Heart disease is a common disease where the heart is unable to pump enough blood around the body. When heart fails, fluid is often retained in the lungs and abdomen, leading to congestive heart failure.
Small breed dogs are prone to abnormal heart valves, and giant breeds are prone to abnormalities of the heart muscle. Risk factors include dogs not on heartworm prevention, history of the dog’s parents with heart disease and dogs with diseases that puts extra demands on the heart.
Birth defects of the heart
Degeneration of the heart valves
Heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy)
Diseases of the lining around the heart
Irregular heart rhythms
Exercise intolerance (tiredness during normal exercise)
Weakness and lethargy
Labored breathing and shortness of breath
Bloating of abdomen
The veterinarian will conduct the following basic steps to diagnose the problem:
Question you about your dog’s medical history and symptoms
Perform a physical examination concentrating on the heart and lungs
Heartworm test (if not on prevention)
To completely characterize the disease some dogs may need extra tests including:
X-rays of the chest
Ultrasound of the heart (echocardiogram)
Measurement of blood pressure
Sampling and testing fluid around the lungs or abdomen
Unfortunately, there is no cure for heart failure. Treatment depends on the results of the above tests. This may include one or more of the following:
In severe cases, hospitalization with a diuretic, oxygen, and other drugs
Draining of the fluid around the lungs when present
Daily diuretic drugs to remove the retained fluid in the lungs and abdomen
Daily heart medications e.g. benazepril, pimobendan, digoxin
A low sodium diet
Dietary supplements such as carnitine, coenzyme Q10
Physical activity or excitement should be restricted for dogs with heart failure. Environments with high heat and humidity should be avoided. Be well aware of the dog’s general activity, exercise capacity and interest in normal activities. Note appetite, and ability to breathe comfortably. Allow free access to fresh water.
Dogs with heart disease require regular check-ups with your veterinarian. Most medications are to be given for the rest of the dog’s life and should not be changed or stopped without checking.
Unfortunately, there is also no prevention for heart failure, but early diagnosis and management can provide an improved quality of life.
Fortunately you can prevent your dog’s brain from aging.