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Heart Disease and Dogs

Updated on January 30, 2008

Dogs At Heart

Many dog owners may not realize that their dogs are vulnerable to heart disease. In the US, veterinarians have reported approximately 3.2 million dogs with some form of heart disease. And many are in heart failure. Estimates show that 15% of dogs in the UK, making it the second most common cause of death after cancer

Heart disease is common in dogs, perhaps as common as it is in humans. While some dogs are born with developmental heart problems, most develop their problems during adulthood or old age. In most cases, heart disease can be successfully managed by early detection and treatment.

Heart disease is basically a weakened heart. Heart disease can lead to heart failure, which is the dog's condition when the heart cannot pump a sufficient amount of blood through the body. And while continuing to work harder to pump blood, further heart damage can occur.

The main causes of heart failure in dogs are MVD, DCM, and CVD.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a disease of the heart muscle. The heart pumps so weakly that blood is distributed efficiently throughout the body. This causes the heart to work even harder, stretching and enlargening it. This is more common in medium to large breeds like Irish Setters, German Shepherds, and Great Danes.

Mitral Valve Disease (MVD) is a common form of heart disease in dogs. It occurs when the heart valves (that open and shut to let blood in and out) become leaky, so blood circulation and blood pressure is not running at full steam. The weak circulation actually creates a murmur, that your veterinary surgeon can hear with a stethoscope. MVD generally occurs in small to medium size dogs and is seen more often in older dogs.

Chronic Valvular Heart Disease (CVD) is a condition that occurs when the dog's heart valves thicken and degenerate. this often leads to heart enlargement or heart failure with fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema) or the abdomen (ascites). Valvular heart disease is very common and canine heart diseases in adult dogs, it is the main one to look out for.

How Do I Know If My Dog Has Heart Disease

Heart failure in dogs tends to show the same general symptoms, no matter what the cause of the failure.

Dogs with mild to moderate heart failure show

  • lethargy
  • difficulty breathing
  • coughing
  • some weakness
  • loss of appetite

Severe heart failure is characterized by

  • much difficulty breathing even when the dog is just laying
  • fainting
  • no tolerance for any exercise
  • weight loss
  • lack of energy/depression
  • swollen abdomen (ascites)

As with many illnesses, you need to have your dog seen by a professional for a proper diagnosis. But you can watch for symptoms, so you don't overlook when something may be wrong. Too often, dog owners do not take their dogs to visit the veterinarian until they are displaying severe signs of heart failure, and by then it may be too late. If heart disease or failure is found, your veterinarian can recommend a schedule of regular visits and discuss a treatment plan that can help.

What Do You Think?

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    • thebluestar profile image

      Annette Donaldson 

      8 years ago from Northern Ireland

      thank you for writing this article, I am devastated at the thought of losing my darling Bouncer. I hate to see him fight this disease that makes him so weak, but fight he does and he still tries so hard to make me smile with his silly habbits, chewing stones etc. I don't know if any herbal treatment would help him, anyone tried it?

    • profile image

      Yvonne M 

      9 years ago

      My seven year old male yorkie-poo was just diagnosed with heart disease. Because he is only seven (which is rare) A University wants to take him on to follow the process after

      drug administration. I'm so very sorry you lost your dog..

      that would break my heart. I am very sad that my little guy has to go through this.

      thank you for sharing!

    • profile image

      Jack's step mom 

      9 years ago

      My boyfriend took his dog, Jack, to the vet like clockwork! In April the vet told him Jack has a heart murmur and to watch for coughing in the morning. The next month he began coughing in the morning, he immediately went back to the vet who told him he had to go to Cornell for more extensive testing. As it turns out Jack has severe heart disease, they estimate he will last one year. I am so upset that the vet didn't tell us when he detected the murmur that he should be tested; I think it might not have been too late at that point. It seems he told us to wait until it was too late to do anything.

      Does anyone know anything we can do for Jack at this point? I know that if there were the vet at Cornell would have told us, but I am just hoping someone knows something?

    • Charles S profile image

      Charles Russell Stockdale 

      10 years ago from UK

      I would like to see you add some data about the role of proper and adequate nutrition in the prevention of heart disease - or any other disease for that matter. Curing my own CVD last year made me super aware of this factor. Next door's cat, for instance, was in poor health until we added (fortified) kibble to its "normal" diet of tinned food. Nice page, otherwise!

    • FitnessDog profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      I am sorry for the loss of your dog. I know these things are heart breaking, especially when you feel like you could have done something. But among 5 vets, it just seems one of them should have suggested an x-ray. It sounds like you did everything you could and thanks for sharing so we all know what to look for and ask about.

    • profile image

      Bonnie Duprey 

      10 years ago

      My pomeranian saw five Vets. over a two month period and no one detected heart disease. The day she died they did an x-ray and there was fluid in the right lung and an enlarged abdomen. So, if your dog is wheezing at all, or winded from exercise, make sure you get an X-ray immediately. A check-up might not be enough for the diagnosis and heart disease progresses quickly. If you love your dog get this done immediately. I wish someone had told me.


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