Old age, injury, and infection can cause it. Diet and exercise play roles too. And some dogs are born with heart defects.
Take notice of these early symptoms of heart problems:
Coughing more than usual (during or after exercise or a few hours before bedtime)
Having a hard time breathing or exercising
Pacing before bedtime and having a hard time settling down
More symptoms may develop, as the disease gets worse, including:
A swollen belly from fluid buildup in the lungs and other organs
Fainting because of blocked blood flow to the brain
Change in tongue or gum color to bluish gray because of poor oxygen flow
Weight loss as your dog loses her ability to store healthy fat
Getting a Diagnosis
Your vet will want to know any symptoms you've noticed. He or she will want to know what she eats, what medications and supplements she may be taking, and if she is current on heartworm protection.
The vet will listen to your dog's chest and may want to run some tests, including:
A blood and urine test to check for any other problems that could be affecting your dog's heart.
Chest X-rays. These use radiation in low doses to make images of your dog's internal organs.
An EKG. This test measures electrical signals from your dog's heart and tells how fast it's beating and if that rhythm is healthy.
An ultrasound. Ultrasound uses sound waves to look at the size, shape, and movement of the heart.
Heartworm antigen test. Your vet will take blood from your dog to test it for heartworms.
Your dog's treatment depends on what specific heart problem she has and what may be causing it.
Your vet may recommend one or more of the following:
Medications to help the heart work and correct irregular heartbeats
Medications to slow fluid build-up in the lungs
Surgery to correct a torn valve or to insert a pacemaker to correct the heart beat
A commercial or prescription low-salt diet to help decrease fluid build-up in your dog's body
Limited activity or exercise to manage weight without putting too much strain on your dog's heart
Your vet may also recommend supplements. Dogs with congestive heart failure may benefit from vitamin B supplements, taurine (an amino acid that supports brain development), or carnitine (an amino acid that helps turn fat into energy). Antioxidants like Coenzyme Q and vitamin E may also help.
Medication can also clear heartworms or bacterial infections if they're caught early enough.
What to Expect
Make sure to bring your dog for regular visits with your vet and stick with your treatment plan. Unchecked heart problems can make things harder on your dog and even shorten her life. With the right treatments, care, and monitoring, your dog can live a long, comfortable life.