Important Things You Should Know About Your Dog’s Heart (Quick Read)

Recognising and understanding the early warning signs of canine heart problems can be life-saving.

Your dog's heart is responsible for pumping blood to all body parts. It goes without saying, heart problems in dogs are not something to take a chance with. If you see some of the signs and symptoms mentioned in this guide, get your dog checked out by a vet as soon as possible.

A dog's heart is located in the left side of his chest, behind his ribs. It's made up of four chambers, none of which contain a pump (as humans do).

The heart has valves that keep the blood flowing in the right direction between the chambers. A bulge on one side is called a 'ventricle'. When it contracts and pumps blood into the lungs or another part of the body, it's called a 'pulmonary' pulse.

Fast Facts About Your Dog's Heart
  • A dog's heart beats between 70 and 120 times a minute, compared to a human heart, which beats 70 to 80 times a minute.1
  • On average, a dog’s heart beats 144,000 times per day.

In this micro-guide, we'll take a look at some of the key things you need to understand about your dog's heart; how you can spot early warning signs of heart problems and learn about some of the common heart problems that can affect dogs at any age.

The aim of our micro-guides is to give dog owners a rapid overview of a topic so you are better informed about a topic without having to digest thousands of pages of text books. One tip picked up here could be life changing or life saving.

Common heart problems affecting dogs

Ventricular Tachycardia

This condition is quite common in young dogs and is caused by the heart beating too fast, which puts a burden on the heart muscle. It can be life-threatening because of the strain placed on the heart muscle and will only get worse if left untreated. The dog will suffer from symptoms such as shortness of breath, panting, increased heart rate, weakness and fainting.

Coronary artery disease

Coronary artery disease in dogs can be caused by a buildup of fatty substances around the heart. The condition can lead to an enlargement of the heart and may result in a heart attack. Symptoms include rapid heartbeat, coughing, loss of appetite, chest pain and a deathly pallor.

Pericardial disease

This is when one or more chambers in the heart become inflamed by an infection. Symptoms vary from mild to severe and may include stiffness and lack of coordination through to difficulty breathing.

Degenerative valve disease

Heart valve leaks mostly affect older or middle-aged dogs.

Heart murmurs

Heart murmurs in dogs are something that would rightly cause great concern for any owner whose beloved canine pal has been recently diagnosed with. If your dog has been diagnosed with a common heart murmur problem, it may be a sign of canine cardiac disease. Treatment for heart murmurs in dogs exist, if properly diagnosed and detected in a timely fashion as experts told us.

running with dogs
Heart healthy dogs are happy dogs

A heart murmur results from blood flow running through the heart that is abnormal. Some heart murmurs are perfectly normal while others, similar to those heard in ageing dogs, may be a sign that some type of heart disease is prevalent.

Dog Heart Murmur
Dog heart anatomy: from left. 1 left ventricle, 2 paraconal interventricular groove, 3 right ventricle, 4 arterial cone, 5 pulmonal trunc, 6 arterial ligament, 7 aortic arch, 8 brachiocephalic trunc, 9 left subclavian artery, 10 right auricle, 11 left auricle, 12 coronal groove, 13 pulmonal veins.

How dog heart problems are diagnosed

Early diagnosis is important as, some surgery performed at an early stage can be curative. Early intervention can prevent sudden death or damage caused that may impact on the dog's quality of life in the long term.

"Early detection is crucial but treatment is viable if detected in time and given the proper surgical or medicinal intervention by a vet."

Important Things You Should Know About Your Dog's Heart (Quick Read)
Exercise keeps your dog's heart healthy

Canine cardiac disease can be investigated by a veterinarian looking at:

  • your dog's breed type
  • age
  • chest x-rays
  • blood pressure measurements
  • EKG readings

For a definitive diagnosis, an ultrasound of your dog's heart is required

Ultrasound examination of a dog's heart

Treatment for heart disease in dogs

Getting your dog back to good health with treatment will depend entirely upon the stage of the disease and how severely it has affected other parts of the body.

If your puppy is young and has a congenital defect, surgical intervention may be recommended as the best approach.

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons say that successful canine heart surgery has been delivered with the following interventions:

  • Correction of Pulmonic Stenosis
  • Correction of Double-Chambered Right Ventricle
  • Correction of Atrial Septal Defect
  • Correction of Ventricular Septal Defect
  • Correction of Atrioventricular Septal Defect
  • Correction of Tetralogy of Fallot
  • Mitral and Tricuspid Valve Repair

Heart disease that is acquired later in your dog's life requires heavy lifestyle management and changes in living.

Such changes include maintaining a healthy body weight, additional exercise (or reduced activity depending upon your dog's condition), special cardiac diets, and specific medications that can be used to reduce stress put on your dog's heart from his condition.

What is the prognosis for dogs with heart disease?
The prognosis for dogs that have canine heart disease will vary. Some dogs may be fortunate enough to have successful long-term care. Others may have a shorter lifespan ranging from a few weeks to a few years. It is important to keep in mind that the earlier your dog's condition is assessed, the easier it will be to treat and the odds will be greater that your dog or puppy will enjoy a long, healthy life.

Summary

For every owner, ensuring your dog's heart is healthy is something you can do via regular vet check ups, observing your dog's day to day behaviour, paying particular attention to their energy and activity levels and providing the best nutrition for your dog's age, breed type and lifestyle.

Having a dog diagnosed with a heart murmur or other heart problem is not necessarily the end of the world.

Modern veterinary treatment and medicinal intervention can provide your dog with a management approach to this condition. The key is to be vigilant and make sure your dog receives the best medical attention possible.

Dog insurance is a good investment for any dog owner, but particularly those who own breeds susceptible to congenital health problems. Remember, you'll be unlikely to get insurance to cover a heart condition if your dog is diagnosed with a heart problem before you've purchased the pet insurance cover.

Important: This guide does not constitute veterinary advice. You should always speak with a qualified canine health care professional if you spot any worrying signs about your dog's health.

6 Comments

  1. If my dog has a heart murmur can he be throwing up forum it?

  2. We just found out a month ago that our 8 year old Bassett hound has a very terrible heart murmur along with congestive heart failure. He is in 3 different medications right now. He will go back to the vet on Monday. I did take him to see a different vet a few days ago and was just told the murmur is so bad he needs to see a specialist. I did make a call to see what cost I was looking at and to my shock $400 just to go and be seen and talk with the cardiologist. I feel like such a bad pet owner but I just can’t afford that for one visit. I am paying for the high price medical now. My heart goes out to anyone dealing with this. We also have a older dog with many problems including blindness. We do everything we can for our fur babies but I am at a loss with this.

    • Dear cedar, I feel with you. I have the same problem. My Maltese 8 years old has a bad heart murmur, my Shepherd, 7 years old, has anal fistulas and my little Maltese girl, 4 years old,has Arthritis. I really don’t know how to keep up with the payments for the Vet. So you are not alone.

  3. My 3 year old Yorkie mix and I was just told he had a heart murmur. I don’t know of there is anything I can do to help him if there’s anything I can do I just hope the cought it in time and have a way to still let him live a long health life

  4. My friend dog is about 14 years old and has a low heart murmur, just wondering if she can take yumove tablets

    • Hi Val, we’ve checked with Yumove/Lintbells and they advise: “Yes should be absolutely fine as there are no known contraindications, but I would advice just checking with their Vet.”

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