Heart disease affects up to 15% of UK dogs. Find out more about the effects and the symptoms to look out for.
While heart attacks are incredibly rare in dogs, heart failure is much more common and usually caused by underlying heart disease.
Types of heart disease in dogs
Heart disease can either be present from birth or acquired over the course of a dog’s life. Roughly 95% of dog heart disease is acquired, usually as a result of general wear and tear on the heart, but occasionally through injury or infection. Accounting for 70-75% of heart disease in dogs, chronic valvular disease (CVD) is by far the most common.
Also known as endocardiosis, CVD occurs when the valves of the heart weaken with age and begin to leak. Although there are four valves in the heart, this disease commonly affects the mitral valve. The risk of developing CVD increases as dogs get older, and smaller breeds such as miniature poodles, dachshunds and cocker spaniels are much more likely to develop the condition.
Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is less common, but still affects around 5-10% of dogs. Primarily concerning larger breeds such as dobermans, great danes and boxers, DCM occurs when the chambers of the heart enlarge and the muscles become stretched and weak. This prevents the heart from pumping blood efficiently.
Heartworm can also cause heart disease but, thankfully, this parasite isn’t present in the UK. However, it may be a concern if you plan to travel abroad with your dog, so make sure their worming treatment is up to date before you go.
What are the symptoms of heart disease?
The symptoms of heart disease include:
- lack of energy
- fainting and collapse
- frequent coughing
- breathing difficulties
- reduced appetite
- sudden weight gain or loss
- swollen stomach.
Treating heart disease in dogs
Sadly, heart disease can’t be treated, but with early diagnosis and treatment, dogs can still maintain a good quality of life. Several medications are available to manage and slow down the progression of heart disease and heart failure – your vet will be able to suggest the best option for your individual dog.
Nutrition can also play an important part in increasing their quality of life despite their condition. Sodium, taurine, fatty acids and antioxidants are all considered important for dogs with heart disease, so opt for a balanced dog food that has all these nutrients.
Preventing heart disease
Unfortunately, most forms of heart disease can’t be prevented (with the exception of heartworm disease). Early diagnosis and treatment is the only way to manage the condition and improve your pet’s quality of life. Attending regular health checks will allow your vet to listen for an irregular heartbeat or heart murmurs, which can indicate underlying heart disease.