Scientists make 'EPIC' breakthrough in canine heart disease research

Veterinary scientists have made a major breakthrough in the management of the most common form of canine heart disease, which could potential extend the lives of dogs around the world.

The global EPIC (Evaluating Pimobendan in Cardiomegaly) study, led by Professor Adrian Boswood of the Royal Veterinary College, found that treatment with the drug pimobendan delays the onset of heart failure secondary to mitral valve disease (MVD). Results published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine showed treating dogs with enlarged hearts – an early warning sign of progressive heart disease – before they displayed any outward signs 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 as it was deemed unethical to continue to withhold treatment from the placebo group.

MVD 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 seven 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 five years old, so need to be checked earlier and more regularly."

A recent survey of 2000 UK dog owners found that more than half (53%) of small breed dog owners did not think their dog was at risk of developing heart disease, but more than one in three (34%) would want to do anything possible to prevent their pet from developing the signs of heart disease.

Broadcaster Gloria Hunniford owns two cavalier King Charles spaniels - Roxy, 4, and Gemma, 8 - and has joined the Campaign for Heart Disease Prevention in Dogs. Gloria says, "Our beautiful dog Gemma was diagnosed with a heart condition after she collapsed earlier this year, but before that we saw no real signs that she might be unwell - thankfully she’s doing well with the right medication.

"Knowing first-hand the effects of this disease, the fact that there's now something that owners can do to help protect their dogs from the effects is fantastic news. I’m sure that, for most owners, there would be no question about taking the opportunity to give their dog the chance of a longer, healthier life."

The campaigns aims to educate owners on the potential risks and what they can do to keep their pets happy and healthy for longer. MVD can be easy to detect but pet owners are being encouraged to speak to their vet about the risk of heart disease in their dog, especially if they own a small breed over the age of seven years or a cavalier King Charles spaniel over five years old.

For more information about the EPIC study, go here