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What is Heart Disease

There are a wide variety of conditions and diseases that may affect the health of your petís heart. Approximately 10% of all dogs have some form of heart disease. Though some dogs are born with genetic conditions, the majority of dogs with heart disease develop it throughout their life. The two principle causes of heart disease are dilated cardiomyopathy and endocardiosis.

Dilated cardiomyopathy refers to a weakened and inflamed condition of the heart. This condition prevents the heart from pumping blood efficiently which can lead to complications in other systems. This condition results from the dilation of a small portion of the heartís muscle, the myocardium. The cause of this dilation is not always the same and itís seldom obvious.

Endocardiosis refers to a condition that affects the valves of your dogís heart. The condition is characterized by a chronic fibrosis, or the recurring creation of excess tissue, along the edges of the atrioventricular valves. This fibrosis causes the valveís nodes to thicken and the valve eventually begins to work improperly. After functioning improperly for some time, the valve prolapses, causing liquid to leak from the heart into the lungs.


Heart disease in dogs, despite its many forms, is generally characterized by the same set of symptoms despite their underlying cause:

  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fainting or collapsing
  • Change in behavior
  • Weakness
  • Restlessness
  • Swelling of extremities
  • Self-isolation or avoidance of other dogs and people

If your pet exhibits a combination of these symptoms then it's important to check with your veterinarian to see if heart disease is a likely cause of your dogís distress. If your vet believes that heart disease might be the culprit, he will perform a complete physical exam and may call for a variety of tests, including x-rays, blood tests, blood pressure tests, and an electrocardiograph or ultrasound.


There are multiple types of treatment available for dogs with heart disease; however, not all of them are appropriate for every pet. Many treatments will specifically cater to the disease or symptoms that your pet is experiencing. Because there is a large range of disorders and ailments that qualify as heart disease, each case should be handled with independent care. Itís important in all cases, however, to get your pet diagnosed early so that you may start treatment as soon as possible.


There are four main types of medications to improve their quality of life: angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, diuretics, vasodilators, and positive inotropes. Each group of medication works to combat different symptoms and problems. For example, the ACE inhibitor lowers blood pressure by decreasing the volume of blood and the tension this blood would put on strained blood vessels. They are most commonly used to improve the quality of life in patients with congenital heart disease.

Dogs that have developed heart disease often use diuretics to clear excess fluid from your dogís system. This can be crucial in preventing serious complications such as edema. There are different diuretics available including loop, thiazide and potassium-sparing varieties to accommodate your dogís particular health needs.

Vasodilators work to open and relax blood vessels to decrease your dogís blood pressure. This means that the heart does not need to work as hard to pump bloodm which can be crucial for dogs suffering from dilated cardiomyopathy. Positive inotropes produce the inverse effect, increasing the force used by the heart muscle to ensure that the rest of the body receives the proper amount of blood. This effect can improve your pet's quality of life and may even reduce the risk of mortality.


In addition to these drugs, there are a variety of therapies and diets that can help improve the condition of your dogís heart. It is important to ensure that your dogís salt intake is limited and to ensure that your dog maintains an optimal weight in spite of a lack of appetite. This can be achieved with low-sodium flavor enhancers and food toppers to entice your dog to eat.

Omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial to dogs with heart disease and should be included in the diet of dogs that have been diagnosed with heart disease. This can be easily administered through fish oil or supplements that contain fatty acids. Omega-3 works to treat abnormal heart rhythms and should be taken either in isolation or with vitamin E as an antioxidant.

In addition to regulating your dogís diet, it is also important that you impose restrictions on his exercise regimen. Dogs with heart problems are easily fatigued and can suffer from the stress caused by excessive exercise. It is important to prevent your dog from pushing his heart to its limit in order to limit further complications.


Heart disease in dogs is not often caused by poor diet and lack of exercise, so its prevention is no simple matter. The best way to protect your dog from heart disease is to be aware of its earliest symptoms and to begin treatment before the disease progresses. Refer to the list of symptoms above and be sure to remain vigilant for signs that your dog may need medical attention.

To better protect your pet, look for the types of conditions that most commonly affect your breed of dog. This will help you be aware of the specific symptoms your dog might face when afflicted with a heart condition. In addition to watching for symptoms, it is important to take your dog to regular veterinary exams and check-ups where they will test for these symptoms and track your dogís vital signs.

In addition to watching for symptoms, be sure that your dog leads a healthy lifestyle. It is important that your dog maintain a healthy body weight to stave off heart disease and other complications that come with obesity. By keeping your dog healthy and checking for health problems regularly, you can help reduce your dog's risk of developing this disease.