How to Treat Canine Heart Disease

Mixed breed dog at a vet's office

Cardiac disease can take many various forms, and while some dog breeds are more likely than others to experience heart issues, this is a sad fact that applies to all dogs. Due to this, it's advantageous for owners to be able to spot the warning signals of a prospective problem. Knowing the causes, signs, and available treatments for heart disease will help you prolong the heart's health for as long as possible in your dog.

What Is Heart Disease in Dogs?

Any illness that affects the heart is referred to as a heart ailment. Multiple body components will suffer if the heart's ability to operate is compromised because it is such a crucial organ. Approximately 10% of all dogs tested by a veterinarian are found to have some form of heart disease, and owners frequently are unaware of this condition till it is severe. Typical cardiac conditions include:

  • Valvular Disease - Mitral valve issues are the most common type of valvular heart disease in dogs but can also be seen. Valves are little flaps of tissue that act as doors between the chambers of the heart. These valves prevent blood from flowing backwards through the heart but when they do not work as they should, blood does not flow properly through the body.
  • Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy - Also referred to as Boxer cardiomyopathy due to the nearly exclusive occurrence in boxers, this is heart disease that causes an irregular heartbeat. The heart beats abnormally fast and blood is unable to be pumped throughout the body due to a change in the muscle in the right ventricle of the heart.
  • Heartworm Disease - Heartworms are passed through mosquitoes. When a mosquito bites a dog, the heartworm larvae enter the bloodstream. They grow and develop into worms that eventually fill the lungs and heart of a dog if a dog is not on an effective heartworm preventative.
  • Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) - The heart is responsible for pumping blood through the body but in dogs with DCM, the heart has lost its ability to do this job effectively. DCM is very common in dogs and may go undetected for some time.
  • Myocarditis - If a dog has myocarditis, the heart has become inflamed and muscle cells are dying off.
  • Congenital Abnormalities - Some dogs are born with abnormalities or defects in their hearts that do not allow it to work properly. Examples of congenital heart disease include patent ductus arteriosus (shunt), pulmonic stenosis, aortic stenosis, persistent right aortic arch, and ventricular septal defect.

Heart disease causes congestive heart failure (CHF), which is not a disease in and of itself. When the heart is unable to efficiently pump blood throughout the body, heart failure results. Some cardiac conditions can't be healed, therefore they eventually proceed to heart failure.

Signs of Heart Disease in Dogs

Heart disease is often hidden since the heart is an internal organ but if it is severe enough, signs may be seen by a pet owner.


  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Collapse
  • Distended or bloated abdomen
  • Pale or blue gums

Since the heart is in charge of distributing oxygen-rich blood throughout the body, dogs with heart illness frequently experience breathing problems. The most typical symptoms of heart illness include coughing, exhaustion, and shortness of breath, but if the condition worsens, pale or blue gums, even collapse, may appear. Some dogs with heart illness will also have fluid buildup in their abdomens. Ascites is the medical term for this swelling and appearance of bloating.

Causes of Heart Disease in Dogs

Heart disease can either be something a dog is born with or have develop during its life. Heart disease that develops during the life of a dog is a result of one or several of the following causes:

  • Heartworm infection from mosquitoes
  • Genetics
  • Various bacterial, viral and protozoal infections
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
  • Toxins
  • Various medications
  • Tumors
  • Unknown

Dogs that have congenital heart disease can develop it in utero from one or several of the following causes:

  • Genetics
  • Medications taken by the pregnant mother
  • Environmental factors
  • Infection
  • Poisoning
  • Poor nutrition
  • Unknown

Early stages of heart disease may only be recognized by your veterinarian because it might be simple to go unreported. Your dog's breed, past, and any symptoms you notice or hear at home will all be taken into consideration during a thorough physical examination. Your dog's heart will be examined using a stethoscope to hear for any murmurs or unusual heartbeats. Chest X-rays, blood tests, including a heartworm test, and an echocardiography may be advised if heart disease is suspected. Depending on the kind of suspected cardiac illness, an electrocardiogram (ECG) may also be necessary.

Treatment of Heart Disease in Dogs

When heart disease is identified, a treatment strategy tailored to your dog's particular form of heart disease will be addressed. Although heartworm illness is treatable, killing the heartworms within your dog takes powerful drugs. Typically, injections are combined with painkillers, and hospitalization to check for respiratory problems may also be advised. In most cases, other forms of cardiac disease need a lifetime of X-rays, echocardiograms, ECGs, and drug monitoring. Surgery to correct a defect or remove a tumor may be an option for some forms of heart disease.

How to Prevent Heart Disease in Dogs

Ask the breeder about the parents of your prospective dog if you're thinking about acquiring a breed of dog that is known to be more susceptible to heart disease than others. It is not advisable to breed dogs with inherited cardiac problems.

Omega-3 fatty acids can be given to support heart health, and high-quality dog foods that adhere to the recommendations of the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) should be fed to help prevent nutritional deficiencies. Heartworm prevention should be given year-round to all dogs to prevent heartworm disease. Discuss which food may be best for your particular dog if you are worried about any particular nutritional deficiencies that are known to aggravate heart disease, such as carnitine and taurine. Avoiding exposure to poisons and polluted regions should always be the goal, as should refraining from administering medications with known adverse effects on the heart unless absolutely necessary.

At Risk Breeds for Heart Disease

Some dog breeds are known to be more likely to develop heart disease. These include:

  • Boxers
  • Chihuahuas
  • Dachshunds
  • English Bulldogs
  • English Springer Spaniels
  • German Shepherd Dogs
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Great Danes
  • Great Pyrenees
  • Irish Setters
  • Irish Wolfhounds
  • Jack Russell Terriers
  • Keeshonds
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Miniature Schnauzers
  • Newfoundlands
  • Rottweilers
  • Samoyeds
  • Scottish Deerhounds
  • Shih Tzus
  • Toy Poodles
If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.