Heart disease in dogs

Heart disease refers to any condition that impairs the heart’s ability to circulate blood through the body. Most dogs acquire heart disease over time, although congenital heart disease is present from birth. 

Heart disease includes dysfunctional heart valves (e.g. mitral valve disease), heart enlargement (dilated cardiomyopathy) and arrhythmias from abnormal electrical impulses in the heart. 

Congestive heart failure occurs when heart function becomes so compromised that fluid accumulates in the lungs, thorax or abdomen.

What are common heart disease signs in dogs?

Early signs include:

In many cases, no signs are observed in the early stage of heart disease. However, your veterinarian should notice abnormal heart sounds.

Intermediate to advanced signs include: 

  • Cough
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Decreased appetite and weight loss
  • Difficulty breathing or getting comfortable
  • Abdominal distension
  • Fainting
  • Sudden death

Exercise intolerance can be a sign of heart disease in dogs.

How is heart disease managed in dogs?  

Heart disease management is based on the type of disease process and sign severity. Treatment options include a prescription diet, and medications to enhance heart muscle contraction, dilate blood vessels, reduce excess fluid accumulation, and regulate heart rhythm. Dogs with congestive heart failure need consistent medical treatment and vigilant monitoring. 

Discussing a personalised management plan with your veterinarian and a veterinary cardiologist is important for the best outcome for your dog.

What is the prognosis for dogs with heart disease?

The presence of heart disease does not mean that congestive heart failure is imminent. Many dogs with mild mitral valve disease can live a normal life, and dogs diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy in the early stages can live several years before developing clinical signs. However, if heart disease progresses to congestive heart failure, intensive medical management may provide a good quality of life for only a few months to a year. 

Management tips for dogs with heart disease

At-home needs include:

  • Easily accessible food and water, and a comfortable location
  • Consistency with diet and medications
  • Monitoring resting respiratory rate, coughing, appetite, drinking, and urination
  • Watching for signs of worsening disease
  • Avoiding strenuous exercise, if directed by your veterinarian

For end-of-life care:

In a crisis:

Immediately contact your vet if your dog stops eating or coughs more; has abnormal gum colour, difficulty breathing, or a distended abdomen; or collapses.

It is vital to begin end-of-life care discussions before your dog‘s condition becomes unmanageable or they begin losing their quality of life. 

The team at Goodbye Good Boy offers individualised support to help you and your family navigate this progressive disease by providing quality-of-life checks, in-home euthanasia, cremation and aftercare services, and personalised memorialisation options. Our services can even be pre-paid to help ease the financial burden at the time of your pet’s passing. 

To learn more about our pet end-of-life services, give us a call on 1800 953 619 or visit our website goodbyegoodboy.com.au.


This article was reproduced with permission from Goodbye Good Boy advisor Dr Dani McVety, of Lap Of Love.