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Two Breeds Added to Heart Disease Risk List

dog heart disease

Story at-a-glance -

  • Both Doberman Pinschers and Boxers are predisposed to heart disease due to a genetic mutation
  • There are genetic tests available for both breeds, but neither veterinarians nor dog parents know much about them
  • The veterinary cardiologist who discovered the gene mutations recommends vets test each Dobie and Boxer in their practice, preferably when they’re still puppies
  • It’s important to stay alert for signs of a potential heart problem in your dog, especially if he or she is a high-risk breed
  • It’s also important to take steps to help your dog avoid heart disease whenever possible

By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

Biomarkers are being used more often in veterinary medicine, and based on her work in this field, Dr. Kathryn Meurs, a veterinary cardiologist at the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, is encouraging colleagues to make genetic testing part of their regular services.

Some Dobermans and Boxers Are Predisposed to Heart Disease

Biomarkers are molecules that indicate normal or abnormal processes taking place in the body and may be a sign of an underlying condition or disease. Various types of molecules, such as DNA (genes), proteins or hormones, can serve as biomarkers. Biomarkers can be found in the blood, stool, urine, tumor tissue, or other tissues or bodily fluids. There are biomarkers for heart disease and many other diseases, including cancer.1

In 2011, Meurs discovered genetic mutations in both Doberman Pinschers and Boxers that cause heart disease. In Dobies, the mutation triggers dilated cardiomyopathy, an adult onset heart muscle disease that can lead to sudden death or congestive heart failure. A second genetic mutation for the same condition was identified last year.

The Boxer genetic mutation Meurs uncovered causes arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyo­pathy, which also occurs primarily in adult dogs and carries similar potential outcomes.

Vets Should Run Genetic Tests on Every Doberman and Boxer in Their Practice

Meurs was also involved in the development of new tests for heart disease predisposition in the two breeds, and she recommends veterinarians run the tests on all purebred Dobies and Boxers in their practice, preferably as puppies.

“Although testing may not be preventive,” Meurs tells Veterinary Practice News, “if we know about the genetic predisposition when the dog is a puppy, veterinarians can start using the information to change the way we treat the dog. It allows you to change and prepare for the course of their life.”2

The tests are readily available, but many veterinarians and pet owners don’t know a lot about them. There are two tests for Dobies (DCM1 and DCM2), and a separate test for Boxers (ARVC).

If the test comes back positive, the dog is considered at risk, and Meurs suggests vets may want to consult with a veterinary cardiologist about appropriate diet and lifestyle changes, and in some cases, medication adjustments. “Exercise limita­tions are particularly important for Boxers genetically predisposed for heart disease,” Meurs said.

Signs That Can Signal a Problem With Your Dog’s Heart

Coughing. A recent, persistent cough that is worse at night, or when your pet has been laying down or stands up from a sitting or reclining position is one of the more obvious signs of a potential issue with the heart.

Exercise intolerance. If your pet seems to be moving around less and is reluctant to play or exercise, it’s a red flag. She may begin to wear out after just a short exercise session and you may notice she’s breathing heavier after exertion. Another sign is purplish or pale gums.

Respiratory distress. Dogs with a heart problem often have an increased respiration rate during sleep. A normal respiration rate is 10 to 35 breaths per minute, and you can check the rate by counting the rises or falls of his chest for one minute. If he’s taking more than 35 breaths per minute or you notice there is an abdominal effort to breathe, it may indicate a heart problem.

Behavior changes. Look for increased or generalized restlessness, especially at night, as though she can’t decide where to lie down.

Fainting or collapsing. If heart disease is severe or advanced, your dog may faint or collapse. This is a clear sign of a serious medical emergency and your pet needs to see a veterinarian right away.

Weight fluctuations. Pets with long-term heart disease typically experience weight loss, but weight gain is also possible as a result of fluid accumulation in the abdomen. Look for a bloated or pot belly.

Early detection of a potential heart condition can make a significant difference in how well and how long your pet lives after diagnosis, so if you’ve noticed any symptoms of a heart problem, especially if your dog is a high-risk breed, make an appointment with your veterinarian.

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5 Tips to Help Your Dog Avoid Heart Disease

You can reduce the chance your dog will acquire heart problems by taking the following steps:

1. Feed a nutritionally balanced, species-appropriate diet that meets his nutritional requirements for optimal protein levels, healthy fat and coenzyme Q10. I believe the huge amount of carbohydrates found in most processed diets offsets the amount of protein dogs need, making carbs a significant nutritional contributing factor to canine heart disease.

Additionally, the high temperatures the food is processed at inactivates the delicate fatty acids, so even though the label says it contains the correct amount of essential fatty acids to maintain excellent cardiovascular health, they've been inactivated through the manufacturing process.

The amount of taurine, carnitine, critical amino acids and CoQ10 found naturally in unprocessed meat is extremely important to your dog’s heart health. These vital nutrients are not found in adequate quantities in most dry foods, and processing further diminishes their bioavailability. This is another reason I recommend starch-free foods (no grains or potatoes).

If you feed dry or canned food, I recommend supplementing with coenzyme Q10 in the form of ubiquinol. Ubiquinol is the form of CoQ10 that is best utilized by the heart, and the only form I have found to be effective in slowing progression and preventing expression of predispositions in pets.

If your pet tests positive for heart disease biomarkers I recommend 10mg of ubiquinol per pound of body weight once daily and if your dog has symptoms, provide it twice daily. I also recommend additional marine sources of omega-3 fatty acids (krill oil), especially if you have a dog that may be predisposed to cardiovascular disease. Supplying your pet with extra CoQ10 (the reduced form) can insure he has the quantity his body needs to maintain a healthy heart muscle.

2. Help your dog maintain a lean, fit body with daily exercise appropriate for his age, health and physical condition.

3. Take excellent care of his dental health. Bacteria from dirty doggy (and human) mouths has been linked to heart valve infections.

4. Talk to your holistic or integrative veterinarian about cardiovascular support supplements such as ubiquinol, amino acids (taurine, L-arginine and acetyl L-carnitine), hawthorn berries, d-ribose, TMG heart glandulars, and homeopathic and TCM formulas that specifically fit your pet’s symptoms.

5. Finally, ask your veterinarian for a proBNP blood test, which is a simple blood test that detects early signs of heart disease. If you have a Dobie or a Boxer, also request the Doberman DCM test or the Boxer ARVC test.