Dog Cardiology - Everything You Need to Know About Heart Disease in Dogs

How can cardiovascular conditions impact the health and well-being of my dog?

Your heart is the organ that pumps blood, oxygen, and nutrients around the body, so it's essential for life. If your pet's heart isn't functioning properly, it can significantly impact their health and well-being.

Dr. Meghan Denney
4 Paws at Fulshear Veterinary Clinic/a>

What is a veterinary cardiologist?

A veterinary cardiologist is like a human cardiologist but for animals. They undergo the same amount of training as our human counterparts and specialize in diagnosing and treating heart conditions in animals.

What are some signs and symptoms of a heart condition in my dog?

Hopefully, we will catch heart conditions before there are signs or symptoms. However, signs that your dog may have a heart condition include a wet cough, exercise intolerance, and in severe cases, fainting due to lack of blood flow to the heart or brain. They can also have strokes or heart attacks, just like humans. If your dog suddenly collapses, it's crucial to take immediate action, regardless of whether they seem to recover quickly. While it might be a relief to see them get back up, this incident should not be taken lightly. The very next step you need to take is to call your veterinary clinic's office and inform them about what happened. This isn't a situation where you should 'wait and see' or hope for the best without professional advice.

In the event of such an emergency, regardless of the time, be it 2 AM or any other hour, it's imperative to get your dog to an emergency clinic. I understand the reluctance to spend money on emergency veterinary services, and no one enjoys being told about additional fees due to fully booked clinics. However, this is not the time to cut corners financially when your dog's life could be at risk.

Early intervention is key. Promptly starting medications and diagnostics can make a significant difference in the outcome. It could be the deciding factor between saving your dog's life and ensuring their longevity, as opposed to losing them to a potentially treatable condition. Therefore, it's essential to prioritize your dog's health and take immediate action in such critical situations.

A healthy dog's tongue should typically be a nice and pink color, similar to a human's healthy tongue. If you notice that your dog's tongue is turning purple or blue, this is not normal and should be a cause for concern. Such discoloration can occur during various activities, whether your dog is walking, resting, or coughing. A purple or blue tongue can be an indicator of heart disease or other serious health issues in dogs. It's important to closely monitor your pet's health and consult a veterinarian if you observe such changes in the color of their tongue, as it could be a sign of an underlying condition that requires immediate attention.

How soon should I bring my dog in to see a veterinarian if I suspect heart issues?

If you notice any symptoms of concern in your dog, such as difficulty breathing, coughing, or changes in tongue color, it's crucial to seek veterinary care immediately. Early intervention is key in treating many health issues, but by the time these symptoms are noticeable, it's often no longer an early stage, but rather a phase of damage control. The sooner you start addressing these health issues, the better the prognosis for your pet.

It's unfortunate, but many pet owners come to learn about their dog's serious health conditions, like congestive heart failure, only when the symptoms become apparent. These situations often involve difficult conversations about the pet's prognosis and the significant expenses involved in treatment, without any guarantee of a positive outcome. This emphasizes the importance of regular veterinary exams – once a year for younger dogs and twice a year for older dogs or those with known health issues like a heart murmur.

As a pet owner, it's heartbreaking to be in a situation where you're learning for the first time that your pet is seriously ill. These conversations are incredibly tough for both the pet owner and the veterinarian. Therefore, if you're watching this video and recognize any of these symptoms in your dog, don't wait. Stop the video, pick up the phone, and call your veterinary clinic or any clinic immediately. Getting your dog seen by a professional as soon as possible could make a significant difference in their health outcome.

How will a veterinarian diagnose heart disease in my dog?

Heart disease in dogs is often diagnosed through a physical exam. We listen for a heart murmur, which is a sound made by blood flowing backwards through the heart valves. We grade murmurs on a scale of one to six, with six being the most severe.

What kinds of treatments are available for dogs with heart problems?

The treatment for heart failure in dogs depends significantly on the stage at which it is caught. In early stages, medications can be prescribed to help the heart pump more effectively. However, if heart failure is detected at a later stage, the treatment approach differs based on whether it's left-sided or right-sided congestive heart failure.

Left-sided congestive heart failure leads to fluid accumulation in the lungs, whereas right-sided congestive heart failure results in fluid build-up in the abdomen. This can cause noticeable swelling in the dog's belly, sometimes leading owners to mistakenly think their dog looks pregnant. When a heart murmur is detected along with these symptoms, it typically indicates congestive heart failure.

Treatment for advanced stages of heart failure includes medications to help drain the fluid and improve heart function. Additionally, supplemental oxygen therapy can be beneficial. While nasal cannulas are commonly used in humans, dogs are usually treated using oxygen cages. These cages allow for a controlled oxygen-rich environment. Normal room air contains about 21% oxygen, but in these oxygen cages, dogs can receive up to 50%, 60%, or even 80% oxygen. This is especially helpful if the dog’s lungs are severely compromised, as it ensures they receive a higher concentration of oxygen to aid in breathing.

Why is early detection and diagnosis of heart disease in dogs so important?

