The vertebral heart scale was measured on right lateral recumbent thoracic radiographs of 320 dogs of six popular breeds, including for each breed at least 20 dogs with no clinical signs of cardiovascular or respiratory disease and at least 19 dogs with cardiac or respiratory disease. There were significant differences between the mean values of the scale for the different breeds; the normal boxer dogs had a significantly higher mean value than the normal dogs of all the other breeds, and the labrador retrievers had a significantly higher mean value than all the other breeds except the boxer and the cavalier King Charles spaniel. For all the breeds except the boxer, there was a trend for dogs with cardiac disease (but not respiratory disease) to have higher mean values on the scale than normal dogs of the same breed; however, at the optimal value of the scale for distinguishing between dogs of each breed with and without cardiac disease, the sensitivity and specificity were relatively low, in the range 58 to 83 per cent. The scale was most accurate for the diagnosis of cardiac disease in the Yorkshire terrier and the cavalier King Charles spaniel, breeds affected by predominantly dilative forms of cardiac disease. In contrast, it was very inaccurate in the boxer, a breed that has a higher incidence of cardiac diseases associated with concentric hypertrophy.
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