Sudden shortness of breath, apparent weakness or a distended abdomen may be signs of heart disease in dogs. However, many times there are no symptoms, so regular checkups with your vet are key. In this article, we review how your dog's cardiovascular system works, symptoms of heart disease in dogs, and what you can do to keep your pup's heart going strong.
Cardiovascular System of a Dog
Your dog's cardiovascular system is made up of the heart, veins, arteries, and capillary beds that keep blood flowing from the heart, through your dog's body and then back toward the heart.
To diagnose cardiovascular disease, your vet will review your dog's history, conduct a physical examination, measure blood pressure, listen to your dog's heart rate and take X-rays. Other tests may be necessary, but most cardiovascular diseases can be identified based on physical exams and X-rays.
Where is a dog's heart? A dog's heart is located slightly more to the left side of his chest. To find it, lay your dog down on their right side and bend their front left leg so the elbow touches the chest. Where the elbow touches the chest is the location of the heart. You can listen to your dog's heart and count the beats per minute. A dog's normal resting heart rate is 60–120 beats per minute, depending on the dog's size. Generally, the larger the animal, the slower the heart rate.
Common Heart Conditions in Dogs
Although some breeds are more at risk of developing heart problems, 75% of all canines over nine years of age may have some form of dog heart disease, and many dogs may not show symptoms that pet parents recognize. Heart disease and other conditions become more likely as dogs age. Learn more about the signs of aging in senior dogs.
What are the most common heart conditions in dogs? Here is a quick overview:
Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs
Congestive heart failure in dogs, known as CHF, is a condition that develops when the heart doesn't pump blood efficiently for the body. You may know people with CHF that complain of swelling in their feet, ankles, and legs. When the blood isn't pumped properly, it can back up in the lower extremities causing edema as a first warning of heart failure.
Unfortunately for dogs, you can't check for swollen ankles. The primary sign of congestive heart failure in dogs is coughing or difficulty breathing due to fluid accumulation in the lungs. An enlarged heart can also push on the trachea in the chest leading to a cough. Additionally, dogs may become tired with exercise intolerance.
If congestive heart failure is suspected, your vet may ask you to measure your dog's sleeping respiratory rate, or SRR, at home and will instruct you on how to measure it. Your veterinarian will also likely recommend X-rays of your dog's chest or even more advanced imaging like an ultrasound of your dog's heart. Once CHF is confirmed, your dog will mostly be on medication to control the edema. Be sure your dog has plenty of fresh water to avoid dehydration and understand he may need to go out more often if he's on this medication.
If you're wondering how to help a dog coughing from congestive heart failure, call your vet or seek immediate care. Severe cough, with difficulty breathing, is a medical emergency.
Heart Murmurs in Dogs
Heart murmurs are vibrations that can be heard coming from the heart or major blood vessels, usually as a result of turbulent blood flow or vibrations of heart structures. Mitral regurgitation is a valve disease that is a common cause of heart murmurs in dogs. If your dog has been diagnosed with a heart murmur, your vet may be able to recommend heart health support supplements for dogs.
Cardiomyopathy in Dogs
Cardiomyopathy is defined as a primary disease of the myocardium, the muscular tissue of the heart. The heart muscles weaken and can't pump blood as effectively throughout the dog's body. Canine dilated cardiomyopathy is the most common cause of heart failure in certain large-breed dogs. It can also be caused by a taurine deficiency or other dietary causes.
Dilated cardiomyopathy, or DCM, is the most common form of heart muscle disease. It causes the heart muscles to degenerate and begin to wear thin, which decreases the heart's ability to pump blood. This eventually leads to congestive heart failure.
Pericardial Effusion in Dogs
When there is a buildup of fluid around a dog's heart, it is called pericardial effusion. Normally, there is no fluid between the pericardium, the sac-like structure around the heart, and the heart muscle. This allows the heart to beat freely. When fluid builds up in the sac, it puts more pressure on the heart, making it difficult for the heart to pump blood. The top causes of pericardial effusion are tumors of the heart, clotting disorders, congestive heart failure, ingestion of rat poison, low blood protein, and certain infections. Some dog breeds may be predisposed to one or more causes of pericardial effusions. Most dogs with pericardial effusion will be very sick, and the signs include:
- Collapse or weakness
- Lack of appetite
- Rapid or labored breathing
- Pale gums
- Abdomen filled with fluid
Enlarged Heart in Dogs
An enlarged heart in dogs is usually caused by pericardial effusion, dilated cardiomyopathy, or valvular heart disease. An enlarged heart can require immediate veterinary care. Signs may include difficulty lying down or getting comfortable, a blue or purple tinge to normally pink gums and tongue, wet cough, lethargy, decreased appetite, and tiring easily with an increased effort while breathing.
How to Keep Your Dog's Heart Healthy
Before a diagnosis of heart disease, and certainly after a diagnosis, there are several things you can do to help your dog's heart health:
- Annual checkups - Keep up-to-date on your dog's vet checkups and vaccines. It's the best thing you can do for your dog's heart health.
- High-quality dog food - Feed your dog a high-quality food to ensure he gets the balanced nutrition he needs for his breed, size, and age.
- Watch the weight - Go easy on the treats because obese dogs have an increased risk of hypertension, heart disease, and other conditions that can lead to heart, mobility, and other serious health problems.
- Dog heart supplements - Talk to your vet about natural heart supplements for dogs that contain taurine, green-lipped mussels, vitamins, and minerals that can support your dog's heart health. If your dog has been diagnosed with a heart ailment, your vet can recommend the best supplements for dogs with heart disease.
- Dental hygiene - Be consistent with regular dental cleanings at your vet. Give your dog teeth-cleaning treats and chews to maintain oral health. There is a connection between periodontal disease and heart disease in dogs, so keep those teeth clean.
- Parasites - Stay current on heartworm and other parasitic preventions. Heartworms can cause lasting damage to your dog's heart, lungs, and arteries. Fleas and ticks can bring diseases that affect the heart. Fleas can give your dog bartonella and ticks can give your dog Lyme disease.
Benefits of EverRoot Heart Health Supplements
Dog heart health supplements that contain natural, beneficial ingredients, like EverRoot heart health supplements, may support your dog's heart and vascular system. These ingredients include green-lipped mussels, potassium, and vitamin E.
Green-lipped mussels sustainably harvested from the pristine waters of New Zealand are rich in taurine. Taurine helps regulate blood flow, which can help strengthen your dog's heart muscles and walls.
Potassium is a primary electrolyte for dogs. Supplementing with potassium may help dogs on medications for congestive heart failure maintain electrolyte balance and a regular heartbeat. Before beginning a supplement with potassium, ask your vet if it is appropriate for your dog. Too much potassium in your dog's system can be as dangerous as too little potassium.
Vitamin E helps promote normal heart function in adult dogs. It can also support your dog's immune system and joint health.
With a little proactive care, the proper nutrition, extra love, and a bit of patience, you can support your dog's heart for a happy and healthy life.Learn more about EverRoot heart health dog supplements.