Diagnosing Dog Heart Disease

Dog heart disease is common, but it's also a silent killer for dogs. Heart disease left untreated can be fatal. As with many developmental diseases, it's possible for your dog to live with heart disease for many years. It may worsen over time, and symptoms may slowly appear, or it may show itself abruptly. Heart disease means the dog has a weakened heart, and it can lead to heart failure.

What Is Dog Heart Disease?

Heart disease is a term used to describe several different conditions. The heart and blood vessels are in effect a moving system that supplies necessary things to all the cells in the body, delivering critical materials. Using blood as the means, the system carries nutrients, oxygen, carbon dioxide, fats and many other substances necessary for the body to function. Oxygen poor blood moves through the veins to the right side of the heart. The right side pumps blood to the lungs, where the blood picks up oxygen and drops off carbon dioxide. The new oxygenated blood then moves back to the left side of the heart, which pumps blood out of the body’s largest blood vessel, to the rest of the body. The cardiovascular system is very complex. It must look after billions of individual cells throughout the body.

There are two different types of heart disease:

  • Congenital, which is present at birth. In most of these cases the cause is genetics.
  • Acquired heart disease develops over time. It's seen most often in elderly dogs, but it also affects middle-aged dogs.

Large breeds like Great Danes, Boxers, German Shepherds, and Doberman Pinschers are more vulnerable to heart disease than smaller dogs.

Most Common Types of Heart Disease

  • Chronic Valvular Heart Disease – This occurs when the heart valves are thickened and impaired. 
  • Mitral Valve Disease – It occurs when the heart valves leak, and because of this blood pressure and circulation becomes poor.
  • Dilated Cardiomyopathy – This is when the heart pumps extremely weak, which causes the heart to enlarge, stretch and work harder. 
  • Pericardial Disease – This is when the sac that surrounds the heart fills with fluid, preventing normal beating of the heart.
  • Arrhythmias – This is a problem with the body’s electrical system, which informs the heart how to beat.

Signs of Mild Heart Failure

  • Coughing
  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Labored breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss

Signs of Severe Heart Failure

  • Fainting
  • Diarrhea
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Depression
  • Lack of energy
  • Difficulty breathing, even when resting
  • Discolored gums

Many times these symptoms are mistaken for other diseases. To aid in determining the diagnosis, try to write down what you have witnessed and give these notes to your veterinarian. To help determine heart disease, your veterinarian will run a series of tests:

  • X-ray exam
  • Doppler echocardiograph
  • Ultrasound
  • Urine tests
  • Blood tests
  • Echocardiogram

You can promote a healthy heart by ensuring your dog gets daily exercise and eats high quality meals. Overweight dogs have a much larger chance of getting heart disease.