Tag Archives: heart-disease

Ten signs that your pet may have Heart Disease

As a pet owner, it is important that you are equipped to spot signs of heart disease in your pets, as you may well be the first person to notice. Early diagnosis and treatment can make a big difference when it comes to the quality and quantity of life of your valued pet. Bringing any concerns to your vet’s attention as soon as possible can have a great impact on your pets prognosis.

Some of the symptoms you may see:
Coughing: while coughing is a very common symptom of many illnesses, it is also a symptom of heart disease. Minor coughs will resolve in a few days. A persistent cough is an abnormal state.
Breathing difficulty: shortness of breath, laboured breathing, or rapid breathing.
Changes in behaviour: If you notice any behaviour changes in your pet, such as tiring more easily, being less playful, reluctance to exercise, reluctance to accept affection, being withdrawn, or an appearance of depression.
Poor appetite: No matter what the cause, a lack of appetite is always a concern.
Weight loss or gain: this can be a sign of a myriad of problems. Having a bloated or distended abdomen (pot belly) is a sign that needs investigation.
Fainting/Collapsing: if your pet faints or collapses at any time, seek veterinary help immediately.
Weakness: may be seen as a general sign of aging, but combined with other symptoms, a consultation and possibly blood tests may yield results that mean your pet’s quality of life is enhanced.
Restlessness: and change in demeanour, particularly if restless at night, may be a sign of heart disease.
Edema: is the swelling of body tissues. In regards to heart disease, your pet may show swelling in the abdomen and extremities if it has heart disease.
Isolation: If your pet starts to isolate itself or is keeping its distance from other pets and/or you, this indicates something has changed and warrants investigation.

There are a range of treatment options for heart disease and the earlier the intervention the better the outcome. If you feel your pet is not their normal self talk with your vet about your concerns. The above list is not exhaustive, just outlines some common symptoms.

Heart care for dogs

Dogs suffer from heart failure, just like humans. If dog owners recognise the warning signs of heart failure they can seek help earlier and enjoy a healthy, happy pet for longer.

Research shows that most dog owners are not aware of the risk of heart failure in older dogs, even though 1 in 10 dogs presented to vets suffer from heart disease.

Boehringer Ingelheim has launched a Heart Failure Awareness Program to raise owners’ awareness of the signs of heart disease in dogs. The company wants to reduce the numbers of dogs suffering unnecessarily from this life threatening condition.

The Heart Failure Awareness Program is aimed at dog owners because they are most likely to notice changes in their dog’s health and behaviour.

Early signs of heart failure, like loss of appetite, are subtle and often overlooked.

The common signs of congestive heart failure include:

  • Coughing, especially at night
  • Poor appetite
  • Reluctance to exercise and tiring quickly on walks
  • Laboured or fast breathing
  • Fainting – often associated with exercise
  • Weight loss
  • Enlarged abdomen
  • Weakness

If your dog is aged seven or more and showing one or more of the above signs visit a vet without delay.

Effective treatment of heart failure is available and when started early greatly improves affected dogs’ quality of life.

If owners recognise the signs of heart failure early and seek veterinary advice before the heart deteriorates markedly, treatment has the greatest benefit.

Research has shown effective treatment allows dogs with heart failure to enjoy many healthy, good quality years of life.

And that’s something all dog owners want.

Heart murmurs

Heart murmurs are quite common in older dogs, especially in small breeds.  They are due to problems with the valves between the chambers of the heart.

When we first hear a heart murmur at the annual checkup there may be no obvious signs of heart disease. Many dogs with a heart murmur will continue to lead a normal life for years and need no treatment.

As the heart deteriorates they develop congestive heart failure (CHF). When this occurs, medication and lifestyle changes help us manage the disease. Treatment must begin at the very first sign of CHF.

What is a Heart Murmur?

Valves within the heart open to allow the heart chamber to fill, then close to form a seal against back flow as the heart contracts. This ensures that all blood moves forward to supply the body with oxygen and nutrients.

We hear a heart murmur when these valves don’t close properly. Blood leaks “backwards” when the heart contracts. The murmur is heard with a stethoscope and is the noise made by the blood rushing back through the damaged valves, as the heart contracts.

The valve defect is usually due to a slight change in the shape of the valves. The cause of this in most cases is unknown, although there may be a hereditary component.

Eventually, as the backflow of blood increases, the heart has to work harder to ensure enough blood reaches the body. As the disease worsens inadequate blood reaches the vital organs and the dog cannot maintain a normal, active life.

How do I know when it’s time to begin treatment?

All cases of valvular disease eventually progress and require treatment.  Treatment begins when we notice any of these signs:


Early Signs; Advanced Signs; 
Coughing (usually a hacking cough) Pale gums
Shortness of breath, panting a lot Pot belly
Less willing to walk or play; stop midway Extreme reluctance to exercise
Loss of alertness Difficulty breathing
Reduced appetite Fainting
Weight loss

Contact us immediately if your dog is showing any of these signs. Some of the signs may be related to other issues, but in most dogs with a heart murmur these signs indicate that heart medications are necessary.

A chest X-ray or an ultrasound help us assess the extent of the heart failure and lung congestion.

Treatment Options

The first tier of treatment is a diuretic, or fluid pill, to reduce the fluid build-up in the lungs. Frusemide is often the first choice.  Other medications such as an ACE inhibitor to reduce blood pressure or Vetmedin to improve heart efficiency are added in depending on the individual.  A special reduced salt diet and a tailored exercise regime also benefit most dogs.

Congestive heart failure is not curable, but we maintain most dogs’ quality of life on a combination of these medications.