First open-heart program in the country for dogs to launch at UF

Simon Swift, the medical director of the UF Small Animal Hospital, examines Zoey, a 12-year-old Maltese, who underwent the mitral valve repair procedure in France last year. Courtesy to The Alligator


UF veterinarians will be the first in the country to perform a lifesaving procedure on dogs.

The UF College of Veterinary Medicine will become the only facility in the U.S. to offer an open heart surgery program on dogs this April, said Simon Swift, a clinical associate professor and service chief of cardiology at UF’s Small Animal Hospital.

The program will offer repairs of the mitral valve, an integral part of the heart that supports blood flow, Swift said. UF’s location will be the only veterinary clinic in the country to offer the complex procedure.

When the mitral valve starts to degenerate it can lead to heart failure and death, Swift said. As the most common heart disease in dogs, it can be treated with medication, slowing the disease progression for nine months to a year.

While the drugs treat the symptoms, surgery would repair the damaged heart, he said.

“If you or I had this disease, we wouldn’t be treated medically, we’d go and see a surgeon,” Swift said. “And that’s what we’re doing in dogs.”

While this surgery is regularly completed in Japan, the U.S. has not been able to offer it with a high success rate, he said. Due to this, the program will be a collaborative effort with Japanese veterinarians led by veterinary cardiologist Masami Uechi, who has mastered the procedure.

The entire program will cost between $750,000 to $1 million in its first three years and will be funded by UF, a benefactor and a fundraiser that’s already raised over $50,000, Swift said.

The investment in equipment and staff is the most costly part of the program, with the bypass machine for the operation costing between $50,000 to $100,000, Swift said. Each surgery, while $17,000 in Japan, could cost between $40,000 to $50,000 in the U.S., due to the help from Uechi’s team.

“This is a program that has been needed for years in the United States,” Swift said. “Uechi has shown us the way, we hope to learn from him how to do this surgery effectively.”

UF’s first procedure is expected to take place in April with Uechi and his team, who will be bringing equipment and completing the surgeries with UF veterinarians for the next three to five years. By then, the clinic should be able to operate independently, he said.

Corrine Conste, an 18-year-old UF biology freshman, is interested to see how this procedure will develop by the time she applies to veterinary school.

“New technology that can improve our technique is a great idea,” Conste said. “Animals deserve the best care that they can get.”