Heart disease is a common finding in our pets that often shows no symptoms (asymptomatic) in early disease
There are several different types of heart disease
Symptoms can include lethargy, coughing, difficulty breathing, struggling to do activities they would normally have been fine doing, weakness, collapse and bloating
Heart disease often requires regular medication, prescribed by your veterinarian, to help manage the condition
Just like in humans, heart disease is a common finding in our pets. Roughly 10% of those we see in the vets have some form of heart disease. It can be present without ever leading to heart failure, however as the disease progresses, and the heart can no longer keep up with the body’s demands, heart failure can be the result. For this reason, it is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms to look out for with your beloved dog.
What are the types of heart disease?
Heart valve disease
Heart valves are responsible for making the blood flow in one direction through the heart, preventing it from flowing backwards. The most common type of heart valve disease is ‘Degenerative mitral valve disease’. It is normally found in our small to medium breeds in their older years for example Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and Chihuahuas.
Cardiomyopathy is disease of the heart muscle and occurs when the heart muscle gets weaker. This causes the heart to stop working efficiently and just like any muscle that is working hard, it gets bigger. The most common cardiomyopathy we see in dogs is ‘Dilated cardiomyopathy,’ or DCM, most often presenting in our larger breeds such as Boxers and Great Danes.
An arrhythmia is the name we give to an irregular rhythm of the heart which can have lots of causes. Your dog’s heart rate may be too fast, too slow, or be erratic.
The pericardium is a sac that surrounds the heart. Diseases that affect this sac can restrict the heart, affecting its function.
Congenital heart diseases
Congenital abnormalities mean that your dog was born with the problem and it normally happens because the heart hasn’t developed quite like it should. These include diseases such as patent ductus arteriosis, pulmonic stenosis, aortic stenosis and ventral septal defect
What are the symptoms to look out for?
Early heart disease often shows no symptoms, which is why it is important to ensure your dog has annual health checks with your veterinarian so that they can check their heart. Common signs that you can monitor for include:
Difficulty or fast breathing at rest
Tiring easily on activity
Acute collapse or ‘fainting’
Pale or bluish tinged gums
Loss of appetite
How is heart disease diagnosed?
A physical exam allows us to detect any abnormal heart and lung sounds, such as a murmur (an abnormal sound caused by turbulent blood flow), arrhythmias, and crackles on the lungs.
Diagnostic imaging which includes ultrasound to assess how the valves are working, the size of the chambers in the heart, how the blood is flowing and what the heart muscle looks like; and x-rays to look at the overall size and shape of the heart and to look for any other signs we see in heart disease such as fluid building up in or around the lungs.
Electrocardiogram (ECG) measures the electrical activity of the heart to diagnose arrhythmias.
Blood pressure allows us to measure the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats and relaxes.
Blood tests allow us to look for signs of underlying inflammation, infection, parasites, and chemical changes that could contribute to heart disease.
What is the treatment?
Heart disease is often not something that we can cure, but instead manage. Treatment will depend on the disease your vet diagnoses, however in many cases, good results can be achieved with long-term medications to help your dog live a better quality of life, and to add treasured time. Medications are most often prescribed to help the heart muscle contract and to decrease the build up of fluid in the body. Other treatments can include diet changes, weight management, and sometimes surgery.