tobytieToday is a big day here at Sheltie Nation HQ. Toby, our 8 year old Sheltie is heading to Massachusetts Veterinary Referral Hospital for surgery. Not just any surgery either. Barring any last minute treatment decisions by the doctors, he is getting a pacemaker later this afternoon! If you have a moment to spare, he could use a little prayer for a successful outcome today. (And I could use some prayer to help me stop from worrying myself silly!)

How we got to today’s events has been a long road. Toby has always had a laid back, calm demeanor. We never thought much of it and chocked it up to just his personality. A few years ago his regular vet altered us to his slower than average heart rate, but said otherwise he was healthy and he was acting normal. “He just has a slow ticker,” she said.

However, things began to change last year. Toby developed a persistent cough. Medication and an inhaler (yes, they do make a dog inhaler!) have only given him moderate relief. We finally had his lungs scoped but the results were inconclusive. At that point the specialist referred us to another specialist. This time a cardiologist.

After an EKG and an ultrasound, it was discovered that Toby has what they call “sick sinus syndrome”. In a nutshell, the 2 part message from his brain that tells the heart to pull in and push out the blood are not getting through consistently. This makes his heart have to work harder and grow larger to push out the double amount of blood from the missed signal. They suspect the cough could be from the enlargement pushing on his throat.

Most dogs get pacemakers because their heart rates are too slow. Symptoms of a slow heart rate show up as a dog not being able to exercise like it did in the past. It may just move more slowly and tire more quickly, or it may have fainting episodes. Thank goodness Toby isn’t fainting, but he is experiencing some of the other symptoms.

The cardiologist explained that the options Toby is facing are limited. We could do nothing and watch him decline until his heart fails, or we could have the pacemaker put in and he’d at least have a chance for a long, more fulfilling life. In fact, barring other health issues, a dog with a pacemaker will have a normal life span for its breed and size. Needless to say, learning about canine pacemakers has been an eye opening experience!

The majority of pacemakers are inserted in back of the neck on the side where the external jugular vein is. The surgeon creates a pocket under the muscle,  into which the pacemaker is tucked, then sutured. A lead runs from the device down to the heart’s right ventricle where electrical impulses then stimulate it to contract, or beat, somewhere between 80 and 150 times per minute. Most of the time, once healed, the pacemaker cannot be felt by someone petting the dog.

Apparently a few thousand dogs have gotten the lifesaving implants over the past two decades. The numbers have risen from 100 to 200 implants a year in the 1990s to the current 300 to 500 a year. Some breeds are more susceptible to heart problems, and other dogs just develop issues as they age. A slow or irregular heartbeat is not caused by anything an owner does or doesn’t do. It’s something going on at the cellular level in the heart and there is a disruption in the electrical activity in some way.

A canine pacemaker has yet to be developed, so veterinary cardiologists rely on human devices that have sat too long on manufacturers’ shelves to be put into people. Many pacemakers – and the all-important leads – go through a clearinghouse, Companion Animal Pacemaker Registry and Repository, or CanPacers. It was founded in 1991 by David Sisson, D.V.M., an Oregon State University College of Veterinary Medicine professor of cardiovascular medicine. Guidant, Medtronic and St. Jude Medical make major donations of pacemakers to the clearinghouse. Prior to the formation of CanPacers, devices were donated by human patients for use in dogs after the people died. Today, nearly all pacemakers used in dogs and other animals such as cats and horses are donated by CanPacers.

Toby will be kept overnight and if all goes well he should be able to come home tomorrow afternoon. I’ll keep everyone posted on his progress.  If any of you have had experiences with a canine pacemaker, we would love to hear from you too!

48 Responses to “Canine Pacemakers”

  1. OntarioSheltie

    Fingers crossed that Toby’s surgery goes well! Sending positive thoughts and prayers your way.

  2. Denise

    He is in my prayers. Don’t forget, Sheltie prayers are special and long lasting . Keep the faith !

  3. Dianne

    Our prayers are with you, and we are all anxious to hear from you about Toby !Bless you all for what you are doing for him, and may he have a full recovery and a long ,healthy and very happy life ahead of him!

