The early signs of heart disease are often missed, especially in dogs. The body has ways to compensate for a failing heart and it is only when the body cannot cope anymore, that the clinical signs of heart failure become evident.

Here are mainly three types of heart disease. These affect the heart rate, the muscles’ ability to pump or valve disease. Heart valve disease is seen more in small breeds and weakened flabby heart muscle in the larger breeds.

All end with the clinical signs of heart failure resulting from the hearts inability to pump blood to the tissues so we see signs of “damming up”, depending on which side of the heart fails, in the lungs, abdomen or tissues that become poorly supplied with blood.

The early signs of heart failure are –

  • weakness and exercise intolerance
  • increased rate of breathing
  • restless pacing
  • anxiety
  • sleeping upright or resting head on furniture
  • coughing
  • a distended abdomen
  • fainting and disorientation

The dog’s age and breed type, together with the clinical signs will give your veterinarian clues as to where to look and what further tests are needed to ascertain what treatment is necessary. These may include an x ray of heart and lungs, echocardiography, an electrocardiogram and blood tests.

After Diagnosis

Once the diagnosis and cause of the heart failure is made, you have to accept that treatment is life long and requires a new routine of regular check-ups and medication, exactly the same as you would with a human with heart disease. It is very difficult for your veterinarian to predict how long the animal will live, save to say that many animals go on to lead healthy, active lives.

Medications are aimed at assisting the heart muscle to contract more effectively and stabilising the heart rate. They assist in opening up the blood vessels and decreasing blood pressure as well as to help the patient get rid of excess fluid which might have damned up in the lungs or abdomen.

Regular check-ups are part of the routine as the medication will need to be altered according to how well the heart is being assisted by the lifestyle changes and medication.

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