February is American Heart Month for humans. Heart-related conditions are the #1 killer of both men and women and are responsible for 1 out of 4 deaths in the US. Fortunately,
Canine heart issues hit close to home in my family. Stan and I are the pet parents of four delightful Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. This breed, along with smaller and toy breeds like Dachshunds, are susceptible to congenital issues such as heart valve defects. We have lost two of our beloveds in the past to mitral valve disease. This heart defect can now be corrected surgically through a procedure developed by Dr. Masami Uechi from Japan.
However, unless more veterinarians are trained in this life-saving surgery, dogs will continue to die needlessly. Stan and I have created Mandy’s Mission to Mend Hearts, a non-profit foundation created to bring Dr. Uechi to the US. Please read more here.
What is congenital heart disease anyhow?
Congenital heart disease means that your dog was born with a heart issue. Often no symptoms are noticed until your pet suffers an injury or an infection. The aging process itself may bring a heart condition to light.
Heart disease may lead to congestive heart failure where your dog’s heart has a problem pumping blood efficiently to the rest of his body. This is generally considered an age-related condition. However, even some young dogs develop congestive heart failure, inheriting the propensity for the disease from their parents. This condition is found more frequently in larger breeds like Doberman Pinschers, Boxers, Great Danes, and Irish Wolfhounds.
The early warning signs of canine heart disease many times mimic many other conditions, even cancer. Therefore, it’s important to pay close attention to your companion so you can accurately describe changes in behavior when you visit your vet.
Early warning symptoms that may indicate canine heart disease:
Shortness of breath
Shortness of breath is probably the most prominent sign of heart disease in dogs. It can present as labored breathing, rapid breathing or panting at unusual times when your pet hasn’t been exercising or when he’s sleeping. This can be due to the heart losing strength to pump oxygen-rich blood efficiently throughout the body.
A cough that lasts three days or longer and occurs most often during or after exercise or a few hours before bed.
Concerning changes may show up as your pet being less playful than usual. Perhaps she’s not interested in affection. She may seem withdrawn, depressed, possibly isolating from other family members.
Restlessness or pacing
This will be noted especially in the evenings before bedtime.
Loss of appetite
Poor appetite may be heart related when it occurs along with other of the symptoms listed above.
Losing strength may not be “just a normal sign of aging” as is so often assumed.
As canine heart disease progresses, you may see the following:
- Swelling – This may occur in the abdomen and/or extremities from fluid build-up (ascites).
- Weight Change – You may notice weight loss with an accompanying pot-bellied appearance (bloated belly). Weight gain may present with a bloated belly as opposed to overall chubbiness.
- Change of tongue color – Tissue looks bluish gray due to poor oxygen flow.
- Fainting or collapsing – This requires immediate medical attention! There may be a blockage of blood flow to the brain.
What should I do when I notice these symptoms?
Early detection of heart issues can make a huge difference in your dog’s future vitality and longevity. Make an appointment with your vet as soon as possible to determine what is the best course to take for your beloved family member. Don’t just wait until your next yearly check-up.
Please remember that both a good diet and regular age-appropriate exercise play an important part in maintaining heart health for most breeds (and humans). Once canine heart disease has been diagnosed, be sure to ask your vet what daily routine changes or additions he suggests for cardiac support into the future.
Are there natural ways to support cardiac health for dogs?
Holistic veterinarians offer many programs that may include vitamins, minerals, and shifts in the diet to support heart health. In our family, we daily provide probiotics, omega-3 oils, and ubiquinol to our pets. These well-researched supplements are without side effects and support overall heart and immune health for
Just as the symbol of love is the heart, so do our beloved dogs fill our hearts with joy, day by day. Do your four-legged companion a favor and be aware of subtle changes that may indicate underlying heart issues.
Speaking of hearts, Happy Valentine’s Day to you and
your four-legged companions!
References for canine heart disease: