Liaison: Jan Young
A ventricular septal defect is a hole between the lower two chambers of the heart.
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The heart of a dog (or person) consists of 4 chambers. The two upper chambers are called atria (singular atrium) and the two lower chambers are called ventricles. During embryonic development the heart begins as a simple tube, which later divides into the four chambers. The two upper chambers are separated into right and left by a septal wall or septum, as are the two ventricular or lower chambers. During development, there may be failure of the septum to develop correctly, leaving a hole between the two chambers. In the case of the lower chambers, this hole is called a ventricular septal defect (VSD). The defect can vary in size from very small to quite large. The size of the defect dictates the seriousness of the condition. The presence of a hole allows blood to flow directly from the left ventricle into the right ventricle because the pressure on the left side of the heart is much higher. Depending on the size of the hole, this can result in a significant increase in the work of the right side of the heart and an overload of blood to the lungs. If the defect is small, only a small amount of blood flows from the left to the right and there is not a significant increase in the work load of the right side of the heart.
Signs and Symptoms
If the VSD is small there may be no symptoms at all, although your vet may be able to hear a heart murmur. The murmur is caused by the the sound of blood flowing through the septal hole. Dogs with small VSDs typically live a normal life although they may have a tendency toward respiratory infections. With increasing size, signs and symptoms begin. The dog may have exercise intolerance and/or have a bluish, pale, or grayish tinge to the tongue and/or mucous membranes. Because of the increased workload, the right side of the heart eventually fails and symptoms of congestive heart failure (CHF) appear. These may include the appearance of or change in an existing heart murmur, weight loss, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, and mild to severe coughing. There may also be swelling or edema of the limbs and/or abdomen. These are the signs and symptoms of CHF, not of the VSD per se, and are the serious life-threatening concerns.
VSD is congenital (developmental defect) and is believed to be hereditary. It is relatively uncommon in dogs.
There are no known risk factors, although factors which interfere with prenatal development, such as toxins, might theoretically play a role.
Once your vet hears a murmur that does not disappear by 6 mos. of age, or there are any symptoms, diagnostic studies including an electrocardiogram (ECG), chest x-ray (CXR), echocardiogram and perhaps an ultrasound (US) may be done. These studies will help determine the presence of a VSD and the degree, if any, of enlargement of the right side of the heart and thereby the severity of the disease progression.
Note: Treatment of animals should only be performed by a licensed veterinarian. Veterinarians should consult the current literature and current pharmacological formularies before initiating any treatment protocol.
There is no specific treatment for the VSD itself. Surgery options are expensive but may be effective. Pulmonary artery banding (to decrease the excess flow of blood into the lungs) may be helpful as a palliative measure. Open heart surgery to close the VSD can be curative. When CHF is present, treatment is aimed directly at the CHF and is initiated at the first signs. Treatment includes medications to support the heart and medications to decrease congestion in the lungs. Sodium restriction (to help prevent fluid retention) and exercise restriction are also usually prescribed.
Because congenital heart defects are suspected to be inherited, affected dogs or dogs with primary relatives with VSD should not be bred. Samoyeds used for breeding should have a cardiac examination by a veterinarian with advanced training in cardiology. If the results of the examination are normal and submitted to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), the OFA assigns an OFA number, certifying the dog as free from congenital heart defects.
Ventricular Septal Defect in Dogs, aquaticcommunity.com
Ventricular Septal Defect (VSA): A Congenital Heart Disorder in Puppies, Foster and Smith
Cardiovascular system of the Dog, Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine
Septal Defects, Manitoba Pediatric Cardiac Surgery Inquest
Ventricular Septal Defect - Canine Inherited Disorders Database, Univ. of Prince Edward Island