What is Chronic Degenerative Valve Disease in Dogs?

As the most common form of heart disease in dogs, chronic degenerative valve disease can cause a number of other health issues. Our Boulder veterinarians share more, including symptoms and information about treatment.

What is Chronic Degenerative Valve Disease? 

Chronic degenerative valve disease (CVD) is a condition that affects the mitral valve of a dog's heart. This degeneration progresses slowly and eventually causes the blood to move in the wrong direction through the valve (aka 'regurgitation'). This can further cause a heart murmur, which can be identified by your veterinarian with a stethoscope. 

Over time, the thickening of the valve and subsequent leaking lead to an enlarged heart and weakened heart muscles. If the heart can no longer function with the abnormal blood flow this results in congestive heart failure, causing the dog to exhibit symptoms like coughing and breathing difficulties. 

What causes heart valve problems in dogs? 

Each side of the heart has two chambers, an upper atrium and a lower ventricle, and two valves, the tricuspid on the right and the mitral on the left. These valves act as one-way gates, allowing blood to flow from the upper atrium to the lower ventricle and prevents blood from flowing back into the atrium when the ventricle pumps.

Small breed dogs and senior canines are more prone to developing chronic degenerative valve disease, with as much as 75% of small breed dogs showing evidence of CVD by the time they're 7 years old. Certain breeds, such as the Cavalier King Charles spaniel and dachshunds can be predisposed to this disease.

Large breed dogs are less prone to develop this condition.  

What are the symptoms of a dog with heart problems?

A dog suffering from chronic degenerative valve disease may exhibit several symptoms, although these symptoms may also be indicative of other conditions. It is important to notify your vet if you notice any of these symptoms so that your dog can be assessed and the underlying cause can be determined by your vet.  

Not every dog will develop all the following symptoms and many dogs will display multiple symptoms.

  • Rapid, shallow breathing during rest or sleep 
  • Restlessness or agitation while sleeping
  • Change in usual sleeping positions
  • Coughing or gagging
  • Less appetite 
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargic or depressed 
  • Reduced ability to exercise
  • Collapse or fainting
  • Distended belly

What is the treatment for chronic degenerative valve disease in dogs? 

Medication is not necessary in the early, asymptomatic stages of the disease; the heart is not enlarged and blood pressure is normal. 

If your vet discovers signs of an enlarged heart and/or high blood pressure, they may prescribe medication to treat heart failure. Your dog will be on these medications throughout their life, although the doses and frequency of administration may change over time. 

As the disease progresses, the goal is to help your pet maintain a good quality of life and to keep your pet out of heart failure, without harming the kidneys. 

How long can a dog live with chronic degenerative valve disease? 

Most dogs with asymptomatic CVD can live 2 to 5 years or longer without developing any clinical signs of heart failure.

After said diagnosis, dogs can live 1 to 2 years with appropriate treatment and close monitoring. Your vet team will work closely with you to ensure the best treatment and disease management options are available to you and your canine companion. 

Contact Rocky Mountain Veterinary Cardiology in Boulder for expert, compassionate care for your pets.