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Heart Disease in Dogs

Heart disease is becoming increasingly common in dogs – more than likely due to veterinary advances in diagnosing and treating conditions which is improving animals’ average life expectancy.

Similar to a human, a dog’s heart has four chambers and is responsible for pumping blood to and receiving blood from the body.  The chambers are separated by valves which ensures the blood always flows in the correct direction.

Because of its vital role in your dog’s life, it is important that your animal has regular examinations to check for any problems that could be present or developing.

Some animals are born with heart defects (congenital) whilst others develop a condition over time and with age (acquired).

Congenital
  • Less common and means heart disease that exists from birth

  • It usually presents as a heart murmur due to turbulence in the blood caused by defects in the heart affecting blood flow

  • Many puppies are born with mild heart murmurs which are actually insignificant and usually disappear by 4-6 months of age

  • We monitor these murmurs very closely and if they do not vanish or are very loud and pronounced we will investigate further any potential defects

  • Many of the congenital causes of heart disease are seen more commonly in certain breeds of dog e.g. Subaortic Stenosis in Boxers and Golden Retrievers

Acquired
  • Develops later on in life and can affect 1 in 4 dogs over the age of 7 years

  • It usually presents as a heart murmur or an arrhythmia and can be due to wear and tear, infection or injury

  • The most common types of heart disease in adult dogs are Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM), which affects the heart muscle and Valvular Heart Disease, which is degeneration of the heart valves

  • Larger breeds of dogs, e.g. Dobermans, Irish Wolfhounds and Great Danes tend to suffer from disease of the heart muscle

  • Smaller breeds tend to suffer from disease of the heart valves - this is especially seen in Cavalier King Charles spaniels

What does Heart Disease look like?

The symptoms of heart disease are often very similar, no matter the underlying condition.

These can vary greatly from no discernible signs, to very obvious signs of illness. Below are some of the more common presenting signs:

  • Lack of energy or lethargy

  • Reluctance to play or exercise intolerance (in extreme cases collapse)

  • Coughing

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Weight loss or poor appetite

If you suspect your pet may be experiencing one or more of these symptoms, why not book in for a heart check with a vet at either our Evesham or Pershore branch?

How is heart disease diagnosed?

The first step in diagnosing a heart condition is the vet having a listen to your dog’s heart using a stethoscope.  Abnormalities in the heartbeat/sounds or irregularities in the rhythm may result in the recommendation of further investigations.  This may include blood tests, xrays of the chest, an ECG to check the electrical activity of the heart or an ultrasound scan.

Investigative work allows your vet to accurately diagnose and treat you pet accordingly.

Treatment
  • Heart Disease will lead to heart failure if left untreated but can be present for years without clinical signs

  • While we are unlikely to be able to cure the underlying condition, we can manage progression of the disease and heart failure to improve and extend your dog's life

  • There are many medications now available to successfully treat and ease the clinical signs

What can you do at home?
  • Diet, like in humans, plays a vital part - a low salt diet is vital to stop fluid retention and any overweight animals are encouraged to lose weight to relieve pressure on the heart

  • Exercise is still important but it must be tailored to your dog's needs depending on the severity of the disease

  • For a small percentage of dogs with heart disease surgery is the treatment of choice e.g. dogs with congenital heart defects

  • Regular monitoring is often necessary

Many dogs are able to live a long and healthy life once heart disease is diagnosed, but like many diseases the earlier we diagnose the problem, the better the prognosis for your dog long term.

So, make sure your dog is seen at least once a year for a full check.

The heart is always checked at annual vaccinations but if you have any concerns prior to this, please come and see us for a check up.