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The tricuspid valve is a valve of the heart. It is located between the right atrium and the right ventricle. Normal blood flow travels from the right atrium into the right ventricle, over to the lungs to be oxygenated, back to the left atrium then into the left ventricle, and out to the rest of the body. The purpose of the tricuspid valve is to prevent the backflow of blood from the right ventricle to the right atrium. The valve consists of 3 irregular shaped flaps. During fetal development these flaps are attached to the septum. As the fetus matures these bonds, which hold the flaps open, degrade leading to a functioning valve which closes tightly when the right ventricle contracts. Failure of these bonds to degrade is commonly causes tricuspid valve dysplasia to occur. Valve dysplasia causes the heart to work less efficiently; this can lead to an enlargement of the right side of the heart and eventually congestive heart failure.
Any breed of dog may be affected by tricuspid valve dysplasia but there are certain breeds in which the condition is more prevalent. These breeds include the Labrador Retriever, German Shepherd, Borzoi, Great Dane, and Weimaraner.
Tricuspid valve dysplasia is inherited meaning it is passed down from parent to offspring. It is not uncommon for there to be multiple puppies in a litter affected by this condition. The mode of inheritance has not yet been determined.
As with most diseases, the symptoms of tricuspid valve dysplasia can vary depending on the severity of the condition. Some signs which may be seen are fluid retention (usually noticed as unexplained weight gain), cool extremities, and exercise intolerance. Commonly a heart murmur can be heard on the right side of the heart. Many dogs however, will exhibit no signs until congestive heart failure occurs.
There are different ways in which tricuspid valve dysplasia can be diagnosed. One method is auscultation, or listening to the heart with a stethoscope. When this is done a heart murmur can usually be heard on the right side of the heart. Another method is a chest x-ray. The radiograph can show the size and shape of the heart which can indicate problems. The most definitive method of diagnosis is an echocardiogram. An echocardiogram is an ultrasound of the heart. A cardiac specialist can see in real time the blood flow of the heart and determine if tricuspid valve dysplasia is present.
There is currently no cure for tricuspid valve dysplasia. Treatment will depend on the severity of the case. In mild cases the heart can compensate and overcome the valve dysplasia and no treatment may be necessary. For more sever cases the prescribed treatment normally consists of managing the symptoms as they arise. This normally includes diuretics, which help remove excess water from the body, and digitalis, which strengthens the contractions of the heart. A low sodium diet and activity restrictions may also be prescribed by your veterinarian. Replacement of the tricuspid valve has not proven to be a good option based on the cost of the surgery and the rates at which the surgery is successful.
When caring for a dog with tricuspid valve dysplasia it is important to remember that their heart must work harder that normal to supply blood to the body. This means that during exercise or playing you must know when to stop so you do not overwork the dog's heart. Any instructions given by your veterinarian should be followed strictly as this will keep your dog healthier longer.
The AKC Canine Health Foundation is currently funding a grant focused on identifying the genetic mutation responsible for tricuspid valve dysplasia in the Labrador. If this gene is found it will be helpful not only to Labradors but to all breeds that have been known to have this condition.
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