  4. Shannon

    My heart goes out to you and your handsome Toby and I hope the surgery will be sucessful. It is amazing that pacemakers can help our beloved Shelties as well. You and Toby will be in my thoughts and prayers. Ceilidh and Penny send kisses as well.

  5. Shannon

    It is amazing that Toby can be fitted with a pacemaker! Best wishes for a successful surgery and many more happy years with your very handsome Toby. Ceilidh and Penny send you a kiss. You and Toby are in my prayers.

  6. Robin

    Our thoughts and prayers are with you both! He is a lucky boy to have such a loving and caring mom!!!

    Robin & Samantha

  7. Jan Hunter

    I will be looking forward to updates regarding
    your very very beautiful Toby. (He so resembles
    our latest sheltie angel who was named Tory.)
    I will say many prayers for you all and may God
    bless you for loving Toby enough to give
    him this chance for a normal lifespan.

  8. Ann

    Thoughts and prayers coming to you Toby from Ann Soleil and Etoile.Hang tight Mom best of luck and do please keep us posted .



  10. Ken P.


    Good luck to Toby and you. Aggie and I are rooting for a successful surgery. You may or may not know that my Aggie is undergoing chemotherapy for lymphoma (13 treatments out of 16 completed). Fortunately, I have pet insurance to help me afford it. If you—or anyone else on Sheltie Nation—would like to contact me about pet insurance, I can give you the details. It’s super affordable. GOOD LUCK, TOBY!!

    • Dianne

      Hi Ken

      I noticed your message on health insurance for our Shelties ect..Could you please email me at [email protected] as I think perhaps I had better get some…I live in British Columbia
      Thankyou kindly


  11. jack eames

    i hope the surgeon hads are guided by god for a good outcome for the sugery. prayers and love from us to you.

  12. Nancy (Bailey, Chloe & Dreamer's Mom)

    Sending prayers & well wishes to you and your beautiful boy!!

  13. Leesa

    Cheers and luck of the Scots for Toby! My old fart Sheltie Buddy had heart disease and our wonderful cardiologist worked miracles for him. Buddy didn’t have a pacemaker but he lived a good healthy life because of the skill and compassion of our cardiologist.
    Prayers and strong healing thoughts for both Toby and you! ^..^

  14. Naiche & Naruto's Mom

    Peace Mr Toby,
    Today’s a real big day for you!! You’re gonna be
    a brand new improved Furboy!!! I pray all your
    doctor & assistants are all well rested & fed
    like you so they’ll do the best job on your new
    lil pacemaker ( heart thing a ma jig!!)
    I send you & your family,many hugs kiss’s
    & loads of treats for you!!!

  15. Craig

    Best of luck to Toby. Everything will work out, both of you will be back to regular activites soon.

  16. Pat Monday

    Kelly, good luck today for Toby and your family. Ray, Matilda and I are thinking of you. (Along with all of us at your Sheltienation family.)

    Toby will be fine, and he will probably feel better than ever!

    He is such a beautiful dog.

    Keep us posted please.

  17. Paula

    What a brave little Sheltie! My thoughts and prayers are with you and Toby. Sheltie Angels will be watching over Toby tomorrow. He is a very handsome boy.

  18. Sandra

    Sending up lots of love and prayers to you and Toby for God’s grace to be with you both thru this ordeal. Never heard of this surgery before but then again our babies are our babies and we must take care of them. Keep us posted on things and we are giving it to GOD.

  19. Bobbie

    As I’m sure you know, we ALL in the Sheltie Nation Family will be sending pawsitive, healing, calming thoughts to you and Toby today! We so appreciate what you do for US every day, celebrating this breed we love so dearly–and we all know what it’s like to have your beloved companion ill. Big, big hugs to you and Toby. You’ll be in our hearts!

  20. Linda

    What a handsome boy ! Toby and you will certainly be in our thoughts and prayers at The Sheltie Shack.

  21. Ann

    Toby sure is a handsome little guy…

    We see God’s light and healing energy all around Toby today, and see him being restored to wholeness and perfection. May God send wisdom and guidance to Toby’s doctors today for success with the surgery. May you feel God’s love and support today and peace and calmness in your hearts. And so it is. Amen.

