Cardiology is the medical field that treats the heart and blood vessels. A veterinary cardiologist can diagnose and help develop a treatment protocol for canines that suffer from:
- Congestive heart failure
- Heartworm disease
- Dilated and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
- Valvular Disorders
The interrelated functions of a dog's heart and lungs means that a cardiologist is also knowledgeable about lung diseases, as well as other conditions within the chest cavity. Although general veterinary practitioners can diagnose and treat many conditions, treating heart disease sometimes requires specialized training in cardiology.
Heart Disease In Dogs
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), heart disease in dogs affects 1 of every 10 dogs worldwide. Heart disease in dogs can lead to heart failure if untreated.
Heart disease in dogs can be either congenital or acquired:
- Congenital heart disease in dogs is present at birth and can be inherited from the parents
- Acquired heart disease in dogs often occurs in middle-aged to older animals due to wear and tear on the heart structures, but can also result from an injury or infection
There are several common causes of congenital dog heart disease, including:
- Patent ductus arteriosus (PDA): The most commonly diagnosed of all the heart problems in dogs, and happens when the vessel connecting the aorta and pulmonary artery in the developing fetus (known as the ductus arteriosus) does not close properly shortly after birth
- Aortic stenosis (or subaortic stenosis): Most commonly seen in large breed dogs, and results in a narrowing or partial blockage of the aorta as it leaves the left ventricle of the heart. The aorta is responsible for transporting blood to the rest of the body
- Pulmonic stenosis: A narrowing of the valve that allows blood to flow from the heart to the lungs, it is the third most common congenital heart defect seen in dogs
- Ventricular septal defects: This results from the presence of a hole between the heart's right and the left ventricles
- A persistent right aortic arch: This results from a fetal structure (known as an aortic arch) that does not regress as it should, but instead it encircles a dog's esophagus and causes abnormalities in the esophagus' function
Some common causes of acquired dog heart disease include:
- Valvular disease affects all dog breeds but is especially common in toy and small dog breeds. The most commonly affected valve is the mitral valve, but other heart valves can also be affected
- Myocardial disease also called cardiomyopathy, affects the heart's muscle. Cardiomyopathy can affect all dog breeds but is most commonly diagnosed in large dogs
- Cardiac arrhythmias are abnormal heartbeats or heart rhythms resulting from diseases that affect the heart's electric conduction system and thus, the ability for the heart to beat properly
- Pericardial disease affects the pericardium, the sac that surrounds the heart, by restricting the heart so it is unable to beat properly
Additionally, acquired heart disease can come from infections and viruses like heartworm or parvovirus. Because many of these types of heart disease share symptoms and characteristics with each other, proper diagnosis may require consultation with a cardiologist.
Congestive Heart Failure In Dogs
Congestive heart failure in dogs occurs when the heart is no longer able to support the circulatory system. Although geriatric or sedentary dogs may show no apparent symptoms of congestive heart failure until its advanced stages, habitually active adult dogs usually show some common signs of distress. A few prevalent symptoms of congestive heart failure in dogs include:
- Rapid breathing
There are various stages of congestive heart failure in dogs that veterinarians use to determine severity:
- Asymptomatic: Heart disease is present, but there is a lack of any outward signs. A cardiac murmur or arrhythmia may be present
- Mild to moderate heart failure: Significant clinical signs of congestive heart failure are in evidence both at rest and while active
- Advanced heart failure: Critical clinical signs are evident, including respiratory distress, ascites (fluid in the body cavity), and profound exercise intolerance. The prognosis will worsen with each passing stage, and the need for aggressive treatment will increase
Symptoms Of Heart Problems In Dogs
There are several possible symptoms of heart problems in dogs that dog owners can be on the lookout for, including:
- Lethargy/weakness/exercise intolerance
- Difficulty with or discontinuing exercise
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing possibly accompanied by fluid buildup
- Fast breathing during rest (not panting)
- Chronic coughing
- Regularly elevated heart rate
- Reduced appetite with weight loss
Because these symptoms in dogs can indicate many possible conditions, potentially unrelated to the cardiovascular system, we recommend scheduling an appointment with your veterinarian immediately if you suspect anything out of the ordinary.
Early Detection Is The Key To Treating Heart Disease In Dogs
Early detection of dog heart disease requires due diligence on the part of dog owners. After all, a dog cannot articulate to human beings how it feels in a language we can understand. One of the most effective diagnostic tools for detecting dog heart disease is a cardiac examination. A dog cardiologist can employ some or all of the following procedures during a cardiac examination:
- Physical exam: We listen to your dog's heart and lungs with a stethoscope to check for abnormal sounds or rhythm
- X-Rays: With x-rays, we can view the heart's overall size, its positioning in the chest, and the general condition of the lungs
- Ultrasound: We can visualize and measure your dog's heart's chambers, valves, and muscles, as well as the major cardiac vessels
- Blood pressure: We perform a standard, non-invasive blood pressure test to monitor systolic and diastolic pressure
- Electrocardiogram (EKG): We measure the electrical activity of your dog's heart to diagnose heart arrhythmias among other conditions
Dr. Lydia Soydan is a board-certified small animal cardiology specialist with Moves, a Mobile Veterinary Specialists company, based out of the Janesville, WI area and travels to animal hospitals along I-90 from Madison WI and Rockford IL. Hallett Veterinary Hospital has utilized her services for over a year and we feel that she has helped us improve the quality of care that we give and be more successful with treating our patients.
Heart Medicine For Dogs
Many types of heart medications have been proven effective for dogs. Choosing the correct medication and dosage will depend upon the diagnosis and stage of the heart disease.
Follow up visits and progress checks are extremely important to determine the efficacy and response to treatment. This information will greatly aid our doctors in helping to ensure that your dog has the best outcome for the longest time possible. We will work with you to give them the best quality of life possible.
As with any health issue with your dog, early detection of heart disease is key. Call us today to ensure your dog's heart health and set him or her on the path to wellness.