Just like humans, it is quite common for dogs to suffer from heart disease. In this post, the vets at Rocky Mountain Veterinary Cardiology share some of the common causes, symptoms, and treatment options for dogs with heart disease.
Heart Disease in Dogs
The heart is an incredibly important organ and any disease that affects the heart is likely to have negative effects on other organs as well. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to detect heart disease until it has reached a later, more severe stage, but there are some symptoms dog owners should be aware of. It is also important to note that some breeds are more prone to heart disease than others. You should always research breed-specific problems before purchasing a dog to be sure you are prepared to handle any potential complications with your pup's health.
Types of Heart Disease
There are several different types of heart disease that affect dogs. Here are some of the most common:
Valvular Disease - Valvular disease affects the valves of the heart. The valves are little flaps of tissue that act as doors between the chambers of the heart and prevent blood from flowing backward. When a dog is suffering from valvular disease, the valves don't function as they should and cause problems with blood flow through the body. Degenerative valvular disease is common in older small breed dogs such as Chihuahuas and King Charles Cavelier Spaniels.
Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy - This disease is also referred to as Boxer cardiomyopathy because it happens almost exclusively in boxers. This disease the heart to beat abnormally fast due to a change in the muscle in the right ventricle of the heart. This irregular heartbeat makes the heart unable to properly pump blood through the body.
Heartworm Disease - Heartworms are spread through mosquitos. Once inside your dog, heartworm larvae grow and develop into worms that live and reproduce in the heart and lungs, causing severe discomfort and eventually organ failure in your dog. Heartworm disease is preventable through widely available heartworm preventive medication.
Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) - In dogs with DCM, the heart loses its ability to effectively pump blood through the body. This is a very common disease and may go undetected for quite some time. DCM is common in older large breed dogs such as Great Danes, Irish Wolfhounds, and Dobermans.
Myocarditis - Myocarditis is a cardiac disease in dogs caused by the swelling of the heart muscle. Often, there are no symptoms with myocarditis until it gets severe enough to cause heart failure.
Congenital Abnormalities - Congenital abnormalities are defects in the heart that a dog is born with. There are many different types of congenital abnormalities.
Heart Failure in Dogs
Heart failure is not a disease itself but rather the effect of a heart disease that has gone untreated, or that is not able to be treated. Heart failure occurs when blood is no longer able to be adequately pumped throughout the body by the heart.
Symptoms of Heart Disease
Heart disease can be difficult to detect until it has reached a later stage. One key way to catch heart disease early is to bring your pet for regular routine exams By doing so, your vet may be able to catch early signs of heart disease that even the most diligent pet owner may miss. Some common symptoms of heart disease are:
- Shortness of breath
- Distended or bloated abdomen
- Pale or blue gums
Treatment of Heart Disease in Dogs
Treating heart disease in dogs depends on the underlying cause of the disease. Heart disease can be caused by a number of things including birth defects, heartworm infection, other bacteria or viral infections, toxins, mineral deficiencies, and tumors. Once heart disease is diagnosed, a treatment plan specific to the type of heart disease your dog has will be discussed.
Many types of heart disease require life-long monitoring with frequent diagnostic testing and medications. Some heart diseases, such as congenital defects, can be corrected by surgery.
Preventing Heart Disease in Dogs
Heart disease can be difficult to prevent. Sometimes you can do everything right and your dog could still be diagnosed with heart disease.
Some things you can control are:
- Buying from a reputable breeder who is testing the dogs they are breeding for genetic heart conditions
- Avoiding breeds prone to heart disease
- Keeping your dog on preventive heartworm medication
- Feeding your dog quality dog food—you can discuss with your vet the best diet for your particular dog
- Avoiding exposure to toxins and contaminated areas
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.