2018-01-25 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Look at the photo below of Bella, a stunning, nine-month-old German Shepherd Dog puppy. Does she appear healthy to you? Would you suspect she had a congenital heart defect? In fact, so serious, 60% of dogs with this condition don’t survive beyond their first year.

If you saw Bella running around the yard at Babylon Shelter, showing off her repertoire of tricks, you would be even more shocked to learn her life was in jeopardy. Right now she isn’t acting as if anything is wrong.

Luckily, in the words of Edgar Allan Poe, Bella has a “telltale heart”. At the shelter, Dr. Lyons could hear a pronounced murmur before she put her stethoscope in her ears. Dr. Coleman at Aldrich Animal Hospital could feel it as soon as he put his hands on the side of her chest. A murmur this loud, sometimes described as a “continuous machinery” murmur, suggests a serious condition, possibly PDA (Patent Ductus Arteriosus). A cardiologist visit and more tests such as an ECG, blood work and urine analysis were needed to confirm the veterinarians’ suspicions.


Babylon Shelter's Bella will be getting surgery to correct a congenital heart defect. Babylon Shelter's Bella will be getting surgery to correct a congenital heart defect. Bella was turned into the shelter by a young owner because who could no longer keep her. The owner had worked with her, and she understood several basic commands. It’s doubtful the owner knew of her heart problem. She was a pet store pup so there was no breeder for the shelter to consult about any heart issues in her lineage.

What Is PDA? According to Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine-Patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) is a cardiac birth defect caused by incomplete changes in the heart’s circulation when a dog or cat is born. The ductus arteriosus is an important blood vessel that ensures blood does not go to the lungs unnecessarily as the fetus develops in the uterus. Within hours after birth, this blood vessel naturally closes off to allow blood to travel normally through the lungs. In some puppies and kittens, the ductus arteriosus remains open (patent) which results in life-threatening changes in how the heart pumps blood through the heart and to the rest of the body.

With PDA, blood is diverted in abnormal patterns in the heart. PDA allows blood to flow from the aorta into the pulmonary artery, and then to the lungs. This can cause left-sided congestive heart failure from blood overloading the left side of the heart.

PDA is the most frequently seen congenital defect in dogs and is sometimes seen in cats. The most commonly affected breeds are Maltese, Poodle, Pomeranian, Keeshond, Bichon Frise, Chihuahua and German Shepherd. PDA is more common in females than males in most breeds. Well, Bella is a female German Shepherd.

Symptoms of PDA: The condition often causes enlargement of the left-side heart which stems from a build-up of fluid from left-side congestive heart failure. This can lead to coughing and shortness of breath. PDA pups tend not to grow or thrive and may be considered the runt of the litter. None of these outward signs described Bella.

Bella’s Blizzard: Bella’s specialist visit at Veterinary Medical Center of LI (VMCLI) in W. Islip turned out to be the same day as the blizzard. Not only did staff get to the shelter in this storm to make sure every dog and cat was taken care of, Kristin Siarkowicz Animal Control Officer managed to get Bella to her cardiologist appointment. And VMCLI was open and waiting. Soon after cardiologist Dr. Morgenstern confirmed Bella’s PDA diagnosis.

The good news was her defect could be corrected and cured with surgery. The not-as-good news was the fix was expensive. The first estimate was $5,000 which could be less depending on which of two techniques Dr. Morgenstern would be able to use the day of the procedure. The non-invasive procedure is a catheterization. A small incision is made inside one of the hind legs. A long catheter is passed from the hind leg into the abnormal vessel. A device is placed in permanently to stop the abnormal blood flow through the PDA which causes a blood clot to form in the abnormal blood vessel to close it. This technique is difficult to do in a small dog or a cat. Bella is a large dog. The other method requires open-chest surgery to tie-off the open blood vessel. Bella has a great “foster to adopt” family who will see her through surgery and convalescence before formally adopting her.

Giving Grid: The shelter staff and volunteers from Shelter Link partnered to raise funds for Bella’s surgery. My favorite rescue scenario is when municipal and private animal groups join forces to go the extra mile to save a dog or cat’s life, and when kind people go out of their way to contribute resources for a pet they’ve never met.

Rita Schrecongost of Shelter Link set up a “Giving Grid” which is a pictorial, social media donation drive. People choose a square of the grid to post a photo or name along with their donation. It’s more visual than Go Fund Me or similar tools because you watch the grid filling as the donations get closer to the goal ($3,200). (You can see the “Help Bella’s Heart” Giving Grid on Facebook- either at Shelter Link, Jan. 19 at 8:16 pm, or Babylon Animal Shelter, Jan. 15 at 8:46pm.)

By the time you read this, Bella’s goal will be reality when combining grid total and donations given directly at the shelter. We have such amazing people on LI. Bella was the “Pets” poster dog two weeks ago with a brief mention she needed heart surgery. A kind man made a generous contribution to her vet bill while at an agility event because he read about Bella in the Beacon. Thank you!

Bella’s surgery is scheduled for Jan. 29th. We all wish her the best. The last part of the Giving Grid says: “Even with all the examinations that had to be done, Bella took it in stride and remained calm and a good patient. … She is worth saving ….” Yes, she is.

Adoptables at Babylon Shelter (631-643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: “Willie” 17-690 the Wonder Pup did so well at his first Petco adoptathon last week. “Izzy” 7-646 is a six-month-old tuxedo, home fostered, good with dogs and cats too.

Return to top













Suffolk County Shelter Locator and Storm Surge Zone Mapping Tool
The Shelter Locator and Storm Surge Zone Mapping Tool