Heart disease is a common illness in both humans and our canine companions. Dogs with heart disease may tire easily, cough, and experience a loss of appetite. This medical problem is encountered more often in older animals, but that’s not a general rule as it can also affect adults, not just seniors.
Let’s look at the causes of heart disease in dogs, its symptoms, what diagnostic and treatment options are available, and how you can manage this condition at home.
Causes of heart disease in dogs
First of all, there are two main heart conditions that affect our canine friends — myocardial disease and chronic valvular disease. The first is characterized by weakness or thickening of the heart muscle that results in the heart pumping in a less efficient manner. The second is what basically causes a leaking heart valve, and as a result, the amount of blood that can be pumped around the body is reduced.
There are a variety of factors that cause heart disease, and they range from nutritional problems to aging. Heartworm can be at the root of the issue, as well. The body condition of your canine companion plays a major role in determining whether he or she will be exposed to heart disease. Overweight dogs are more likely to develop the condition.
As for the age, it is widely acknowledged that this health problem most often occurs in older dogs.
Some breeds are more predisposed to heart pathologies compared to others. For example, chronic valvular disease is more common in Schnauzers, Cocker Spaniels, Poodles, and Pomeranians whereas myocardial disease is encountered more often in larger breeds such as Irish Wolfhounds and Great Danes.
Some studies suggest that heartworm causes about 13% of all of the cases of heart disease despite it being preventable. Valvular disease makes up about 75% of the cases while myocardial disease makes up about 8% of all of the cases.
Heart disease in dogs – Symptoms
It can be rather difficult to tell whether your pet is suffering from heart disease and that’s because most dogs will not show particular clinical signs until the issue is a bit more severe. Some signs of heart disease in dogs are frequent coughing, breathing difficulties, a reduced ability to exercise, a lack of energy, reduced appetite or weight loss (or weight gain), and a swelling in the abdomen.
The main problem of this medical condition is that most of the signs aren’t obvious at all in its incipient stage. There could be no symptoms at all, but as it progresses, you will notice some of those that we have described above. Make sure to go and see your vet as soon as possible if you notice any of these signs and if your dog is older than 5 and a bit overweight.
Keeping in mind that early heart disease is asymptomatic, if you take your dog to the vet, your dog will have to be screened and monitored for several days so that he/she is ultimately diagnosed with the condition (or not). At first, the vet will listen to your canine friend’s heart to see whether there are any abnormal sounds such as irregular rhythms or murmurs.
If heart disease is suspected, the vet will recommend tests like X-rays, ECGs, or cardiac ultrasounds, and may measure your dog’s blood pressure, too.
Treatment of heart disease in dogs
The treatment should be specific for the actual type of illness. Some cardiovascular issues can be repaired with surgery, but other conditions call for the use of combination drugs. Generally, dogs that suffer from congestive heart failure should have a low-sodium diet that assists in eliminating excess fluid in the body.
Some of the goals of the treatment range from minimizing damage to the heart muscle to regulating the heart rate and rhythm. The medication also has to control the accumulation of fluids in the lungs and ensure that there is plenty of oxygen in the blood flow without causing a blood clot formation.
Naturally, in heartworm disease, the dog should receive specific treatment that kills the larvae and mature heartworms, too.
While your vet can prescribe a myriad of medications, the right ones will be chosen depending on the kind of heart disease that your dog is suffering from. Medications must be administered specifically as they were prescribed — otherwise, they might either not be effective or can cause more harm than good.
Diuretics are commonly recommended as they remove the fluids that accumulate in dogs that have heart problems. Think of it this way – that liquid that has been building in your dog’s abdomen and chest is putting pressure on his/her heart even more so getting rid of it is paramount.
There are also medications that can be prescribed to control arrhythmias, prevent blood clots, or slow or speed the heart rate (depending on the type of disease your dog is affected by). Other drugs, such as digoxin, can increase the force of the heart muscle contraction, improve the way blood receptors work, and even slow the heart rate. Digoxin is often used to treat heart failure but what is very important is that it needs to be given correctly.
Another useful medication that your vet could prescribe to your dog is Pimobendan, which has been shown to improve the survival times in dogs with heart disease. Sildenafil is capable of dilating the arteries that lead to the lungs, and as such, it is very effective when it comes to treating high blood pressure in the dog’s lungs.
No matter the type of drug (or drugs) that your vet prescribes, you have the responsibility to make sure that the dose of the medicine is always correct and on schedule. Some dogs will have to receive heart medication for the remainder of their life, so be prepared because you’ll have to take care of your friend as if he or she were an aging human who needs to take pills every day.
Preventing heart disease in dogs
They say an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure and this couldn’t be truer than when it comes to heart issues. First of all, make sure you take your dog to the vet for regular checkups and be sure to have your vet check your canine friend’s blood pressure every time.
Dogs were designed to run around, so keeping your canine companion indoors all day long with nothing to do other than have more snacks and eat more food is the worst idea of all. Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise without overdoing it. Just go to the park and play fetch once or twice a week and take your dog out for long walks every day. That might not sound like something fun, but think of all of the benefits for your canine friend and yourself, since you might lose a pound or two, as well!
For keeping a dog’s heart health up to par, you will have to supplement his or her diet with some healthy omega-3 fatty acids. This could mean that you could either opt for a diet made primarily from salmon or give your dog a phytoplankton supplement or fish oil capsules.