Inherited Ventricular Tachycardia in German Shepherds- Meds Do Help!
I have been searching for people who have shared their experience with Inherited Ventricular Tachycardia in German Shepherds (VT) (a.k.a. Sudden Death Syndrome). I have only found a few forums where people shared their experience. I realize that the syndrome is very rare, but I also realize that there has to be more people out there (like myself) dealing with this scary syndrome. I also was searching for people who had something positive to say (i.e. their dog survived) but unfortunately I could not find that either--since I have something positive to say, I thought I would share.
VT is a type of heart arrhythmia, it is thought to be hereditary. It shows up in young pups (I believe around 3-4 months of age) and is considered outgrown once the pup hits 2 years old. However, if left untreated it apparently causes sudden death in 50% of those pups that have it.
My German Shepherd pup, Sasha, is amazing-- she is almost 7 months now and a hefty 68 lbs. However, when she was about 4 months old my fiance, who is a dentist and happened to have a stethoscope at home, randomly decided to listen to her heart for a half hour--he picked up on an irregular heartbeat and became very concerned. The fact that my fiance was the first to pick up the arrhythmia was quite startling, Sasha had been at the vet just the week before and the month before that. The vet listened to her heart! Why didn't he pick it up!
We immediately brought her to the vet at which point he referred us to a cardiology specialist. We brought her to Red Bank Veterinarian Hospital which is known to be one of the best animal hospitals on the East Coast. The specialist did a 24-hour holter test on Sasha. The results were devastating-- Sasha was diagnosed with VT. She had 70,000 irregular heartbeats, that is nearly half her heartbeats in a 24 hour period. She also had many pairs of irregular heartbeats and some runs of 4-6, which are the dangerous one. I cried non-stop and lived the next two weeks absolutely paranoid. I would stay up all night watching her breathe thinking at any point she may just die. The diagnosis is scary and very stressful to deal with.
I read some forums that indicated that there is no way to treat VT, however this is untrue. Yes, there is no way to "cure" VT (it is outgrown at 2 years of age), however there is absolutely medicine that help control it and gives your pup a way better chance of survival. The specialist at Red Bank put Sasha on a combination therapy of Mexiletine and Sotalol (together they cost me about 50$ a month).
After Sasha was on these meds for about a month, my fiance and I wanted to retest her to see if they were helping or if we were feeding her drugs for no apparent reason. We took her back for another 24-holter test. The results, although not all that I wished for, were encouraging. She went from 70,000 irregular heartbeats to 20,000--that is a 70% improvement. Also, the number of pairs went down from often to here and there, and the runs of 4-6 went down from here and there to rare! Yes, I was not so secretly hoping the specialist would call me with the news that Sasha's VT miraculously disappeared, but I'll take the 70% improvement with a smile! In other words, there are things you can do to help your pups chances! the meds help!
Sasha is now almost 7 months and I just got a call from the vet that she was successfully spayed and recovering well (FYI: The specialist told me that dogs with VT are just as good under general anesthesia as dogs without it).
I am not going to lie, every morning and every night I still feel a little terrified that my Sasha wont wake up, but I am content in the fact that I have done all I can do, the medicines are helping and the rest is in God's hands. If your dog has VT please go see a specialist if possible, its worth it!
I hope this helps. Like I said, I was searching for something to provide me some comfort but all I found was the negative. I hope my positive experience with modern medicine helps someone sleep a little better at night.