Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in humans, but it doesn’t stop there. Heart disease in dogs is a growing problem – an average of 7-8 million dogs in the United States are afflicted. 

Although heart disease affects certain breeds more than others and has a variety of causes, all pet owners should be aware of the signs and risk factors associated with the condition. It could save your pet’s life!

Causes of Heart Disease In Dogs

There are two types of heart disease in dogs; congenital and acquired. Congenital is the least common – diagnosed in about 5% of dogs – and is typically found during puppyhood. Acquired heart disease is divided into two categories:

  • Mitral valve disease (MVD) – MVD is a degenerative, progressive condition that occurs when the mitral valve begins to wear out, causing leakage of blood into the left atrium. Over time, the leakage puts a strain on the heart and the excess blood causes the heart to enlarge. MVD is more common among smaller breeds and senior dogs.
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) – DCM is the least common type of heart disease in dogs, and causes the heart muscle to wear out and become enlarged. Once the heart muscle has stretched out, the heart loses its shape and the valves can no longer close all the way, leading to a variety of health problems. DCM tends to affect large breed and middle aged dogs.

What To Watch Out For

A heart murmur, diagnosed by your veterinarian, is the telltale sign of heart disease in dogs. Other symptoms you may notice include:

  • Exercise intolerance
  • Labored breathing, panting when not hot or exercising
  • Coughing or gagging (due to fluid buildup)
  • Restlessness, inability to get comfortable

There are a variety of tools your veterinarian may use to diagnose heart disease, including listening to the heart and lungs, blood and urine testing, chest x-rays, electrocardiogram, and ultrasound examination. 

Getting Help

With the right treatment, many dogs can go on to live many more years after a diagnosis of heart disease. Depending on the severity of the disease, your veterinarian may recommend frequent checkups to monitor its progress, or medication. Dogs on certain types of medications may need routine blood work to make sure the drug isn’t harming other bodily systems.

Doing Your Part

The good news is that, while not all cases of heart disease are preventable, there is much a concerned pet owner can do to keep their dog’s ticker functioning at its best.

  • Make sure your dog gets regular, daily exercise.
  • Help them maintain a healthy weight through a high quality diet and portion control.
  • Unchecked dental disease can adversely affect a pet’s heart, so make dental hygiene a priority through home care (regular teeth brushing) and yearly professional cleanings and examinations with your veterinarian.
  • Keep your dog on a heartworm preventative medication all year long.

If you are concerned about your pet, or have any questions about heart disease in dogs, don’t hesitate to contact your team at Summeridge Animal Clinic. We are here for you!