Heart disease in dogs is similar to the same disease in humans in many ways. Both have serious effects that can at times be fatal to the sufferer. As with humans, there are multiple types of heart disease including coronary and congestive.
Unlike humans, however, most dogs don’t suffer from coronary artery disease, which is typically caused by a bad diet. Instead, dogs are more frequently afflicted with congestive heart disease, a progressive decrease in the heart’s ability to pump blood to the rest of the body.
As with most progressive diseases, your dog may live with the disease for a number of years before even beginning to display symptoms. As a result, it is important to be aware of the causes and symptoms of heart disease in dogs, so that you can be vigilant in looking for early warning signs that your dog may need care.
Causes of Heart Disease in Dogs
The majority of congestive heart disease seen in dogs is considered to be the result of normal wear and tear that comes with aging, injury, or infection. It is rare for dogs to be born with a congenital heart defect, so this article will focus on the causes of congestive heart disease in dogs.
Congestive Heart Failure (CHF), the most severe form of heart disease, can affect dogs of all ages, sizes, and breeds, but is most commonly seen in older dogs. As dogs age, much like it does with humans, the prevalence of heart disease reaches more than 60%. Some of the most common types of heart disease that may lead to CHF include:
- Chronic Valvular Disease: A weakening of heart valves that results in leaking
- Myocardial Disease: A weakening of the heart muscle causing it to enlarge
- Arrhythmias: A disruption in the electrical pattern of the heart beat
- Pericardial Disease: When fluid surrounds the heart causing an irregular heartbeat
Though these are not the only types of heart disease in dogs, the results are the same: the heart is no longer able to function properly. Such strains can limit your dog’s lifespan and make him more susceptible to other problems.
Signs & Symptoms of Canine Heart Disease
In the early stages, most types of heart disease will be subclinical, or without symptoms. However, as the heart begins to deteriorate and cardiac output declines, common clinical signs of CHF may begin to appear during the progression, including:
- Coughing – after exercise or worsening at night
- Changes in Breathing – shortness of breath, increased respirations, or general difficulty
- Changes in Behavior – lack of energy, depression, withdrawal, or general fatigue
- Exercise Intolerance – tires easily and is reluctant to go on walks
- Poor Appetite and Weight Loss
- Weakness and Fainting
If you begin to see any of these symptoms in your dog, take them to the vet for an evaluation.
Diagnosing Heart Disease in Dogs
Your vet will do a thorough evaluation and workup, asking many questions about your pet’s symptoms. The vet may also choose to order blood and urine tests, an echocardiogram, or a doppler echocardiography, which measures how the blood flows through the heart, in order to make a reliable diagnosis.
If diagnosed with an acquired heart disease, the most likely treatment is to prescribe an ACE (angiotensin-converting-enzyme) inhibitor. These drugs will reduce the stress placed on the heart, and possibly slow deterioration of the muscles, by reducing blood volume and pressure. Unfortunately, this medication does not treat the underlying cause of the disease, but it can help to reduce the symptoms.
It is important to note that there is a significant distinction between heart disease and heart failure. The latter is much more severe and a result of the former if left untreated. Heart failure is rarely a sudden event, but rather the progressive deterioration of the body’s organs as a result of an overworked heart.
Preventing Heart Disease in Dogs
Feeding your dog a healthy and well-rounded diet may help to curb the risk of disease developing, with the added benefit of a happier and healthier dog overall. In addition, regular exercise will help to keep your dog in good physical health.
However, there is sadly no true prevention of heart disease as there are many different causes. However, paying close attention to your dog can help you spot symptoms sooner and, therefore, receive treatment sooner, which is always better.