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Everything You Need to Know About Heart Disease in Dogs

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When pet parents like us think of our dogs’ hearts, we like to imagine that this particular organ produces an abundance of love, kindness, and loyalty. However, medically speaking, we know this simply isn’t true, even if it is pleasant to think about. In fact, from a medical standpoint, a dog’s heart can be a source of concern. Just like their pet parents, our canine comrades can be susceptible to heart disease.

The term heart disease speaks to any condition that affects your dog’s heart or blood vessels and interferes with their normal functions. It’s a catchall term often used to represent any number of issues. If your pooch exhibits any of the common signs or symptoms of heart disease, it’s important for you to get them to their veterinarian for a more specific diagnosis and treatment plan.

types of heart disease in dogs _ woman and dog sitting next to a tree in a park

Types of Heart Disease in Dogs

Heart disease in dogs can either be congenital or acquired, although the majority of cases (about 95 percent) are considered to be acquired. See below for some of the common conditions or diseases associated with the two types of heart disease in dogs.

Congenital Conditions

Congenital conditions are present from birth. These can be the result of a breed’s predisposition or a condition that gets passed down from the parents. The following are examples of the more common types of congenital heart disease in canines.

  • Congestive Heart Failure occurs when your dog’s heart has trouble pumping the proper amount of blood throughout the body. Congestive heart failure can also cause an increase in fluid and pressure within the heart, which can leak into the lungs and negatively impact your dog’s breathing. This condition can affect both sides of the heart and may take years to become noticeable.
  • Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy is a disease that affects the cardiac muscles and reduces the heart’s ability to produce enough pressure to pump blood throughout the vascular system. Studies suggest that this condition can be genetic, but it can also be caused by factors related to nutrition and infections. Breeds like Boxers, Cocker Spaniels, and Great Danes can be predisposed to canine dilated cardiomyopathy.
  • Pulmonic Stenosis is a heart defect that obstructs blood flow from the right ventricle to the pulmonary artery. It can also interfere with blood flow between the heart and the lungs. The defect is frequently seen in breeds like Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, Boxers, Jack Russell Terriers, Samoyeds, Newfoundlands, and Labrador Retrievers.

Acquired Conditions

Most often seen in middle-aged and older dogs, acquired conditions typically develop over time and are the result of normal wear, tear, and aging. Below are some of the more common types of acquired conditions.

  • Canine Valvular disease occurs when the heart valves weaken and begin to leak
  • Arrhythmias occur when an issue develops within the dog’s electrical system and interferes with how it’s telling the heart to beat
  • Pericardial disease develops when the sac that surrounds the heart fills with fluid and affects the dog’s heartbeat

7 Signs of Heart Disease in Dogs

Heart disease in dogs is like many progressive diseases where it can take a long time for symptoms to develop. If your pup displays any of the following symptoms or behaviors, schedule an appointment with your vet to have them checked out:

  1. Dry cough that follows physical activity or intensifies at night
  2. Shortness of breath or elevated breathing
  3. Restlessness when sleeping
  4. Rapid weight loss (over just a few weeks)
  5. Fainting – which can look like a seizure
  6. Potbelly caused by fluid build up
  7. Rapid tiring or fatigue

Need help finding a vet in your area? No problem.

Diagnosing Heart Disease in Dogs

Oftentimes, veterinarians can detect heart disease in dogs during routine office visits – which can be covered if you enroll in an ASPCA Pet Health Insurance plan with an optional preventive care option. If your dog shows any signs or symptoms during their visit, your vet may recommend one or several of the following procedures: X-rays, cardiac evaluation, electrocardiogram, echocardiogram, cardiac catheterization, or blood and urine tests.

Diagnostic testing can be expensive too, but ASPCA Pet Health Insurance can help you cover the costs. Get a quote now!

treatment options for dogs with heart disease _ man sitting next to a barn with a dog

Treatment for Heart Disease in Dogs

Since heart disease is an umbrella term for any number of conditions that interfere with heart functions, treatments are wide-ranging and broad. Heart disease can be treated or managed through prescription medicines and supplements, dietary adjustments, and even surgical intervention depending on the condition and level of severity. As always, your first step should be to schedule a visit to your vet for proper diagnosis and treatment.

With many acquired heart diseases, your vet is likely to recommend an angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitor, otherwise known as an ACE inhibitor, to help reduce the amount of stress on the heart. ACE inhibitors work to reduce pressure and blood volume. Additional drugs may also be prescribed to help manage heart disease.

Beta blockers, nitroglycerine, and digitalis can help reduce symptoms and improve your dog’s quality of life. A diuretic may also be prescribed to manage any fluid accumulation around the lungs.

Preventing Dog Heart Disease

There is no surefire way to prevent heart disease in dogs, especially since several common types are congenital. But you can take steps to help your dog live a healthy life.

It’s always important to feed your pooch a healthy diet that includes Taurine (amino acid) and Omega-3 Fatty Acids (fish oil). Exercise is also a key part of having a healthy dog. While every dog requires exercise, if your pal has been diagnosed with heart disease, make sure to limit strenuous activity and carefully monitor your pooch afterward.

If you have a breed that’s prone to heart disease, be vigilant and aware of the symptoms that accompany heart disease in dogs. The sooner you catch a potential symptom, the better the prognosis is for treatment.

preventing heart disease in dogs and humans _ man walking down a trail with a dog in a coat

How Dogs Can Help Prevent Heart Disease in People

The companionship of our puppy pals can put us at ease with all the tail-wagging comfort they bring. Whether it’s a few wet kisses, a cold nose, or warm snuggles, most pet parents can agree that the loyalty and companionship of a dog is good medicine for the heart. And now the medical field agrees!

In general, healthier people are just more likely to own pets. But according to the American Heart Association, pet ownership can help reduce the risk of heart disease. Here are a couple of reasons behind this belief:

  • Puppy parents tend to be more active and get more exercise because of their dogs
  • Pets provide social support to their pet parents, which helps them maintain healthy habits, like engaging in physical activities

It’s important to note that pet ownership shouldn’t be viewed as something done strictly for medical purposes. Instead, consider it one of the many benefits of developing a warm and trusting relationship with your furry family members.

How ASPCA Pet Health Insurance Can Help

Whether you’re dealing with a congenital or acquired condition like heart disease or just taking your pal in for routine vaccines, an ASPCA Pet Health Insurance Plan can help you keep medical costs down. It’s simple, too. Quote. Enroll. Cover. Easy as 1,2,3. Get a quote and enroll now!


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