  22. Gail Taddeo

    Our twelve-year old Sheltie, Keara, received a pacemaker three weeks ago by cardiologist Dr. Gordon Peddle at the Animal Emergency & Referral Associates in Fairfield, NJ, and she’s like a new dog now…happy, energetic and full of life! The surgery typically takes about three hours and they had to shave the hair on her neck, sides and four feet. She looks like a Chinese Crested. I’ll be praying that Toby’s pacemaker implantation will be just as successful as Keara’s.

  23. Jennifer

    Prayers and love from Virginia, to you, Toby and the surgeons. Peace be with you and your handsome boy.

  24. Ruth

    Prayers for you, Toby, and Toby’s surgical team today.
    We would do anything we can to help our sweet pups.

  25. Shaun and the McGuire Girls Three

    Kelly, I will keep you and Toby in my thoughts today. I hope all goes well!! Hugs!!

  26. Margaret

    I’m so glad Toby is able to get this treatment! Sending good thoughts to you both. Here’s hoping he will live a long and healthy life! :)

  27. Gloria

    I want to personally send my prayers to you and Toby for his surgery! My goodness we have come along way from when we had our furbabies in the past… so many more options to allow them to be with us using human medical technology.  I know it will be difficult not to worry, but he is in great hands. All of the Sheltie Nation Community is behind both of you, with the FULL FORCE of prayers and good wishes for Toby’s successful surgery and recovery!
    Blessings being sent your way from me, Chance, Laddie, and little Logan

  28. Debbie

    Will say a prayer for Toby. He will be fine and all of our Sheltie friends will pray and there is a lot of them. Please keep us all informed. GOD BE WITH YOU ALL!

  29. Paige Thomas

    What a handsome dude! So glad that there is an option for him to live a healthy life, and praying God’s hand and favor over every step. Much love to you!!

  30. Susan L.

    How very neat that human pacemakers will work on a dog and has been successful for so many.

    We love you and love Toby and of course wish both of you a successful surgery and recovery.

    One thing I always warn myself about when something of this import is happening is not to borrow trouble. Borrowing trouble is when you react before something bad happens as if it already happened. The fact is it may never happen and you simply had all those bad feelings for nothing. If something awful happens, even if you worried like crazy ahead of time, you will still suffer as much as if you had never worried. Leave the bad feelings for after something bad happens. Right now, you have empowered yourself and Toby to solve his problem and that is the feeling you should be enjoying. Today Toby is on his way to being well.

    I’ll be keeping you both in my thoughts today and am looking forward to hearing that all went well.

  31. Francine

    Prayers to you Toby and to the family that is waiting for you to return home whole. God bless you all from Connecticut.

  32. lucy and Laddie

    Our prayers are with both of you.Never knew there was such things for dogs.Keep us updated ..God Bless you and Toby and all involved.HE is a handsome dog.

  33. Kris

    Sending tons of prayers & get well wishes from Boise! May God guide the surgeons hands and calm your heart……. Toby is so handsome!

  34. Kimberly Agzigian

    Love and prayers to you and Toby. May his surgery be a great success and may you have many happy years together!

  35. Sullivan

    I don’t have any experience with the canine pacemaker, but do want you to know that your very handsome little Toby will be in my thoughts and prayers. I will also pray for the steady hands of Toby’s surgeon and that all goes well with his procedure. I wish Toby a pain free, speedy and, more importanly, a SUCCESSFUL recovery. Many good thoughts to you and your family as you wait for your baby to be made whole again and come home to rejoin his family. May God bless all of you on this journey.

    You to stop worrying? . . . HA! I’ll pray for that as well, but we both know that you will NOT stop worrying until you know your baby is safe. Good Luck and you know we will all be looking forward to Toby’s updates.

  36. Elizabeth

    My prayers and thoughts will be with y’all tomorrow. Thank you for the information re cardiac care for dogs.

    Will check back later for updates.

  37. Tabitha

    Oh Kelly! I’m so sorry you and Toby are going through this. Healing thoughts and prayers being sent your way. Please keep us updated. Give your little boy a big hug for us. :'(


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