Heart disease in dogs

When the heart cannot pump an adequate volume of blood to meet the body’s needs, it often results in congestion of fluid, especially in the lungs, which is referred to as congestive heart failure.

What causes heart disease?

  • There is no single cause for heart disease
  • Heart conditions occur more frequently with increasing age, but congenital heart disease will present much earlier
  • There is a genetic basis in some breeds
  • Conditions such as obesity, hypertension and dental disease are risk factors in some animals.

Commons signs to look out for:

  • coughing, especially at night (although cats rarely cough from heart failure)
  • weakness or exercise intolerance
  • increased respiratory rate or laboured breathing
  • pale or bluish gums
  • reduced appetite and weight loss
  • distended abdomen
  • episodes of collapse or fainting.

Diagnosis and treatment:

  • as well as listening to the heart with a stethoscope (murmur, heart rate and rhythm), diagnostic tests often include X-rays, ECG and an ultrasound of the heart
  • whilst heart failure is a serious condition, medical treatment can improve the symptoms and life expectancy of your pet
  • medication can reduce the workload on the weakened heart by helping the heart to pump more efficiently, open up constricted blood vessels and remove excess fluid from the body
  • Exercise — restrict activity and stress in patients with heart disease
  • Diet — it is important for animals with heart failure to avoid salty foods or snacks.

Why don’t pets have heart attacks?

  • Heart attacks or myocardial infarction in people is due to coronary heart disease, where there is a slow build-up of fatty deposits on the inner walls of the arteries that supply the heart muscle with blood. Over time the artery can become blocked which damages the heart muscle.
  • In general pets do not get coronary heart disease like people, therefore heart attacks are rarely reported. Heart attacks in pets have only been reported in rare diseases such as severe hypercholesterolemia from hypothyroidism.