Heart disease affects up to 15% of dogs. Find out more about the signs & symptoms of heart disease in dogs.
Heart failure in dogs
While heart attacks are incredibly rare in dogs, heart failure is much more common and usually caused by underlying heart disease.
Types of heart disease in dogs
Heart disease can either be present from birth or acquired over the course of a dog’s life. Roughly 95% of dog heart disease is acquired, usually as a result of general wear and tear on the heart, but occasionally through injury or infection. Accounting for 70-75% of heart disease in dogs, chronic valvular disease (CVD) is by far the most common.
Endocardiosis in Dogs
Also known as endocardiosis, CVD occurs when the valves of the heart weaken with age and begin to leak. Although there are four valves in the heart, this disease commonly affects the mitral valve.
Heartworm can also cause heart disease but thankfully this parasite isn't present in the UK. However, it may be a concern if you plan to travel abroad with your dog, so make sure their worming treatment is up to date before you go.
Heartworm can also cause heart disease but, thankfully, this parasite isn’t present in the UK. However, it may be a concern if you plan to travel abroad with your dog, so make sure their worming treatment is up to date before you go.
Which dog breeds are more prone to heart disease?
Chronic Valvular Disease in dogs
The risk of developing CVD increases as dogs get older, and smaller breeds such as miniature poodles, dachshunds, Cavalier King Charles spaniels and cocker spaniels are much more likely to develop this condition.
Dilated Cardiomyopathy in dogs
Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is less common, but still affects around 5-10% of dogs. Primarily concerning larger breeds such as dobermans, great danes, and boxers, DCM occurs when the chambers of the heart enlarge and the muscles become stretched and weak. This prevents the heart from pumping blood properly. DCM can have no symptoms at all.
What are the early signs and symptoms of heart disease in dogs?
The symptoms of heart disease in dogs include:
- Lack of energy
- Fainting and collapse
- Frequent coughing
- Breathing difficulties
- Reduced appetite
- Sudden weight gain or loss
- Swollen stomach
One of the most common early symptoms of CVD is a heart murmur - an abnormal sound (such as whooshing or swishing) made by turbulent blood flow through the heart. Not all heart murmurs are signs of heart disease but they can be an early warning sign. This is why it is important that your pet has an annual check-up each year. If a heart murmur is detected, it may still be nothing to worry about, but your vet can advise you on whether they believe further testing may be worthwhile.
Is heart disease in dogs treatable?
Sadly, heart disease can’t be cured, but with early diagnosis and treatment, dogs can still maintain a good quality of life. Several medications are available to manage and slow down the progression of heart disease and heart failure – your vet will be able to suggest the best option for your individual dog.
Diet and treating heart disease in dogs
Nutrition can also play an important part in increasing their quality of life despite their condition. Sodium, taurine, fatty acids, and antioxidants are all considered important for dogs with heart disease, so opt for a balanced dog food that has all these nutrients.
How to prevent heart disease in dogs
Unfortunately, most forms of heart disease can’t be prevented (except for heartworm disease). Early diagnosis and treatment are the only way to manage the condition and improve your pet’s quality of life. Attending regular health checks will allow your vet to listen for an irregular heartbeat or heart murmurs, which can indicate underlying heart disease.
Several studies such as the EPIC trial in 2018 have demonstrated that outcomes for heart disease are much improved when treatment is started early (often before symptoms are significant or even noticeable at home). If your vet detects a heart murmur (which may be an early symptom of heart disease) then it is important that follow up tests are conducted to see if your dog would benefit from early treatment.
Ask your vet about our Medivet Healthcare Plan which includes regular health checks and other benefits.
If you need more information about heart disease in dogs, contact your vet.
Any change in a dog’s behaviour should be taken seriously. If your dog is having problems breathing, is coughing, has lost weight or is being lethargic, these could be signs of heart disease or something serious and you should ensure you take your dog to see your vet as soon as possible.
Ensure you give your dog plenty of exercise and a healthy, balanced diet which doesn’t contain too much sodium.
Regular health checks are important for all dogs, but they become increasingly important as your dog gets older. Just like humans, as your dog gets older they could start to experience health issues. We’ve got advice on some of the more common conditions that can cause problems for older dogs.