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Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy (ARVC) is one of the most frequent causes of sudden death in Boxers.
This disease is assumed as an electrical conduction disorder. This means that it causes the heart of a Boxer dog to beat irregularly. It is as an arrhythmia.
This electrical conduction disturbance causes the heart to contract too early producing an extra, useless beat called Premature Ventricular Contraction (PVC).
When large numbers of PVC’s occur together, the heart muscle cannot produce an effective contraction, which results in a privation of blood flow to vital organs including the brain and the heart.
This disease can cause variable degrees of incapacity and sometimes results in congestive heart failure.
If this arrhythmia occurs casually and not often, the dog will possibly not present symptoms of heart disease. However, if the erratic beats occur in series this may cause weakness, collapse or even sudden death.
In majority of cases, the symptoms will appear in dogs from 4 years old to 10 years old. Puppies are not frequently affected. Usually there will not be premature warning symptoms or they may be so discrete that owners do not take notice.
Your Boxer dog may present fainting episodes for a few seconds to a few minutes depending on how fast the dog’s heart adjusts itself.
The lack of adequate contractions may cause the heart to fail and the dog’s heart may dilate, causing congestive heart failure with symptoms such as:
- Shortness of breath
- Exercise intolerance
- Abdominal swelling
This condition is usually found during a routine vet consult. However, the heart arrhythmia isn’t easily identified by using a stethoscope. It all depends on the occurrence of the atypical heart rhythm.[box style=’doc’]Our advice is: You should keep up with regularly planned veterinary consults, even if your Boxer seems healthy.[/box]
The definitive diagnosis is based on a combination of factors including:
- Family history
- Abnormal heart rhythm
- History of fainting or exercise intolerance
- Exclusion of other diseases with similar clinical signs
- Presence of an arrhythmia, and/or heart murmur
- Symptoms of congestive heart failure
An electrocardiogram (ECG) determines the electrical activity of the heart. Unfortunately, a single ECG may be normal in these dogs, as the arrhythmia seen in these cases may be discontinuous. Thus placement of a Holter monitor is considered the gold standard for diagnosis. It is considered the most sensitive diagnosis tool available.
Holter ECG records the dog’s electrocardiographic activity over 24 hours. The monitor is strapped to the dog and electrodes are placed on the chest while the dog goes about its normal daily activities. The total number of beats, including the abnormal PVC’s, are recorded.
Currently, a genetic test for one single mutation (Striatin) is offered through the North Carolina State College of Veterinary Medicine Genetics Laboratory. However, multiple genetic mutations have been linked with this disease in both people and animals. Thus a negative test for Striatin will not rule out the possibility of your Boxer develops ARVC. Moreover, not all dogs that test positive will develop clinically significant disease.[box style=’doc’]The utility of the currently available genetic test is limited because it appears that other genes can be involved.[/box]
The treatment can be very effective in cases that do not show congestive heart failure signs. If your Boxer dog is diagnosed with ARVC, he can be treated with anti-arrhythmic drugs. If the case is not severe, these drugs can help a dog to have an almost normal life. If your Boxer’s heart presents an unstoppable uneven rhythm it can be fatal.
The nutritional supplements recommended are:
- Omega 3 fatty acid which have been shown to help reduce the number of arrhythmias
- L-Carnitine that may be recommended to patients with heart muscle dysfunction
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Additionally some prescription cardiac medications may be needed to help support heart muscle function.
The prognosis of a Boxer with ARVC is very difficult to predict. Several affected dogs will live for years with close monitoring and medical intervention. Some medications may help slow the beginning of congestive heart failure and progressive heart enlargement or dysfunction.