Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Human Pacemakers Help Extend Pets’ Lives

By Langley Cornwell

My mother recently got a pacemaker. She was experiencing shortness of breath and unusual fatigue but chalked it up to the normal aging process. When she started fainting, though, we knew we needed to get serious about seeking a solution.

The doctors determined she was suffering from arrhythmia, which means her heart was not able to pump enough blood through her body. They admitted her to the hospital and the doctors tried to treat her heart condition with medications, but nothing seemed to work. After 12 days of trying, the docs finally believed they couldn’t get her issues sorted out with meds and decided to put in the pacemaker.

Until that time, I didn’t know much about pacemakers – but when your mom is getting one, you learn a lot. The hospital staff was helpful and patient. They explained that a pacemaker is a small electrical device that’s surgically inserted in the chest or abdomen to help regulate abnormal heart rhythms. Her pacemaker not only controls her heart rhythms but also transmits back to a monitoring system where my mom’s cardiologist can see how her heart is doing at any given time. It’s fascinating, and this little device has helped my mother resume a fairly normal lifestyle.     

Cats receiving human pacemakers

So when I read an article in the Knoxville News Sentinel about how the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine is putting human pacemakers in animals, I was intrigued. Apparently, a cat named Junco was experiencing symptoms similar to my mother’s. The cat went through a series of fainting spells and her vets couldn’t figure out why. Junco’s human parent said it really scared her when Junco would meow in a weird, eerie way, her eyes would get a strange look and then she’d fall down in a cold faint. She’d stay unconscious for about 10 seconds.

As a cat parent, I can imagine how excruciating those 10 seconds would be. Once the vet suspected Junco was experiencing heart problems, the cat was referred to a board-certified veterinary cardiologist at the UT College of Veterinary Medicine. The cardiologist found Junco to be a perfect candidate to receive a pacemaker, and the surgery was performed.

The cost of the procedure for animals is usually around $2,500 to $4,000. Junco’s owner says it was money well spent. It’s been three years since Junco got her pacemaker, and she’s back to normal and is expected to live a full life.

Dogs receiving human pacemakers tells the story of an older dog named Guiedo that recently received a pacemaker in Brighton, Colorado. Guiedo suffered from a blockage that disrupted the electrical signals that make the heart contract and pump blood. This condition put the senior dog at risk of sudden death. The surgery went fine, and now the sweet old mutt has recovered nicely and is full of energy and vitality. Guiedo’s operation required an overnight veterinarian hospital stay, and the price tag for his procedure was almost $5,000. The dog’s guardian said Guiedo’s recovery was worth every penny.  

Interesting facts about pacemakers for animals:

* The first pacemaker surgery on an animal took place in 1967. The procedure has since become more accepted in veterinary medicine.

* Pacemakers specifically developed and manufactured for animals have not yet been developed.

* Veterinarians depend on manufacturers to donate pacemakers that are past their shelf life and are no longer suitable for human use.

* There are only 230 veterinary cardiologists in the United States and Canada that are trained to do the intricate pacemaker implant surgery.

* Like Junco, there are cats that now undergo the procedure but most patients have been older dogs, around 6 to 10 years of age.

* Roughly 400 human pacemakers are implanted in dogs and cats in the United States each year.

What do you think about putting a human pacemaker in an animal?

Photo by Robert Neff

Read more articles by Langley Cornwell


  1. That is amazing. So what happened to Junco?? Did it make him or her better. That is so great that it can be done. Take care.

  2. Totally amazing! We're all for it, as long as the animal will have a good quality of life. We have the same question as Marg ... what happened to Junco?

  3. Yep! What DID happen to Junco? I feel the same as the other commenters. If the animal gets a good quality of life because of the pacemaker implant, then why not?

  4. That's really amazing! One of my uncles has a pacemaker with him since 10 years ago and he lives normally like everyone of us. I didn't know that pets could have it too.

  5. Junco is great! The pacemaker completely corrected her fainting spells and dramatically improved her quality of life. Her human said (of course) that it was an easy decision and that she would have done it regardless of the cost of the procedure. Yay!


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