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Detecting Heart Disease in Dogs: What to Look For
If you’ve had the privilege of sharing your life with a dog, you know they are just furry bundles of love. But while their emotional hearts are able to offer unconditional love to us humans, their physical hearts are just as susceptible to heart disease as ours are.
In this article, we’ll look into the types of heart disease canines can develop, signs & symptoms, how heart disease in dogs is diagnosed, and treatments available.
Types of Heart Disease in Dogs
Dogs can have either congenital or acquired heart disease, though it is believed that roughly 95% of canine cases are considered acquired. The following are some of the most common types of heart disease in dogs.
Congenital heart disease refers to a heart condition that is present from birth. These types of heart disease are usually the result of a specific breed’s predisposition.
Congestive Heart Failure
This disease refers to a condition where your dog’s heart has difficulty pumping the proper amount of blood through his or her body. This condition usually causes and increase in fluid and pressure within the heart. The fluid will then leak out into the lungs, which makes it difficult for your dog to breathe. A dog can have this condition for years before they begin to show signs.
Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy
Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy refers to a heart muscle disease. This condition causes the heart to be less effective at pumping and circulating blood. While many cases are due to genetics, recent studies suggest this heart condition can also be caused by factors related to infections and nutrition. Both large breed dogs and small breed dogs may be prone to this condition. Breeds include Cocker Spaniels, Great Danes, and Boxers.
Pulmonic Stenosis is a genetic heart defect that obstructs blood flow from the right ventricle to the pulmonary artery. The condition also tends to interfere with the blood vessels and blood flow between the heart and the lungs. The breeds that are often born with this condition are Boxers, Jack Russel Terriers, Boston Terriers, and Labrador Retrievers.
Acquired Heart Conditions
These are heart conditions that often develop in middle-aged and senior dogs and are caused by normal wear and tear and aging.
Canine Valvular Disease
Over time, your dog’s heart valves can begin to weaken and leak.
Sometimes, as with people, a dog’s electrical system can go haywire and he or she will then experience erratic heartbeats.
This condition develops when the sac that surrounds your dog’s heart fills with fluid, negatively impacting their heartbeat.
The Most Common Signs of Heart Disease in Dogs
Like other progressive diseases, dog heart disease happens over time. Even in congenital defects, you may not see signs or symptoms for many years. But eventually they will begin to show themselves. If your dog is showing any of the following signs of heart disease, you will want to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to get them checked out:
- Dry cough – This will typically follow physical activity and can worsen at night.
- Difficulty breathing
- Restlessness when sleeping
- Rapid weight loss – You will usually see significant weight loss in only a two to three week period.
- Fainting – This often looks like a seizure.
- The development of a “potbelly” caused by fluid build up
- They fatigue easily
Diagnosing Heart Disease in Dogs
If you’ve noticed any of the above symptoms, your veterinarian will most likely recommend one or more procedures to help them properly diagnose your dog. These procedures can include X-rays, cardiac evaluation, electrocardiogram, echocardiogram, cardiac catheterization, or blood and urine tests. Some of these, like X-rays, may be able to be done in-house while you may need to be referred to a canine cardiac specialist for some of the others.
Treating Heart Disease in Dogs
Heart disease is sort of an umbrella terms that refers to a wide range of heart conditions, as we saw listed earlier. Since there are so many different kinds of heart conditions a dog may develop, there are also a wide variety of ways to treat heart disease in dogs.
Heart disease is often treated through a combination of prescription medications and dietary adjustments. In some instances, surgery may be needed. Your vet may also recommend adding in some natural supplements.
The bottom line is, heart disease is nothing to fool around with. It’s important that you bring your dog in to your vet to get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. And it’s also important that you follow that plan so that your dog can continue to experience an excellent quality of life.
Preventing Heart Disease in Dogs
You may not always be able to prevent heart disease in dogs. This is particularly true when a dog has been born with a congenital heart condition. But there are steps you can take to help your dog’s heart be as healthy as possible so he or she can still live a fairly normal life.
Diet is particularly important. Obese dogs are in more danger of developing a variety of diseases. Speak with your vet about getting your dog on the best possible food to help them stay lean.
Exercise is also incredibly important for your dog’s heart, just as it is yours. Dogs need to be walked daily. Some breeds of dogs may only need one walk a day to be happy and healthy, while other breeds will require more. Again, speak with your vet to see how much exercise they recommend. If your dog has already been diagnosed with heart disease, your vet will most likely have you limit your dog’s strenuous activity and recommend you monitor them closely after a walk.
It can be worrisome to have your dog be diagnosed with heart disease. But understand that many dogs can continue to live great lives after diagnosis. You’ll simply need to work with your vet to ensure your dog gets the right treatment plan for them.
We Want to Help
If you have a dog with heart disease, we understand that multiple vet visits and prescription medications can really add up. That’s why we started Pet Insurance Review, because as pet owners ourselves, we wanted to help other pet owners afford to give their pups the best care possible.
We constantly search the market to find only the best pet health insurance plans. Did you know that some plans may be able to reimburse you for up to 90% of the bill?
If you are feeling stressed about how you will pay for your fur baby’s care, there’s no need. Get a free quote today.
- Merck Manual: https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/heart-and-blood-vessel-disorders-of-dogs/congenital-and-inherited-disorders-of-the-cardiovascular-system-in-dogs
- Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine: https://heartsmart.vet.tufts.edu/heart-diseases-dogs/
- Cornell University College of veterinary Medicine: https://www.vet.cornell.edu/hospitals/companion-animal-hospital/cardiology/pulmonic-stenosis-dogs
- VCA Animal Hospitals: https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/chronic-degenerative-valve-disease-in-dogs-in-depth
- Thomas WP, Reed JR, Bauer TG, Breznock EM. Constrictive pericardial disease in the dog. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 1984 Mar 1;184(5):546-53. PMID: 6706798.
The information contained on this blog is intended for informational and educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. It is not a substitute for professional veterinary care. Always consult with your veterinarian before making any changes to your pet's health care or treatment plan.
The authors of this blog are not veterinarians and do not claim to be experts in pet health. The information provided here is based on our own experiences and research, as well as information from reputable sources. However, we cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of this information.
We encourage you to do your own research and consult with your veterinarian before making any decisions about your pet's health.