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Heart disease in medium dogs

Show your dog’s heart some love by acting today

‘Lub dub’, ‘lub dub, ‘lub dub’: That’s the sound of a dog’s healthy heart going at about 60 – 140 beats per minute during rest. If your dog’s heart doesn’t sound like this then it could be a sign of heart disease.

You may be surprised to find out that dogs can get heart disease too, just like humans. In fact, one in ten dogs have heart disease.1

The most common type of heart disease in dogs is called mitral valve disease (MVD), followed by dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).2 Both can affect medium dogs, especially as they reach middle-age and older, and they can both lead to heart failure.

Early diagnosis can give your dog the best chance of a longer, happier life. Find out more below.

What are MVD and DCM?

MVD affects the valves of the heart, gradually making them thick, lumpy, distorted and leaky. As a result, blood can flow in the wrong direction in the heart. When a vet listens with a stethoscope they hear this irregular blood flow as a ‘lub shhh dub’ – the ‘shhh’ is the sound of blood flowing the wrong way and is known as a murmur. It’s the tell-tale sign of MVD.

When a dog has DCM, the heart gradually becomes stretched, floppy and enlarged. This makes it weaker, so it has to work harder to pump blood around the body. The exact cause is usually unclear but certain breeds are more likely to develop it, especially larger dogs, but medium dogs can be affected too.

How can a happy and healthy dog have heart disease? – the ‘silent’ phase

Heart disease, such as DCM and MVD, is often completely asymptomatic or ‘silent’ in the early phase – your dog will appear perfectly healthy on the outside. That’s why regular check-ups and screenings with your vet are so important.

The ‘silent’ phase can last many months or years. But during this time the disease is gradually getting worse, putting more pressure on the heart.

Developing heart failure

Eventually the heart may become so strained and inefficient that it results in heart failure, the stage when the heart can no longer pump enough blood around the body. These symptoms are much more obvious and include:

  • Increased<br>breathing rate

    Increased
    breathing rate

  • Tiredness

    Tiredness

  • Difficulty<br>exercising

    Difficulty
    exercising

  • Difficulty<br>breathing

    Difficulty
    breathing

  • Fainting/<br>collapse

    Fainting/
    collapse

If you recognise any of these symptoms in your dog, please speak to your vet urgently.

How can you help?

The good news is that a simple routine check-up and regular heart screening by your vet can help to spot the early signs of heart disease before symptoms are even visible. Detecting heart disease early is vital to prolong your dog’s quality
of life.

A vet can screen for asymptomatic MVD by listening out for the tell-tale murmur as part of a routine health check-up.

If your vet suspects that your dog has MVD, they may wish to look more closely at their heart using an X-ray or a heart ultrasound scan.

One of the ways that your vet can screen your dog to check if they have DCM is by a simple blood test. Measuring a substance in the blood called proBNP can help determine whether a dog is likely to have DCM, even in the asymptomatic stage when no symptoms will be present.

If your dog has a raised proBNP level your vet may recommend further tests including a heart scan (heart ultrasound) or an electrocardiogram (ECG) where they’ll be able to look at their heart in more detail and check its rhythm.

By diagnosing and treating these diseases early, it’s possible to:

  • Slow the disease progression
  • Extend your dog’s symptom-free time by delaying the onset of heart failure
  • Improve your dog’s quality and length of life

At-risk dogs should have regular check-ups, at least once a year.
Is your dog due a check-up?

  1. Atkins C, Bonagura J, Ettinger S, et al. Guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of canine chronic valvular heart disease. J Vet Intern Med 2009; 23(6):1142–1150.
  2. Summerfield NJ, Boswood A, O’Grady MR, et al. Efficacy of pimobendan in the prevention of congestive heart failure or sudden death in Doberman Pinschers with preclinical dilated cardiomyopathy (the PROTECT study). J Vet Intern Med 2012;26:1337–1349.
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