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New specialty helps animals with heart problems

By Michelle Hall


Kansas State University's Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital offers a variety of specialty doctors not normally available to pet owners, including ophthalmologists, dermatologists and oncologists. Their latest addition to the range of specialists to offer the best in care for animals? A cardiologist.

Dr. Barret Bulmer, hired in July 2002, is the hospital's first cardiologist. Bulmer said about two-thirds of all veterinary schools have cardiology programs.

Bulmer said he has seen mostly small animals as patients, including dogs, cats and even a couple of birds since he arrived in Manhattan.

"Animals' heart problems are similar to those in people," Bulmer said. Dogs and cats experience degenerative valve disease and heart muscle disease, for example. Typically, Bulmer said, a general practice veterinarian will detect an abnormal rhythm or heart murmur in an animal during an examination or a pet owner will recognize a dog's intolerance to exercise. That's how the animals usually come to see him.

Cardiology has two distinctive arms, Bulmer said: medical management and surgery. Through the hospital's advanced diagnostic equipment, Bulmer is able to perform electrocardiograms, chest radiographs and cardiac ultrasounds to identify underlying problems, including pinpointing exactly where a heart murmur is occurring.

Surgery usually involves interventional procedures including correction of congenital defects and insertion of artificial pacemakers. Bulmer is able to do most of the procedures without opening up the animal's chest cavity. Using blood vessels in the neck, he can balloon an abnormal heart valve or close an abnormal blood vessel by inserting a coil-like device through the patient's back leg.

Before Bulmer arrived on the scene, K-State's veterinary hospital could offer some cardiology services to sick pets. Radiologists were able to scan the trouble areas and internal medicine treated the patients. But Bulmer's expertise offers patients much more.

"Before, K-State wasn't offering these less invasive surgical procedures," Bulmer said. "It's important to have these services at a referral institution and it's important for the students to learn about these techniques."

Although animal cardiology closely parallels human, some areas are still being developed. For example, researchers have been trying to come up with new medical therapy to delay the onset of degenerative valve disease and a few schools have been trying cardiac bypass surgery, Bulmer said.

Up next in cardiology at K-State? They will add a cardiac resident in July, said Dr. Roger Fingland, professor of surgery and director of the teaching hospital. Students already can opt to add cardiology to their rotations.

Fingland said they had hoped to add a cardiologist to the specialties offered at K-State's Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital for many years.

"Our responsibility is to provide the ultimate in veterinary care," he said. "Cardiology is a growing specialty in veterinary medicine." Fingland said the next specialty they hope to add at the teaching hospital is neurology. In addition, two doctors on their faculty are pursuing certifications in critical care, so they will be able to venture into that specialty from within their staff.

photo of ballooning valvephoto of inserting pacemakerimage of cardiac ultrasound







Images: (Left) Abnormal heart valves can be "ballooned" to help correct some congenital heart defects. Image courtesy Dr. David Sisson. (Middle) An artificial pacemaker is inserted into the heart of this dog. Image courtesy Dr. David Sisson. (Right) Utilizing color, this cardiac ultrasound can identify the precise cause for a heart murmur. Image courtesy Dr. Barret Bulmer.

Spring 2003