A dog chews on a stethoscope.

Anyone with a special pup in their life knows that our canine companions are all heart. This can make it even more devastating, though, when heart disease in dogs affects your family. Clairmont Animal Hospital is here to help you, though, when it comes to understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment of heart disease in dogs. 

What Causes Trouble for the Ticker

The heart is a pretty important organ. Responsible for pumping blood throughout the body and delivering oxygen to all of the organs, muscles, and other tissues, an improperly functioning heart is not a good thing. 

Heart disease in dogs can be congenital or acquired. More common diagnoses include:

  • Heartworm disease–Infection with Dirofilaria immitis is a serious disease. Heartworms are actual worms that are transmitted through the mosquito. The mature worms reside in the heart and blood vessels, causing damage that ultimately leads to heart failure.
  • Valvular disease–There are four separate chambers inside the heart. Between each chamber is a valve that helps to control blood flow in the right direction. Impairment of the function of these valves can lead to cardiac compromise. 
  • Cardiomyopathies–Conditions that affect the muscle tissue of the heart have a direct impact on cardiac function. We don’t always know why these conditions develop, although some can have a nutritional component
  • Congenital defects–Defects in the development  of the heart can lead to cardiac dysfunction. Holes between heart chambers, valvular defects, and failure of fetal remnants to close can all lead to congenital heart disease. 
  • Hypertension–High blood pressure is a cardiovascular problem that we can diagnose in animals. It is often secondary to other disease processes. If not treated, high blood pressure can lead to serious complications including loss of vision, kidney failure, or stroke.
  • Arrhythmias–Problems with the timing of the heart beat can cause inefficient blood flow. 

Symptoms of Heart Disease in Dogs

No matter what the cause of a heart problem, the symptoms of heart disease in dogs often appear similarly due to resulting heart failure. 

Heart failure often causes fluid to build in the lungs and/or abdomen, which results in some characteristic side effects. Symptoms can include:

  • Decreased willingness or ability to exercise
  • Coughing
  • Heavy breathing while resting
  • Blue or grayish gums/tongue
  • Fainting episodes
  • Decreased appetite
  • Enlargement of the abdomen

Other problems can also result in similar symptoms. If you notice these symptoms, it is always best to come see us right away so that we can diagnose the problem and start helping right away.

Management and Life Expectancy for Affected Pets

If heart disease is diagnosed, it is important to figure out the underlying cause so that treatment can be started and prognosis discussed. Cardiac diagnostics including radiographs, ultrasound, heart rhythm tracing (EKG), and blood testing are all important parts of this process. 

Treatments options may include:

  • Dietary changes
  • Supplements and/or vitamins
  • Medications to improve cardiac function
  • Medications to prevent fluid accumulation
  • Medications to manage blood pressure
  • Surgery to correct problems when applicable
  • Injections to eliminate heartworm infection

Life expectancy for pets who have been diagnosed with heart disease can vary greatly depending on the nature of the problem, the stage at which it is diagnosed, and whether treatment options are palliative or curative. 

You can help support your pet’s heart health by being vigilant about heartworm prevention, helping your pet stay active and at a healthy weight, promoting good dental health, and keeping up on wellness visits. The sooner we detect a potential problem, the better the outcome! Be sure to contact us right away if you have concerns about your pet’s health or are behind on care. We will help however we can.