Viagra For Fido?

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By Dr. Corynn Johnson

It never ceases to raise a giggle or a sideways grin out of the most stoic client. I’ve even had a couple of pharmacists call and ask if I really meant to prescribe that for an animal. Why in the world would a veterinarian write a prescription for Viagra…for a dog?

While we all know what Viagra is used for in people, veterinarians often use it to treat a very different condition in dogs. Sildenafil (the generic name for Viagra) has been found to be a potent dilator of blood vessels in organs such as the lungs, and veterinarians have discovered a pretty handy application for this drug in Fido.

 

What is Pulmonary Hypertension?

Pulmonary Hypertension (or PH) is high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs. It occurs most commonly in small breed dogs such as Shih Tzus, Chihuahuas, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and Dachshunds. These breeds are highly prone to a type of heart disease called Mitral Valve Endocardiosis which may lead to congestive heart failure. This is the most frequent cause of PH in veterinary patients.

PH may also occur for a variety of other reasons. In Oklahoma, heartworm disease is a common cause and can affect any breed of dog. Additionally, chronic bronchitis or asthma is widespread around these parts and can lead to PH.

 

How is it diagnosed?

While we used to believe it was rare, diagnosis and recognition of PH has become significantly more common over the last decade. This is probably due to the increased availability of ultrasound, or sonography, in veterinary medicine.

The easiest way to diagnosis PH in dogs is to perform an ultrasound exam of the heart. Ultrasound allows us to look inside each chamber of the heart, as well as directly evaluate each valve, the aorta, and the pulmonary (lung) arteries and veins. Doppler ultrasound is very similar to Doppler radar used by meteorologists – while they use it to predict the direction and severity of storms, veterinarians use it to observe the direction and velocity of blood flow in the heart.

Doppler
Ultrasound exam and Doppler of the heart.

If we see blood traveling very quickly in the wrong direction in a specific area of the heart, a diagnosis of PH is made. Ultrasound also allows an opportunity to check the heart for any other concurrent disorders that may be causing PH.

At OVS, Dr. Hodges (our Internal Medicine Specialist) performs around 4-6 heart ultrasounds every day. Unlike other hospitals in Oklahoma, OVS also offers ultrasound exams in emergency cases 7 days a week, allowing us to rapidly diagnosis and begin treatment for PH.

 

How do you treat Pulmonary Hypertension?

Viagra (sildenafil) has proven to be a very effective treatment for pulmonary hypertension. It significantly reduces many of the symptoms pets experience including fainting episodes (syncope), coughing, and shortness of breath. Pets do require lifelong treatment, and until Viagra goes generic, it remains fairly expensive. However, the medication can often be purchased for less from compounding pharmacies with a prescription from your vet.

If your pet is experiencing signs of Pulmonary Hypertension, talk to your primary care veterinarian about performing an ultrasound of your critter’s heart. Your furry friend just may need the little blue pill.

Best,

Dr. J