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A Day in the Life of a Holter Monitor

by Katherine Nevius, aka "Boxer Kate"

My foundation bitch is now a veteran. No, she hasn't yet attained the venerable age of six years. However, the hope that she and her progeny will be able to arrive at least at that age is the reason she's won the designation in this case. In this case, she's a veteran of the heart testing recommended by the American Boxer Club for all breeding animals. Hedy's been bred twice, and has spent a day in the company of the Holter monitor both times.

Ch. Scarborough Take It To The Limit "Hedy"

Lots of breeders decline the ABC's invitation to holter their boxers. Numerous reasons are offered for that refusal. A number of them, and their possible future solution, were cited recently in a post by a member of one of the boxer e-mail lists who wrote: "New devices soon to come that do not require shaving, are less cumbersome, easier to fit, and less expensive should speed the more widespread acceptance of testing."

Not so easily solved are a few other difficulties we face in deciding to comply with ABC's suggestion, among them the long travel necessary for some to get to a Holter and the fear of what may be perceived as negative results. The distance and financial considerations are, I think, the most frequently offered stumbling blocks. But as another list member said, after watching her own dog die of cardiomyopathy, what would it be worth to you to try to avoid putting one of your puppy buyers through that same horrible experience?

That sentiment rests deeply in all of us who care about these dogs. We want to do what's right, but we aren't convinced exactly what that is. Whatever the proposed impediments, though, the ABC Health Committee says it's important to do this test before we breed. Questioning that guideline is a little like disputing an element of the Boxer Standard. We should strive to comply. After we have, it's up to us to act, according to our own hearts and intellects, upon the information we receive.

A day with a holter is an interesting experience, albeit one that includes its share of difficulties. In the spirit of truth in advertising, I'll run you through some of them so you'll know what to expect.

At $220 for the actual monitoring and $70 for the exam and reading of results, it's pretty pricey for us here. Then there's the cosmetic consideration. How many of us look forward to the opportunity to plow up furrows in the beautifully cared for coats of our show animals? As the mom of this recently shaved bitch, though, I can say that the damage was slight. Four small (one inch) squares on the chest and sides are nowhere near as obtrusive as some might think. And hair returns at a fairly fast clip.

The monitor itself may be a little cumbersome, but copious adhesive tape and VetWrap (you can have your choice of colors :-) hold it pretty well in place. During her masquerade as a Dromedary, Hedy's behavior occasionally indicated her displeasure with the device. First thing she did was run back and forth under the azaleas in a fruitless attempt to dislodge it. She also felt some compunction about performing waste elimination in its company, as if she thought the thing might be watching. And its incessant hum seemed to disturb her sleep. I took pity and agreed to share my bed with her; she tossed and turned much of the night (encouraging me to join her, of course, in that activity).

And a logbook of those activities had to be kept. It's important that the animal is allowed to observe its usual routine as the EKG records its data; the idea is to see exactly what's what in the dog's day-to-day life. That normal train of events happens to include some things that people usually don't discuss in polite company, much less put down on paper. I found myself attempting to find delicate euphemisms for certain of them (log book entry: "Hedy licking her volvo" :-), as if the vets couldn't handle graphic reality. This part of the process was challenging because it requires you to be aware of what your dog is doing every moment of the twenty-four hour period. It isn't a requisite component of all Holter testing, but some cardiologists insist on it.

A fact that needs to be stressed here is probably the most frustrating thing about the testing process. It's is that you can't rest on your laurels. Just because you have a good result once doesn't absolve you of the responsibility to do it again, and even again -- every time you breed the dog. Results can change.

I believe that fear of those results may be a strong motivating factor in many people's avoidance of the test. At this point, that's fairly understandable. If we have no concrete idea what the results may mean, it's hard to get motivated to do it -- especially in light of the difficulties inherent in the process.

In spite of the obstacles, I think that everyone should make every effort to comply -- not for the immediate welfare of the breed in general, but for his or her own information. It's better to operate in the light than in the dark. That the illumination may still be a little cloudy shouldn't let us off our own hook; some results -- especially extremely low or extremely large numbers of ventricular premature contractions -- certainly make it possible for us to see the light. All of us will benefit when that light brings us finally out of what's become a terribly long, dark tunnel. According to the cardiologists with whom I've spoken, if we all do embrace this testing protocol, there most definitely IS light at the end of it.


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