Canine Heart Health
In honor of Valentine’s Day, we at Paws for Purple Hearts (PPH) thought it would be an opportune time to discuss the heart health of our Service Dogs. It’s important for each of the dogs at PPH to be in tip-top shape, especially when it comes to their hearts. We want them to each be as healthy as possible so that when they are placed with a Warrior – whether a Veteran or Active Duty Service Member – they will be able to work with that person for as long as possible. We also want to ensure that no matter how their journey at PPH ends, they will live a long and happy life. Jen Longman, MS, RVT, is one of the Veterinary Technicians that works with PPH. I asked her about the measures that are taken to ensure that all PPH dogs have their hearts well taken care of.
WHAT BREEDS DOES PPH USE
I’ve always heard that certain breeds of dogs are more susceptible to heart conditions than other breeds. Longman confirmed that’s actually true. So the two breeds used to create future PPH service dogs are Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers. Longman says that Golden Retrievers are prone to Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). This can be determined with an echocardiogram.
That’s one reason why it is so important to feed PPH dogs a high quality diet that is NOT grain free. Longman explains “Recent research suggests a link between taurine deficiencies (taurine is missing in grain free diets) and cases of DCM. This eventually leads to congestive heart failure, which cannot be cured, but can be managed with medications.” To help keep their hearts healthy and happy, PPH dogs are fed a high quality diet, and are given clean drinking water at all times. They also have a routine that consists of regular heart-healthy exercise.
Longman reports that “Labrador Retrievers, on the other hand, are prone to Tricuspid Valve Dysplasia. This is a congenital heart defect where the tricuspid valve forms incorrectly during embryonic development and will eventually lead to congestive heart failure.” Longman says this can also be diagnosed with an echocardiogram to ensure that it is not passed onto future generations of PPH dogs. We watch that carefully in our breeding program.
TIME TO SEE THE DOCTOR
Dogs that are selected for the breeding program to provide future PPH dogs are each given an echocardiogram. This is an ultrasound of the heart that checks to ensure that blood is flowing properly and there are no underlying signs of disease that could potentially be passed onto future generations of puppies. Longman emphasizes “This is an incredibly important step to ensuring the heart health of all PPH dogs.”
PPH also ensures that all dogs have yearly examinations with their veterinarian to make sure there are no murmurs or other abnormalities that can be picked up on examination. Like most dogs, both our breeds are susceptible to heartworm infestations too. Longman says “During these examinations, routine tests are done including heartworm tests, to confirm that a PPH dog does not have heartworms. PPH dogs are also on a year-round heartworm preventative to protect them from getting heartworms in the first place.”
MAKING A HEARTFELT CONNECTION
In addition to serving our Warriors as assistance dogs, our PPH dogs help other Warriors with Post-traumatic Stress (PTSD) through our innovative Canine-Assisted Warrior Therapy® (CAWT) program. This program helps reduce the symptoms of PTSD for participants as they help prepare and train the dogs to become assistance dogs for their fellow Warriors. PPH wants to make sure that each of our brave patriots has an opportunity to make a heartfelt connection with our wonderful dogs. Our CAWT sessions provide that opportunity! These dogs are able to help Warriors get through some incredibly difficult or stressful times while they work together to build an impressive repertoire of over 110 commands during our sessions, but sometimes they help the most by simply sitting with their Warrior and showing them love.
MORE WAYS TO HELP
So join PPH this Valentine’s Day by spreading some love to our four-legged friends as they train to serve America’s best. You can help us in many ways, for example volunteering with us or just spreading the word about us to the Warriors you know in your community. Our Alaska team is always looking for new toys and treats for their assistance dogs-in-training. You can find all of their favorite toys, treats and other donation ideas when you visit their Amazon Wish List.
If you’d like to help financially, please visit our website to contribute today.