Dogs can be victims of several types of heart ailments. Understanding heart disease will help you better cope with your pet’s illness as well as recognize warning signs to avert an emergency situation. The treatment of heart disease in dogs has come a long way in the last 20 years and pets with heart problems are living longer, happier lives as a result.  The prognosis will vary based on the type of problem, but overall, your pet can live a happy comfortable life with well-managed heart disease.



Heart disease in dogs can be something a dog was born with or something that develops over time in the heart. Examples of congenital structural heart disease are valvular defects of any of the major heart valves, holes in the heart, circulatory irregularities or other malformations. These tend to be more serious problems that carry poorer prognosis than some acquired issues.  However, some types of congenital malformations are surgically correctable.

Acquired heart diseases, such as degenerative valvular diseases are usually diagnosed when a pet is older than 4-5 years and often start very mild and progress to clinical disease as the pet ages. Degenerative valve disease accounts for about 75% of cardiovascular disease in dogs.

Are there certain breeds of dogs that are more prone than others to heart problems?

There are breed dispositions to heart disease as well.  Degenerative valve disease is most common in Miniature poodles, Cocker Spaniels, Miniature Schnauzers, and Dachshunds and some Terriers. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, another commonly affected breed, tend to develop degenerative valvular disease earlier in life with a quicker progression than other small breed dogs.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy is common in the Boxer, Bull mastiff, Cocker spaniel, Doberman pinscher, German shepherd, Great Dane, Irish wolfhound, Newfoundland, Portuguese water dog, Saint Bernard, Scottish deerhound

What are the most common heart problems in dogs and how are they found?

The most common sign associated with heart disease in pets is a heart murmur, which can be picked up on a routine physical examination by your veterinarian. The clinical signs of heart disease are coughing, exercise intolerance (slowing down, unwilling to go for long walks, excessive panting). Other symptoms can be increased respiratory rate and effort, swollen belly, lack of appetite, weight loss, fainting, sudden collapse or even seizures.  The most important and the first sign of heart disease is almost always a cough.

Other cardiac problems in dogs can have a very rapid onset, such as dilated cardiomyopathy or abnormal heart rhythms.  Dilated cardiomyopathy is one of the most common acquired heart diseases in dogs. It is a disease of the heart muscle in which the muscle loses its ability contract normally. The heart muscle cannot pump blood effectively and blood begins to back up leading to an enlargement of the heart and eventually failure of the muscle. This leads to the clinical signs seen in heart failure.

What are the most common treatment tips for dogs with heart problems and disease?

Treatment and prognosis for heart problems will vary based on the underlying condition. Therefore it is important to have a handle on what the underlying problem is. Heart diseases are diagnosed using a variety of skills and tests. As part of an exam, your veterinarian can narrow down the causes by the character of the murmur. Next, chest x-rays and an electrocardiogram can be performed to further characterize and classify the problem.  Finally, to visualize the inside of the heart, measure the motion and sizes of the chambers, and analyze the blood flow, a cardiac ultrasound should be performed by an expert in veterinary cardiology.

Mainstays of treatment are a variety of medications. Oxygen can be a powerful aid in emergency situations. A diagnosis of heart disease in your pet today is not necessarily a death sentence. Understand your pet’s condition.  Work closely with your family veterinarian and get a consultation from an experienced specialist who can help you and your veterinarian best control your pet’s problem.  Know how to recognize and emergency and have a plan should one arise (know your nearest Pet ER). Take advantage of the medications of today and diagnostic capabilities that can help you and your pet share a great future together!