Heart attacks are one of the most common causes of death amongst Americans, especially due to the high consumption of fast-food paired with minimal exercise and cigarette addiction.
Thankfully, our dogs will not have issues smoking or eating too much fast food. Yet, they are not immune to the devastating effects of heart disease and sudden heart attacks.
This article gives a brief definition of heart attacks in dogs along with signs and symptoms to help you as an owner become more educated about contributing factors to heart failure.
What Is a Heart Attack in Dogs?
A heart attack, medically known as a “myocardial infarction,” occurs when blood is blocked from reaching the heart muscle, or the “myocardium.” Oftentimes, these blockages are created by blood clots, which prevent blood from moving freely through the veins to the heart.
Blood clots are a normal and healthy response the body uses to regulate the loss of the blood. When your dog gets a cut on his paw, for example, blood cells called platelets rush to the damaged site and begin to clot that area. This helps restrict the outward flow of blood and saves your dog from dying of blood loss.
Sometimes, however, platelets and plasma proteins create clotting in the blood vessels or the heart that is unhealthy and dangerous. This abnormal and/or excessive clotting is the most common cause of heart attacks in dogs.
Signs & Symptoms of Heart Attacks in Dogs
The bad news about heart attacks is that they are often very sudden and unpredictable by nature. This makes the identification of signs and symptoms even more crucial because they are really all you have as a dog owner to prepare for such a circumstance.
Listed below is a combination of long-term heart-related problems and short-term signs and symptoms that could indicate the onset of a heart attack. The long-term complications are meant to help you get a grip on your dog’s heart’s health long before he could be at risk of sudden heart failure.
- Obesity: Obesity in dogs is one of the most easily identifiable, preventable causes of heart attacks. Excess weight on the body increases blood pressure, cholesterol, and other healthy functioning. Like many other medical conditions, certain breeds are more prone than others, including: Pugs, Bulldogs, Beagles, Golden Retrievers, and Basset Hounds.
- Diabetes: High glucose levels caused by diabetes damages blood vessels over time, leading to heart disease and risk of heart failure
- Vasculitis: Inflammation of the blood vessels, caused normally by an injury to the internal surfaces of the heart (the “endothelial” layer)
- Hypothyroidism: Slows the heart rate; raises cholesterol; increases blood pressure
- Atherosclerosis: Buildup of plaque in the arteries; restricts blood flow to and from heart
- Bacterial infection: can result in blood flow blockage
- Dyspnea: panting/shallow/irregular breathing
- Pleural effusion: fluid in the lungs; causes chronic coughing
- Ascites: body fluid is retained in the abdomen and limbs; causes puffiness and swelling in the belly and the arms/legs
- Cyanosis: bluish-gray discoloring of the gums due to fluid in the lungs
- Rigidity/tenseness of muscles
- Tilting of the head
- General weakness
- Trouble sleeping
- Weight loss
- Increased/slowed heart rate (normal rate for dogs is between 60-140 bpm)
First and foremost, do not attempt CPR on your dog unless you are trained and comfortable doing so. It can cause more harm to your dog if done incorrectly.
If your dog shows any aforementioned symptoms, wrap him in a blanket and carefully bring him in the car to the vet. Your veterinarian will perform a series of different tests to diagnose the problem. Some of these methods are as follows:
- Electrocardiography: determines cardiac electrical impulses and any abnormal heartbeat rhythms in your dog
- X-ray: identifies size of the heart, possible tumors, fluids
- Echocardiography: detects heart valve/muscle functioning; locates any fluid or masses in the heart
- Urinalysis: Assesses kidney and metabolism
- Complete Blood Cell Count: determines red/white blood cell count
- Blood Culture Biochemistry Profile: tests liver and kidney functioning