A product that delays onset of congestive heart failure (CHF) in dogs by 15 months offers a “paradigm shift” in the way vets diagnose and treat myxomatous mitral valve disease (MMVD).

Boehringer Ingelheim, the company behind pimobendan drug Vetmedin, cautiously estimated 7.5% of all dogs would suffer heart disease in their lifetimes, with MMVD its most prevalent form.

Vetmedin was already licensed for the treatment of canine CHF from dilated cardiomyopathy or valvular insufficiency, as well as for treatment of cardiomyopathy in the preclinical stage in Dobermann pinschers.

However, following the largest clinical trial in veterinary cardiology, the product can now be used by vets to treat the preclinical stage of MMVD, delaying onset of the clinical symptoms of heart failure.

At an official launch for the European veterinary press, held in Frankfurt and attended by Veterinary Times, it was noted up to 40 million dogs worldwide could now benefit with treatment from pimobendan.

The evaluation of pimobendan in dogs with cardiomegaly (EPIC) study set out to analyse whether long-term administration of Vetmedin would delay onset of clinical signs of CHF, cardiac-related death or euthanasia.

Findings in the study – conducted in 360 small or medium-sized dogs (weighing 4.1kg to 15kg) at 36 centres, including the RVC, across five years – were so promising an independent interim analysis committee recommended it end early, so dogs on the placebo treatment could receive pimobendan.

Joachim Hasenmaier, head of Boehringer’s animal health business unit and a member of its board of managing directors, said it had been “a big risk” to invest so much in a study on an existing drug, but the company believed in the possible outcomes.

Dr Hasenmaier said: “Making a big investment into ‘such an old product’ I think was a big risk, but we believed what we wanted to show was there and we had to be patient.

“I think the outcome is a revolution for veterinary cardiology. Yes, vets can and should screen for dogs at risk with silent heart disease, and detecting and treating it early has a huge benefit.

“And, yes, the trial showed giving Vetmedin as early as murmurs occur can delay the onset of clinical symptoms by 15 months and prolong symptom-free life overall, giving pet parents more enjoyable time with their pets.

“I think these results are almost too good to believe, but I would say there is a lot of evidence behind them. That is why we believe it is an absolute paradigm shift in the way vets diagnose and manage MMVD.”

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