Does Your Dog Have Heart Disease?

If your dog coughs a lot, seems to gag, and/or no longer has the stamina to go on miles-long hikes, it could be due to heart problems.

After all, the heart is responsible for pumping blood (which contains oxygen and nutrients) throughout the body. This provides energy.

When your dog’s body doesn’t get enough oxygen, he feels fatigued and isn’t as playful. You might chalk it up to “old age” if your dog is getting older, but it could be something more. It could be heart problems.

Heart disease, (which leads to heart failure), is often related to genetics. However, diet and exercise play a big role in your dog’s heart health.

Dog jogging with owner

How Can Disease Affect the Mechanics of Your Dog’s Heart?

As you may know, the heart has valves – four, in fact – and when one gets blocked or the arteries narrow to restrict blood flow, it can show in lethargy, gagging sounds (due to fluid in the lungs), and other breathing problems.

Here’s the thing: heart problems can start slow. They can affect first one side and then the other side of the heart, and it can be years before it reaches a critical point.

Canine Heart Disease is More Common Than You May Think

Cartoon gif of a beating heartAccording to the Pet Health Network, “it is estimated that 7.8 million dogs in the United States have heart disease. That means approximately 10% of all dogs in the United States have heart disease.” Furthermore, “The most common form of heart disease in dogs is valvular disease, which primarily affects small breed dogs over 5 years of age and makes up 70-75% of heart disease in dogs. Heartworm disease causes 13% of heart disease even though it is entirely preventable. Myocardial disease, such as dilated cardiomyopathy, makes up 8% of heart disease and primarily affects large breed dogs of all ages.”

Valvular Disease in Dogs

As you can see from the quote above, “valvular disease” is the most common form of doggie heart disease. This is also known as a “leaky valve.”

Imagine the four valves of the heart. Each creates a one-way “street,” separating the sections (atria and ventricles) of the heart. If a valve does not close properly as blood flows through the heart, blood can flow the wrong way.

The Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine explains in more detail: “the most commonly affected…….valve separates the left ventricle from the left atrium. Normally this valve closes when the heart contracts and this closure prevents blood from going back into the atrium…When the valve leaks the blood goes backwards into the left atrium…Eventually the left atrium enlarges followed by fluid accumulation in the lungs because of too much volume and pressure.”

The so-called “leaky valve” usually means that instead of flowing at a regular pace, blood is stuck in the lungs. Ultimately, fluid can leak into the airways. So, if your dog frequently gags and has low stamina, that could indicate heart disease and is something you’ll want to mention to your veterinarian.

Congestive Heart Failure

Left untreated, your dog’s heart disease could turn into Congestive Heart Failure, or CHF. Not a disease itself, it’s a condition due to the disease and primarily affects the heart valves. Because CHF can result from many different issues, including valvular disease or even congenital (genetic) heart defects, it is important to know the signs so that you can seek veterinary treatment right away. The Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine notes that “the animal will take deep and rapid breaths in order to get enough oxygen. A pet with fluid in their lungs will not be able to exercise as well, they may cough, they will appear weak and sluggish, and will not have a good appetite, in addition to other symptoms.”

Your veterinarian can run tests to see if your pet has heart problems and recommend a custom treatment plan.

Other Symptoms of Heart Disease in Dogs

Typical symptoms include tiring easily, coughing, pacing at night before bed, a distended stomach, and possibly weight loss. However, as you can see, these are fairly generic conditions that could also indicate a range of things. If you see your pet exhibiting any of these, please schedule a veterinarian appointment right away.

Dog at veterinary appointment

Something else to consider is that heart disease can be asymptomatic. You may have heard of it referred to as the “silent killer.” That’s because your dog’s heart can be failing, yet, your dog has no visible symptoms.

How Can You Prevent Heart Disease in Your Dog?

While genetics play a role, lifestyle makes such a difference in the heart health (and overall health) of your best bud. Feed your pet a nutritious diet and help him or her to maintain a healthy weight; this will help prevent heart disease in your pup. Excess weight always puts greater strain on the heart, so if your dog tends to the portly side, you’ll want to cut back on excess calories and increase the exercise levels. Talk to your veterinarian about a smart, safe weight management plan.

You’ll also want to keep your pet on year-round heartworm prevention as developing heartworms puts your dog at risk, too.

Your veterinarian will work with you to make healthy recommendations based on your pet’s breed and medical history.

Contact us today to schedule a wellness visit for your dog! We can answer your questions and help you care for your best friend’s heart!