Leaky Heart Valve in Dogs

A leaky heart valve, whether in humans or dogs, is one of the first signs that congestive heart failure may be imminent if corrective action isn’t taken. Each of the four chambers of the heart is separated by a valve. The valve between the left atrium (upper) and the left ventricle (lower chamber) is called the mitral valve. The left ventricle is the portion of the heart that pumps the blood throughout your dog’s body. The left ventricle of your dog’s heart is the portion of the heart that builds the most pressure, because the strongest and largest muscles of the heart surround it. This great pressure exerted by the muscles of the heart, puts great pressure on the mitral valve.

Mitral Valve Leaking Signs

In both humans and dogs, if a leaky heart valve is going to develop, it will most likely develop within the mitral valve and be detectable as a heart murmur. The murmur is caused by the turbulence that occurs when the blood flows backwards through the leaking mitral valve and back into the left atrium. This condition is called a heart murmur because when the vet listens to your dog’s heart with his stethoscope, it sounds just like a low murmur. This problem is most common in small breeds and usually occurs by the time the dog is six years old. By the age of ten, most small breed dogs will at least have the beginnings of a heart murmur.

What Mitral Valve Leakage Can Lead to

A leaky heart valve can eventually lead to heart failure. This process is called congestive heart failure. The leaky valve reduces the volume and velocity of the blood flowing through the body, especially in the lungs. This reduced flow allows fluids to slowly seep out of the capillaries in the heart and begin to pool in the lungs. This fluid buildup in the lungs is called pulmonary edema.

External Symptoms of a Leaky Heart Valve

At first, your dog may appear lethargic, or always extremely tired. Over time, the fluid buildup in the lungs will cause your dog to start trying to clear his passageways. This is evidenced by a hack like cough that becomes chronic. He will begin to have less and less stamina when you take him for his walk. Soon, fluid will also begin to collect and pool in the abdominal cavity, causing distension and a change in the shape of his abdominal region. It may begin to take of the shape of a pear. Fluid collecting in the abdominal cavity is called ascites.

Treatments for Leaky Heart Valve

There are numerous effective treatments available for this condition. Since the buildup of fluids can cause heart failure, diuretics are the first things to be prescribed. These will help your dog pass more fluids, mitigating the fluid buildup. Because the heart has to work harder to pump blood, medications that will enlarge the blood vessels may be prescribed. Nitroglycerin may be the first of these. This class of drug is called vasodilators. Digitalis and enzyme blockers may be prescribed to control the body’s natural reactions to decreased blood flow that cause fluid buildups.

If your dog is experiencing in any of the symptoms mentioned above, you should take him to your vet as soon as possible.