Heart disease is common in dogs. It is estimated up to 60 percent of aging dogs have a heart problem.
In our canine companions, heart disease is either acquired or congenital, with the vast majority – about 95 percent – in the acquired category.
Acquired heart disease can be brought on by normal aging, injury or infection, and is usually seen in middle aged and older dogs. Acquired disorders involve either the muscle itself or the valves of the heart.
Congenital heart defects – a heart condition present at birth -- are relatively rare in the canine population. These can include heart murmurs, which young dogs often outgrow, or problems in the development of a specific part of the heart, or even small holes in the heart muscle.
The impact of a congenital heart problem on a dog's quality and length of life is directly related to the severity of the condition.
Fewer people are dying from heart disease these days, but unfortunately, the mortality rate for our canine companions is increasing at an alarming rate. This increase can be attributed in part to advances in veterinarian medicine which are helping dogs live longer. The longer a body lives, the more opportunity it has to get sick.
The other primary cause of heart disease is the biologically inappropriate, highly processed pet food many dogs are fed their entire lives.
Common heart disorders in dogs include:
- Valvular disease. Heart valve problems are the most common type of canine heart disease. The valves of the heart weaken with age and begin to leak when the heart muscle pumps.
- Heartworm disease. Mosquitoes are the carriers. The worms take up residence in the heart and cause disease.
- Myocarditis – an inflammation of the heart caused by infection (usually bacterial). Myocarditis both weakens and enlarges the heart muscle.
- Pericardial disease, in which the protective sac around a dog's heart fills with liquid, interfering with the normal beating mechanism.
- Arrhythmia, which is an irregular heartbeat brought on by a problem with the body's electrical control system.
One of the most common reasons for heart disease in humans, blocked arteries, is rare in dogs.
Are Certain Breeds More Prone to Heart Disease?
Certain dogs seem to be genetically predisposed to acquire heart disease during their lifetime, including:
• Basset Hound • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel • Labrador Retriever • Beagle • Collie • Poodle • Bernese Mountain Dog • Dachshund • Rottweiler • Bloodhound • Doberman Pinscher • Saint Bernard • Boxer • German Shepherd • Some spaniels • Bullmastiff • Golden Retriever • Some terriers • Chihuahua • Great Dane • Weimaraner
If your pup is one of these breeds and you're concerned about his health, there is now a simple blood test you can request your veterinarian run on your pet that detects heart disease.
If your dog is a mixed breed and you're not sure what's in her background, you can get a DNA test to determine if her primary breed is one of those prone to heart or other diseases.
As a general rule, mixed breed dogs suffer fewer breed-specific conditions than their purebred counterparts.
Signs and Symptoms Your Dog May Have Heart Disease
Some of the more obvious, general symptoms of a heart problem include:
- Fatigue, weakness
- A drop in appetite
- Body swelling
- Bluish tinge to the tongue
- A rapid or very slow heart beat
These signs, especially if they come on suddenly, will be very noticeable and disturbing and should prompt you to make an appointment with your dog's vet right away.
Additional symptoms of heart disease, which can be mistaken for other problems or simple signs of aging include:
- Reluctance to exercise or play
- A dry cough after exercise and/or one that worsens at night
- Breathlessness or other breathing difficulties
- Collapsing or fainting
- Pot belly
- Rapid weight loss
How to Help Your Dog Avoid a Heart Problem
You can reduce the chance your precious pup will acquire heart problems by taking the following steps:
- Feed a high quality, species-appropriate diet, which meets your pet's nutritional requirements for optimal protein (and amino acid) levels, healthy fat and coenzyme Q10
- Help your dog maintain a good body weight through regular, aerobic exercise
- Take excellent care of your dog's dental health (bacteria from dirty mouths have been linked to heart valve infections in dogs)