Heart Diseases in Dogs
The term “heart disease” can refer to any heart abnormality, including those that dogs are born with and those that dogs develop over time. When dogs are born with a heart condition, vets refer to it as “congenital.” Other conditions are “acquired heart diseases.”
Symptoms of Heart Disease in Dogs
Heart disease can cause a range of symptoms in dogs. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Abdominal swelling
- Difficulty breathing
- Reduced appetite
- Weakness or partial paralysis in the hind legs
- Sudden weight loss
Owners of dogs with one or more of these symptoms should take their pets to a veterinarian to determine whether the animals have heart disease or another condition.
Diagnosing Heart Disease
Dogs that show symptoms of heart disease often already have significant health problems that could shorten their lives. Ideally, owners will take their dogs to the veterinarian for annual wellness checks. During the wellness check, the vet will listen to the dog’s heart. Hearing a murmur likely indicates that the dog is in the early stage of chronic degenerative valve disease or congestive heart failure.
Veterinarians have several options when diagnosing heart disease in dogs. In addition to listening for heart murmurs, vets can:
- Take x-rays to determine whether the dog’s heart has enlarged.
- Use ultrasound to measure the heart’s size.
- Monitor blood pressure to detect changes in the dog’s cardiovascular performance.
Early diagnosis makes treatment much more effective.
Treatment Options for Heart Disease in Dogs
Lifestyle changes, medications, and surgeries can work as effective treatment options for heart disease in dogs.
Lifestyle changes may help prevent or reverse early signs of heart disease in dogs. Lifestyle changes may include choosing low-fat foods and getting more exercise.
Medications prescribed to treat heart disease in dogs include:
One study of dogs with advanced heart failure found that doctors could extend survival times by prescribing high doses of furosemide. The dogs that received furosemide lived an average of 402 days while dogs that received other medications lived an average of 129 days.
Dogs at a high risk of developing heart disease may benefit from taking:
- Beta-blockers (atenolol, carvedilol, and sotalol) that help prevent arrhythmia.
- Clopidogrel, which helps prevent platelet clumping and blood clots.
- Furosemide, a diuretic that treats congestive heart failure by removing fluid from the lungs.
Some medications are prescribed at specific points of heart disease. A dog with early symptoms, for example, might get a prescription for atenolol. A dog that already has congestive heart failure may get a prescription for furosemide to extend its life.
Surgery can correct some structural problems that contribute to heart disease in dogs. Popular surgeries include:
- Pacemaker implantation.
- Open chest surgery that removes heart tumors.
- Open chest surgery that closes abnormal connections in the heart.
- Removing the membrane that encloses the heart.
Open heart surgery isn’t a common option for dogs. A few clinics, however, specialize in open-heart surgeries that repair valves.
Cost: $5,000 to $20,000
How Dog Owners Can Lower the Risk of Heart Disease
Studies don’t show that dog owners can eliminate the risk of heart disease in their pets. They can, however, do some things that will lower the risk of heart disease.
Some of the most effective ways to lower the risk of heart disease in dogs include:
- Daily exercise
- Diets that are low in fat
- Heartworm pills
- Regular veterinary visits
No one can ensure that a dog will never develop heart disease. With proper care and regular veterinary visits, though, people can lower the risk of heart disease in dogs.
Top 11 Heart Conditions in Dogs
- Aortic Stenosis
- Boxer Cardiomyopathy
- Cardiac Issues
- Degenerative Valve Disease
- Dilated Cardiomyopathy
- Heart Cancer
- Heart Murmur
- Mitral Valve Disease
- Patent Ductus Arteriosus
- Pulmonic Stenosis
- Sick Sinus Syndrome