The program at the UF Small Animal Hospital began in late August and is the only one in the United States dedicated to the mitral valve repair procedure. Access to the surgery is limited, as few veterinary surgery centers offer it and it must be performed using cardiopulmonary bypass.
Centers in the U.S. have intermittently completed open heart surgeries for dogs, but UF is the first to have a program specifically for this. Dog owners typically travel to other countries that have specific programs, such as Japan and the United Kingdom.
Katsuhiro Matsuura, veterinary cardiac surgeon, leads the Open Heart Surgery Program. He came from Japan to the College of Veterinary Medicine in July, joining UF faculty as a clinical assistant professor.
Matsuura performed over 100 successful mitral valve surgical repairs during his time as a veterinarian in Japan and led a team that specialized in the procedure with a success rate of over 90%.
If the mitral valve causes it to leak, known as mitral regurgitation, officials said. Any dog breed can experience degenerative mitral valve disease (MVD), but it is more common in small-breed dogs such as Cavalier King Charles spaniels, dachshunds, Malteses, poodles and chihuahuas.
She also said mitral valve degeneration is the most common heart disease seen by veterinary cardiologists, affecting most dogs to some degree as they age. However, not every dog with MVD will show symptoms.
The disease causes enlargement of the heart over time and 25 to 30% of dogs will experience congestive heart failure as a result, which can cause coughing and difficulty breathing.
Medications can be used to get rid of trapped fluid and support the heart’s function, but the mitral valve will continue to worsen. Most dogs die within a year of being diagnosed with heart failure because of the disease itself or complications from medication.
The operation itself takes around six to seven hours and the patient spends a week at the hospital for recovery. Matsuura said it is not recommended for dogs over 14 years old, as there is a higher risk of complications and their life expectancy may not be very long after surgery.
So far, patients from around the U.S. have come to Gainesville for the surgery, and there is a possibility for the program to grow to address other heart conditions and even treat other species.
The team of open-heart surgeons at the UF Small Animal Hospital currently performs three to four surgeries a month under Matsuura and plans to do one case per week.