While heart disease in dogs can be either congenital or acquired, approximately 95 percent of cases are classified as acquired.
Seen most often in middle-aged and older dogs, acquired conditions typically develop over time and result from normal wear and tear coupled with aging. The most common types of acquired conditions are: canine valvular disease, which occurs when the heart valves weaken and begin to leak; arrhythmias, which occur when an issue develops within the dog’s electrical system and interferes with the way it “tells” the heart to beat; and pericardial disease, which develops when the sac surrounding the heart fills with fluid and affects the dog’s heartbeat.
Therefore, all conscious canine owners should be on the alert for:
- Coughing: While coughing is a common symptom of many illnesses, minor coughs shouldn’t last for more than a few days.
- Difficulty breathing: This includes shortness of breath, labored breathing or rapid breathing.
- Changes in behavior: These include tiring more easily, being less playful, being reluctant to exercise or accept affection, being withdrawn or appearing depressed.
- Poor appetite: If combined with any of the other symptoms on this list, loss of appetite could be a strong indicator of heart disease.
- Weight loss or gain: While both may be symptoms of heart disease, weight gain presents as a bloated or distended abdomen, giving your dog a potbellied appearance.
- Fainting or collapsing: If your dog faints or collapses at any time, seek immediate veterinary help, as it may be a sign of many serious illnesses including heart disease.
- Weakness: When combined with some of the other symptoms on this list, seek immediate veterinary help.
- Restlessness: If he becomes restless, especially at night, he may have heart disease.
- Edema: Edema is the swelling of body tissues, and if his abdomen and extremities are swelling up, he may have heart disease.
- Isolation: If he suddenly starts isolating himself or keeping his distance from you and/or the other pets in your household, this may be a sign of heart disease.
Heart disease is an umbrella term for any number of conditions that interfere with how the heart functions and treatments are broad and wide-ranging. It can be treated or managed through the use of prescription medications and supplements, dietary adjustments, and even surgery depending on the condition and severity of the disease. As always, your first step should be a visit to your vet.
Depending on your dog’s symptoms during that visit, your vet may recommend one or more of the following: blood and urine tests, x-rays, cardiac evaluation, electrocardiogram, echocardiogram and cardiac catheterization.
With many acquired heart diseases, your vet is likely to recommend an ACE inhibitor (angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor) to help reduce the amount of stress on his heart by reducing both blood pressure and blood volume. A diuretic may be prescribed to manage any fluid accumulation around his lungs, as well as such drugs as Beta blockers, nitroglycerine and digitalis — all designed to help reduce your dog’s symptoms and improve his quality of life.
The sooner you catch any possible symptoms of acquired heart disease, the better and more paws-itive the prognosis for treatment.