Early detection of health issues in pets is crucial. Despite the challenging experiences I've shared about encountering cases of congestive heart failure in its advanced stages, the importance of early detection cannot be overstated. Regular physical exams, at least once a year or twice a year for older dogs, are essential. These check-ups are vital regardless of whether your dog is an indoor pet, or if you have differing views on treatments like heartworm prevention.

Heart disease is a significant concern for dogs, and catching it in the early stages can greatly improve and prolong your pet's quality of life. The emphasis here is on 'quality' rather than 'quantity' of life. While our pets are not expected to live for decades like humans, ensuring they have a healthy life span of ten to fifteen years, on average, is our goal. Detecting diseases like heart disease early is key to achieving this. It allows for timely intervention, which can make a substantial difference in managing the condition and maintaining the well-being of your pet.

What types of preventative care can help my dog avoid heart issues?

Understanding the complexities of heart disease in dogs is crucial, especially considering that some breeds are genetically predisposed to certain heart conditions. For instance, Boxers and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, one of my favorite breeds and one I personally own, are notably prone to heart disease. Therefore, it's essential for owners of these breeds to be particularly vigilant. In my case, I ensure my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel undergoes a cardiac echo annually, regardless of her current heart health, simply because of the breed's predisposition.

Smaller dogs are often more susceptible to mitral valve disease, while larger breeds may be prone to dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), which has recently been linked to grain-free diets. The occurrence of heart disease can be a mix of genetics and bad luck.

If you've come across this video because your dog has been diagnosed with a heart murmur, or you're seeking more information after a visit to a different veterinary clinic, it's important to schedule a consultation. Such consultations are vital to ensure you fully understand your pet's condition. It's not uncommon for pet owners to miss details or not fully grasp the information provided by their veterinarian, especially if they're processing distressing news about their pet's health. It's a human response to sometimes not absorb all the information when faced with emotional distress.

That's why I often provide handouts, email summaries, or discuss details with another family member who might have missed the appointment. If you're feeling uncertain or only have a vague understanding of your pet's heart disease, please don't hesitate to call and schedule a follow-up consultation. We can take the time to thoroughly explain the situation, including the importance of medications, what to watch for, and how early detection can significantly impact the management of the disease. If your dog has been recently diagnosed with a heart murmur and you need clarity or have concerns, contact our clinic. We're here to help you navigate through this and provide the necessary support and information.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (281) 801-1444, or you can email us at [email protected]. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can. Don't forget to follow us on social media Facebook, Instagram

Dog Cardiology - FAQ

Dr. Meghan Denney
4 Paws at Fulshear Veterinary Clinic/a>

What are the most common heart diseases in dogs?

The most common heart diseases in dogs depend on their size. For small dogs, the most common disease is mitral valve disease, which can lead to left-sided heart failure. In large breed dogs, we see more dilated cardiomyopathy, where the heart muscle gets a bit flabby. This disease has been linked to feeding boutique-like grain-free diets, although the exact correlation is not yet fully understood. Other common heart issues include arrhythmias, which are abnormal heartbeats.

What is a dog heart murmur?

A heart murmur in dogs occurs when one of the valves in the heart, which separates the four chambers, doesn't close all the way. This allows blood to flow backward, causing turbulence that can be heard as a murmur. Types of murmurs can vary, but they all indicate that one of the valves isn't closing properly.

What is dog cardiomyopathy?

Cardiomyopathy refers to any heart disease. This includes dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), where the heart valve becomes flabby, and mitral valve disease. The term "cardiomyopathy" essentially means a heart problem, with "pathy" indicating a condition or disease.

Can diet affect my dog's heart health?

Yes, diet can have a significant impact on a dog's heart health. There appears to be a strong correlation between grain-free diets and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). While we're still waiting for the results from official studies, many vets, including myself, have seen improvements in dogs' heart health when they are taken off grain-free food. If you have further questions about this, please schedule a consultation.

What is an enlarged heart in dogs?

An enlarged heart in dogs is exactly what it sounds like - a heart that is larger than it should be. This usually indicates some type of disease, such as one of the chambers becoming too big or too thick.

How do you treat an enlarged heart?

While we can't reverse an enlarged heart, we can support its function with medication. This can help slow down the progression of the disease. Unfortunately, unlike in humans, we don't have the capability to do heart transplants in dogs at this time.

What is heart failure in dogs?

Heart failure in dogs can be either right-sided or left-sided. Right-sided heart failure results in fluid backing up into the abdomen, making the dog appear pregnant. Left-sided congestive heart failure causes fluid to build up in the lungs, essentially causing the dog to drown in its own body.

When fluid builds up in a dog's lungs and chest, oxygen cannot effectively diffuse through the fluid. This condition often results in patients who are extremely sick, exhibiting symptoms like rapid breathing and coughing. In severe, life-threatening cases, tipping the animal can cause fluid to pour out through their nose, resembling tipping a teapot. Unfortunately, once this stage is reached, humane euthanasia is often considered, as some dogs may even pass away while undergoing treatment. This situation underscores the severity of heart failure in dogs, highlighting the critical nature of the two main types of heart failures they experience.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (281) 801-1444, or you can email us at [email protected]. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can. Don't forget to follow us on social media Facebook, Instagram