it had gotten worse. That’s when we were referred to WSU cardiology.”

PDA, one of the most common congenital heart defects in dogs, occurs when a critical blood vessel, the ductus arteriosus, remains open, or patent, and fails to close as it should after birth, leading to life-threatening changes in the way the heart pumps blood. Most often, it is detected as a heart murmur during routine puppy vaccination visits. If left untreated, PDA is usually fatal within a year.

Cardiologist Dr. Ryan Baumwart said two surgeries are commonly performed to treat the disease and stop blood from flowing through the vessel. Surgeons can perform an open-chest procedure, known as a thoracotomy, or a minimally invasive surgery in which a thin tube called a catheter is inserted into the femoral artery in the dog’s leg and guided to the heart using fluoroscopy, which shows a continuous X-ray image on a monitor to allow surgeons to see their movements.

Upper left image: A catheter has been placed in Lola’s leg and advanced up the aorta to the defect. Contrast was injected into the catheter to outline the abnormal vessel (PDA), which is highlighted by the blue arrow. Upper right image: A device specifically made to close the PDA vessels in dogs (ACDO) is placed through the catheter. Bottom left: Contrast is again injected with the device in place prior to releasing it from the attachment wire. Bottom right: The attachment wire has been removed and the ACDO remains in place for the rest of the dog’s life. All images were taken with fluoroscopy.

“Either one, you get the same result, but the thoracotomy is more invasive and painful, and the patients have to spend a little more time in the hospital,” Baumwart said. “The major risk, with a thoracotomy though, is bleeding, as a tear could cause a fatal hemorrhage.”

WSU is one of only a handful of facilities in the region with the expertise and equipment needed to perform the minimally invasive procedure.

The surgery team, which included Baumwart and cardiology resident Dr. Anna Golden, was initially concerned Lola’s blood vessels would be too small and remove the option for the preferred minimally invasive procedure.

“The big question is, especially for smaller dogs, is the femoral artery in their legs big enough for us to get our catheters, wires and devices in through,” Golden said. “Fortunately, even though she is a small Chihuahua, we were able to go through with the procedure.”

Lola’s procedure took approximately two hours. Just a day later, she was back at home with her family. Follow-up testing confirmed the surgery’s success, and both Baumwart and Golden are optimistic about Lola’s future.

“All she had afterward was a little teeny tiny incision. Soon after she was putting weight on that leg, and the next day, she felt like her normal self,” Golden said. “I’m really happy we can give her the chance to have a full normal life.”

Closeup of Lola and her family.
Lola and her family

Roueche is grateful she was able to bring Lola to WSU for care.

“I didn’t think it was possible, but she has even more energy than before,” she said. “I just can’t express how great the staff and doctors were throughout the process. I always felt like Lola was in great hands, and they did a wonderful job. We are very thankful that Lola will be around for a long time to come.”

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