Congenital Heart Disease in Dogs
Your beloved pet can have heart problems just like you. Know the symptoms so you can get your companion the help she needs.
Heart disease can affect one side of the heart or sometimes both sides. It can progress slowly and may take years to spot.
Congenital means that the dog was born with a heart defect. But old age, injury, and infection can exacerbate it. Diet and exercise play roles too.
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
- Tiring easily
- Pacing before bedtime and having a hard time settling down
- Increased respiratory rate -- how many breaths per minute
More symptoms may develop, as the disease gets worse, including:
- A swollen belly from fluid buildup in (called ascites)
- 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
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.
- Holter monitor. This is taped to your dog’s chest and worn for 24-48 hours to capture heart rhythms and rate.
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.