Skip to main content

NC State News

A Heart for Dogs and Cats

Caring for children with heart problems is Leanna Ranney’s job as a pediatric ICU nurse. When she found out her beloved cat had a cardiac condition, she was pleased to discover that the veterinary cardiologists at NC State apply some of the same approaches used to improve the lives of human patients with failing hearts.

She also found that managing her cat’s complex medical regimen was easier thanks to an innovative online network developed by the Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

The specialized care is paying off. Ranney’s cat, Kovu, has beaten the odds for two and a half years.

Kovu, a 9-year-old Siamese cat, with his owner, Leanna Ranney

Leanna Ranney with Kovu, who has a heart condition.

Mystery Diagnosis

Kovu’s problems first surfaced during Christmas 2008 when the 6-year-old Siamese, who had been tossing his new toys in the air, stopped suddenly and lay on his side, breathing heavily. When Ranney listened to his chest, she heard crackling sounds.

Since Ranney was out of town visiting family, she took Kovu to a local vet. The diagnosis was pneumonia, though the vet noted Kovu had an enlarged heart. Reading the veterinary notes at home, Ranney was alarmed to learn that pets with enlarged hearts are expected to live less than a year.

“That’s how the news was delivered, on a slip of paper,” she said.

The real reason for Kovu’s enlarged heart was determined later, when Ranney took him for follow-up visits with her family vet, who ordered diagnostic tests. The walls of Kovu’s heart had thickened and his lungs were filling with fluid, but the cat didn’t have pneumonia. Ranney immediately realized the severity of Kovu’s condition.

“If Kovu were a human patient, he’d be on the transplant list,” she said.

Dr. Bruce Keene examines an image of Kovu's heart with his owner, Leanna Ranney.

Dr. Bruce Keene examines an image of Kovu's heart with his owner, Leanna Ranney.

Dedicated Care

Ranney was referred to Dr. Bruce Keene, a veterinary cardiologist at NC State, who helped come up with a care plan to keep Kovu as healthy as possible for as long as possible.

As part of the treatment plan, Ranney takes advantage of the cardiology care network’s online tools, which allow her to enter Kovu’s vital signs online for monitoring by a veterinary technician. If a red flag or sudden symptom crops up, Ranney can bring Kovu in for a consultation. She can also review lab test results online to see how his condition has changed.

Kovu’s regular veterinarian also has access to online tools, such as a dosage calculator for heart medications. The network allows vets to transmit radiographs and provides an 800-number for consultations with specialists at NC State.

“Our hope is that by improving the quality of care, we can increase the number of dogs and cats with heart failure who live longer and better lives,” Keene said.

It was all worth it in January, when Kovu celebrated an important milestone: his ninth birthday.

“Dr. Keene has made all the right decisions, and we have Kovu to show for it,” Ranney said.

5 responses on “A Heart for Dogs and Cats

  1. Al Nalven says:

    Are we doing work on kidney failure in old cats?


    Class of ’55

  2. Elizabeth Whittington says:

    Would something like this be helpful for small dogs with heart murmurs?

  3. Bonnie Hutchinson says:

    I too have a kitty (Max) who was saved by the wonderful cardiology team at NCSU Vet. School. I went to three different vets before one finally said I should take Max to the experts at NCSU.

    Max was also diagnosed with an enlarged heart (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy) as well as a dangerously rapid heart rate (tachycardia), now controlled by a medication made for humans. I get a kick out of the prescription label that says, “Max Cat Hutchinson.”

    Max will be celebrating his 11th birthday this June and I am hopeful there will be many more. Thank you NCSU Vet School Cardiologists!

  4. Ray N says:


    I am so happy your kitty made it. He seems like an amazing little guy. :)

Leave a Response

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *