Canine heart disease: Common risk factors, breeds & symptoms

October 14, 2023

Sadly, heart disease is almost as common in dogs as it is in humans, especially as they age. Vet Jürgen Theinert and the rest of the veterinary team at our Purleigh practice, have pulled together their answers to commonly asked questions about heart disease in dogs. We want to help local pet owners understand why it’s so important their dogs attend regular health checks.

In its early stages, canine heart disease tends to be difficult to detect, so annual screening is important – Book a heart health check-up for your dog today.

Spotting Heart Disease at home

Common questions on Canine Disease

What types of heart diseases affect dogs?

  1. Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM): A condition where the heart muscle becomes weak and enlarged, leading to poor pumping function.
  2. Mitral Valve Disease (MVD): A condition where the mitral valve of the heart degenerates, leading to leakage of blood and reduced heart efficiency.
  3. Aortic Stenosis (AS): A common congenital heart defect in large breed dogs, typically caused by a ridge or ring of fibrotic tissue condition in the subaortic region.
  4. Pericardial effusion: An acquired cardiovascular disease in dogs, where excessive fluid accumulates within the pericardial sac, affecting the heart’s ability to pump effectively.

Are certain breeds more likely to develop canine heart disease?

According to Vet Jürgen Theinert, yes, some dog breeds are predisposed to certain types of heart disease. Just like in humans, genetics can play a significant role in the development of heart conditions in dogs. Some breeds are more prone to specific heart issues due to inherited traits and genetic factors, such as:

Dog breeds commonly predisposed to Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) include:

  • Boxers, Cocker Spaniels, Doberman Pinschers, Great Danes, Irish Wolfhounds, Saint Bernards

Dog breeds commonly predisposed to Mitral Valve Disease (MVD) include:

  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Chihuahuas, Dachshunds, Miniature Poodles, Pomeranians, Shih-Tzus, Small Terrier Breeds

Dog breeds commonly predisposed to Aortic Stenosis (AS) include:

  • Boxers, Bullmastiffs, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Newfoundlands, Rottweilers

Dog breeds commonly predisposed to Pericardial Effusion include:

  • Afghan Hounds, Boxers, Boston Terriers, Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Salukis, Weimaraners

Jürgen wants Essex dog owners to understand that although these breeds have a higher genetic predisposition to these heart conditions, it does not mean that every dog will develop heart disease.

Download our Heart Disease Symptoms Fact Sheet

Can other factors increase the risk of heart disease in dogs?

Yes, environmental factors (including second-hand cigarette smoke) and the below factors can affect a dog’s heart health.

  1. Age: Dogs entering their senior years are more at risk – typically 5-8 years of age for very large/giant dogs, 7-10 for medium-sized dogs, and 9-12 for small dogs.
  2. Excess Weight & Obesity: Increases risk of developing heart disease due to the strain on their hearts.
  3. Poor Diet: Lacking essential nutrients can impact heart health and contribute to the development of heart disease.
  4. Lack of Exercise: Insufficient physical activity can lead to obesity and cardiovascular health issues.
  5. Heartworm Disease: Parasitic heartworms are not found in the UK but dogs travelling abroad, and adopted from overseas may be at risk.
  6. Hypertension (High Blood Pressure): Can put added stress on the heart and lead to heart disease.
  7. Thyroid Disease: Thyroid imbalances, such as hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, can affect heart function.
  8. Infections: Certain infections, like bacterial endocarditis, can lead to heart disease in dogs.
  9. Congenital Heart Defects: Some dogs are born with structural abnormalities in their hearts that can lead to heart disease.
  10. Toxins and Medications: Exposure to certain toxins or medications can damage the heart and lead to heart disease.
  11. Cushing’s Disease (Hyperadrenocorticism): This condition, which results in excess cortisol production, can impact heart health.

Can you spot heart disease in dogs at home?

Jürgen says it’s important to note that some cases of heart disease may progress slowly and show mild signs, while others can become more severe and acute, leading to more pronounced symptoms. This is why monitoring and screening for heart disease is so important.

There are some symptoms of heart disease that you may spot at home. Take a look at Edgewood Vets’ fact sheet: Heart Disease in Dogs Symptoms

Share our guide with other dog owners and help us to help other pets in Essex.

How will a vet test for heart disease?

During a health check with one of our team, they will perform a thorough examination, listen for any abnormal heart sounds (heart murmur) or rhythms. They may recommend further tests, such as radiographs (X-rays) and echocardiography, to evaluate your dog’s heart health accurately. This, along with any symptoms your dog is displaying during the exam, or you have told us about, will help our veterinary surgeons to determine a diagnosis.

Early detection and appropriate management can improve the prognosis and quality of life for dogs with heart disease.

Book a heart health check-up for your dog today

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