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Heart disease in dogs

There are two main types of heart disease in pets, both leading to heart failure:

  • Chronic valvular disease, where a leaking heart valve reduces the quantity of blood that can be pumped around the body. This condition is more common in dogs especially small breeds eg. Poodles, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Chihuahua, Fox terrier, Jack Russell terrier
  • Myocardial disease, where a weakness or thickening of the heart muscle results in the heart pumping less efficiently. This condition is more common in cats and large breed dogs eg. Great Danes, Boxers, Doberman, German Shepherd. 
  • 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 & rhythm), diagnostic tests often include xrays, ECG and 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.
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