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Heart Disease in Dogs

A dog with heart disease

Heart disease in dogs is a significant health issue that can affect dogs of all ages and breeds. Recognising the signs and understanding the different types of heart disease in dogs can help in early diagnosis and treatment, improving the quality of life for your dog.


What is Heart Disease in Dogs?

Heart disease in dogs refers to any condition that affects the heart's ability to function properly. This can include structural abnormalities, problems with the heart muscle, or issues with the heart's electrical system. These conditions can lead to serious health problems and, if not managed properly, can be life-threatening.

Some common forms of heart disease in dogs include congenital defects present at birth and adult-onset diseases like dilated cardiomyopathy, where the heart muscle becomes weak and enlarged, making it difficult for the heart to pump blood effectively.

Breeds Most at Risk

A cavalier king charles spaniel, at risk of heart disease in dogs

Certain breeds are more likely to develop heart disease. These breeds include:

  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

  • Doberman Pinscher

  • Boxer

  • Cocker Spaniel

  • Dachshund

Life Expectancy of a Dog with Heart Disease

The life expectancy of a dog with heart disease varies based on the type and severity of the condition, as well as how early it is diagnosed and treated. 

With proper management, including medication, diet, and regular veterinary care, many dogs with heart disease can live several years with a good quality of life. It's important to work closely with your vet to monitor your dog’s condition and make any necessary adjustments to their care plan.

Types of Heart Disease in Dogs

Congenital Heart Disease

Congenital heart disease in dogs means the dog is born with the condition. This can include a variety of structural problems in the heart, such as patent ductus arteriosus (PDA), where a blood vessel doesn’t close properly after birth, and ventricular septal defects (VSD), which are holes in the heart’s walls. These issues can arise due to genetic factors or problems during development before birth.

Adult-Onset Heart Disease

Heart disease that develops later in life is called adult-onset heart disease in dogs. The most common form is dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), where the heart muscle becomes too stretched out and weak, making it hard for the heart to pump blood effectively. Other types include hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), where the heart muscle becomes too thick, and mitral valve disease (MVD), where the heart valves do not close properly.

Symptoms of Heart Disease in Dogs

A dog asleep

Dogs with heart disease might show symptoms that can often be subtle and easily missed. Common signs include:

  • Changes in Appetite and Weight: Dogs might eat less or lose weight suddenly.

  • Lethargy: They might seem unusually tired and less willing to play or move around.

  • Respiratory Issues: Dogs may have trouble breathing, cough, or breathe rapidly.

  • Sudden Collapse: In some cases, dogs might faint or collapse suddenly due to poor blood flow to the brain.

Diagnosing Heart Disease in Dogs

Initial Examination and Detection

Regular vet check-ups are crucial for catching heart disease early. Vets can spot initial signs such as unusual heart sounds or irregular heartbeats during routine exams, which can prompt further testing.

Advanced Diagnostic Methods

To get a detailed diagnosis, vets may use X-rays to look at the heart, electrocardiograms (ECGs) to track the heart's electrical activity, and echocardiography, which is an ultrasound of the heart to see its structure and function clearly. These tests help vets understand the condition better.

Treatment Options for Heart Disease in Dogs

Medical Management

Treating heart disease in dogs often involves medications that help manage symptoms and improve heart function:

  • ACE Inhibitors: These medications help relax blood vessels, making it easier for the heart to pump blood. This reduces the heart's workload and can help prevent further damage.

  • Beta-Blockers: These drugs reduce the heart's workload by slowing down the heart rate and lowering blood pressure.

  • Diuretics: Also known as "water pills," diuretics help remove excess fluid from the body. This is particularly helpful if the dog's heart disease has led to fluid buildup in the lungs or other areas.

Surgical Interventions

In some cases, surgery might be needed to fix congenital (present from birth) heart problems. For example, Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA) is a condition where a blood vessel that should close after birth remains open. Surgery can correct this and prevent any further complications in your dog.

Surgery is typically considered when medications alone aren't enough to manage the condition. Your vet will guide you on the best treatment options based on your dog's specific needs.

Managing Heart Disease in Dogs at Home

Diet and Nutrition

Diet and nutrition play a crucial role in managing heart disease in dogs. Maintaining an optimal weight is essential as obesity can exacerbate heart problems. Special diets may be recommended to support heart health, often including taurine, an amino acid vital for heart function. Low-sodium diets help reduce fluid retention and decrease the heart's workload. 

Ensuring your dog gets balanced nutrition with the right vitamins and minerals can improve their overall health and quality of life. Always consult your vet for specific dietary recommendations tailored to your dog’s condition.

Medication Administration

It’s crucial to follow your vet’s instructions on giving medications. Monitor your dog for any side effects and regularly consult with your vet to adjust treatment plans as needed.

Common Side Effects of Heart Disease Medication

Some common side effects of heart disease medication include:

  • Low Blood Pressure

  • Kidney Dysfunction

  • Gastrointestinal Upset

  • Lethargy

  • Slow Heart Rate

  • Dehydration

  • Weakness

Promoting Heart Health in Dogs

Understanding heart disease in dogs—from types and symptoms to diagnosis and treatment—can greatly enhance the care and management of affected pets. Early detection and proper treatment are key to ensuring a healthier and longer life for your dog. 

Regular vet check-ups and attentive care at home can make a significant difference. Always consult your vet for the best approach to managing heart disease in dogs.

If you feel your dog's quality of life is significantly impaired and are based in our service area, contact our team via 0333 041 8200 or request an appointment.


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