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Double trouble

  • French bulldogs

    Double trouble

    Pair of rescued bulldogs treated for same heart defect with expert surgical care 

    Rajah (left) and Pearl are two French bulldogs who underwent lifesaving heart surgery at the Univesity of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center. Photos courtesy of Diane Wade. 

Two French bulldogs named Pearl and Rajah started life separately but crossed paths at about eight weeks old when they were both surrendered to Dakota Dachshund Rescue in Sioux Falls, S.D. 

There, the rescue’s executive director, Diane Wade, discovered during a veterinary examination the two puppies had more in common than just their breed.

“I had their hearts scanned when they arrived and was very concerned they both had pulmonary valve stenosis,” she says. 

Pulmonary valve stenosis is a birth defect that results in a narrowing of the valve located between the lower right ventricle of the heart and the pulmonary arteries, which connect to the lungs.

“The end result is the narrowed valve creating an obstruction to blood flow there,” says Dr. Chris Stauthammer, cardiologist and professor at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine. “The way the heart overcomes the obstruction is by generating higher pressure to force blood across that little opening. And then you get all this turbulent blood flow that causes a heart murmur and causes the artery to become abnormally dilated.” 

Pulmonary stenosis is one of the most common congenital heart defects that presents in dogs, and French bulldogs have a higher predisposition to being born with it than other breeds. 

Pearl (left) and Rajah as puppies posing for adoption page pictures. Photos courtesy of Diane Wade.

Under pressure

Surgery would be required to help relieve the workload on Pearl and Rajah’s hearts. The bulldogs were referred to the University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center and its cardiology team for treatment. 

Both dogs underwent a minimally invasive surgical procedure called balloon valvuloplasty. VMC surgeons inserted a catheter into each dog’s heart through the jugular vein. Once the catheter is in place across the valve, a balloon is inflated to create a larger opening. 

“We don't fully open it, but we’re able to dramatically reduce the workload on the heart. If left untreated, especially in moderate to severe cases, the dogs eventually go into heart failure because of all that extra work on the heart,” Stauthammer says. 

Both Pearl and Rajah’s cases were considered severe. Following the procedure, Pearl saw a 37 percent decrease in pressure gradient on her valve while Rajah saw a 54 percent decrease. The decreases will likely translate to a normal lifespan for both dogs.   

Specialized veterinary procedures such as balloon valvuloplasty can be costly, especially for rescue organizations and animal shelters whose main source of income is donations. Thanks to the generosity of donors, the VMC is able to offer financial assistance to rescue organizations through the VMC Shelter & Rescue Animal Fund. The fund subsidizes the cost of specialty veterinary care for animals under the care of qualified nonprofits and helped Wade get Pearl and Rajah the care they needed.

“Dakota Dachshund Rescue is a very small rescue group, so this was a significant strain on our budget,” Wade says. “We so appreciate the money donated from the animal rescue fund as we rely on fundraising to help pups like Rajah and Pearl.”

Bright future

In the months since their procedures, both Pearl and Rajah’s health has improved. They will remain on medication and have their hearts periodically checked as part of managing their condition, but both have shown improvement.

Both dogs also charmed their foster families into adopting them and have been settling into life at their new forever homes. 

Pearl settles into life in her forever home. 
Photo courtesy of Hope Bader.

Pearl’s family says she’s always looking for snuggles and attention—especially if someone has food—and loves chewing on and playing with her toys. Her boundless energy made recovery tough sometimes because healing properly from her surgery meant no running or jumping. 

Rajah also is enjoying life. She loves playing with her new siblings and wears a constant smile, her family says. They noticed a huge improvement in Rajah’s quality of life following the surgery. Before her procedure, physical activity even in cool temperatures would cause her to overheat and pant for up to an hour. Now, she only pants in typical situations and has more energy.

Wade couldn’t be happier to see both dogs living more active lives and is grateful to the care team at the VMC for the roles its members played. 

“The cardiology team did an amazing job of keeping us updated and took very good care of Rajah and Pearl,” she says.

Gifts from generous donors allow medical cases like Pearl and Rajah’s to have positive outcomes. If you’re interested in making a difference in the lives of rescue and shelter animals in need of specialized care, visit the Small Animal Outreach page to give.

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