- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 4, 2015

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (AP) - Wild dogs at the zoo may look different from our pets at home, but on the exam table under the care of medical professionals, they’re really not so different.

Well, except for the fact that these dogs would rather eat you than fetch a stick for you.

That’s why veterinarian cardiologist Dr. Sarah Achen told the Battle Creek Enquirer ( http://bcene.ws/1DhExEK ) recently after taking a look at Binder Park Zoo’s three African wild dogs, sometimes called painted dogs, that it’s hard to do an ultrasound on the animals if they’re awake.

Achen, who works for BluePearl Veterinary Partners of Southfield, was at the zoo to address a cardiac issue with the animals that is at once somewhat common and yet little understood.

That’s because heart murmurs, which the zoo’s wild dogs have, are common in 70 percent of smaller, domestic breeds of dogs as they go through middle age.

“That probably goes up to close to 90 percent as they get into more elderly ages,” Achen said. “We don’t know a lot about the African painted dog in terms of how prevalent it is. In the older dogs it’s something that, going forward, we’ll pay more attention to.”

Achen said the zoo’s dogs are 8 and 9 years old, which is considered middle age.

A veterinary cardiologist addresses some of the same issues a human cardiologist would. Achen said the heart structure and function is pretty much the same in all mammals and she uses tools familiar to cardiac patients at any hospital such as echocardiogram or ultrasound machines.

“We get in there and we have an ultrasound machine that when they’re laying on their side I can look at their heart,” Achen said. “Evaluate each individual heart chamber, what size they are, how well they are pumping, look at each of the valves and determine if any of those are leaking, which is the most common cause for a heart murmur.”

If treatment is needed, Achen said, it would be done through medication. She said heart surgery on the dogs would be a rare case.

Binder Park Zoo veterinarian Dr. Judilee Marrow said the murmurs were discovered at another exam of the dogs.

“At the time of that exam, we were like, ‘We know we’re looking at them again in a couple months,’ ” Marrow said. ” ‘Why don’t we just plan on having a cardiologist present for the procedure to make sure that there aren’t any problems present?’ “

Marrow said she was lucky to catch the murmurs at the time of the exam; often, she said, wild animals will hide signs of medical trouble and the first indication of such an issue can be when the animal dies.

Marrow said signs of cardiac trouble in zoo animals are rare for that reason.

Once the wild dogs are brought in to be examined, they’re anesthetized and examined the same as for a family dog at the neighborhood vet’s office.

“You have them in the same position,” Marrow said, adding that there is an important difference. “Your dog loves to have its belly scratched and lay on its side. These dogs would prefer to eat you than lay on their side for you.”

The zoo’s wild dogs represent just less than 10 percent of all wild dogs held by zoos in the United States, Marrow said. They’re also extremely endangered in the wild, she said, primarily because they’re losing their habitat to human development and even are often hit by cars, since they tend to follow roads.

The World Wildlife Fund estimates the remaining population of wild dogs to be 3,000 to 5,500, spread throughout pockets of central and southern Africa.

For those reasons, the work done in the Binder Park Zoo hospital room examining heart murmurs in three dogs has the potential to provide knowledge of the animal to wider audience.

“Knowing more about each population at each facility will help us see as they age if this is something we see in all dogs or a predominant percentage of dogs as they reach that kind of magic seven years of age or older,” Achen said.

Marrow said adding to that knowledge is why the zoo exists.

“It’s wonderful when that happens,” Marrow said.

___

Information from: Battle Creek Enquirer, http://www.battlecreekenquirer.com

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