heart disease in dogs

It’s terrible to think about it, but pets can also suffer from heart problems. Congenital heart disease (heart disease that’s been there from birth) is usually picked up in puppies and is not that common. Acquired heart disease, which develops during the course of a dog’s life, accounts for most heart conditions.

Both can lead to congestive heart failure (CHF), because the heart is struggling to pump blood to the whole body. Acquired heart disease is caused by:

  • Atrioventricular valvular insufficiency (AVVI), a valvular disease also known as mitral valve disease or endocardiosis, is the most common cause of canine CHF.
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is the second most common cause of canine CHF.


As this degenerative disease becomes worse, heart valve leaflets are damaged. This means the valves can’t close properly and blood leaks backward into the atrium, eventually causing a heart murmur. Cardiac function and circulation are then hindered.


With this disease the heart muscle becomes weak and large, preventing it from pumping blood efficiently. This causes decreased cardiac output and tissue perfusion.

When it comes to diagnosing CHF, it’s crucial that detection happens early and quick treatment follows. The problem, however, is that the clinical signs and symptoms can be similar to respiratory disease.


In the early stages, signs are usually subclinical (symptoms are not obvious yet). This phase can last months or years. AVVI progresses slowly, but DCM can have a quick onset and progresses rapidly. Both eventually lead to congestive heart failure. As either progress, common clinical signs may include:

  • Coughing
  • Weakness and fainting
  • Poor appetite and weight loss
  • Restlessness, usually at night
  • Difficulty exercising (easy to tire; reluctant to go for walks)
  • Behavioural changes (lack of energy; depressed; withdrawn)
  • Difficulty breathing; shortness of breath; increased respiratory rate


  • Clinical History (assess age, breed and history in terms of behaviour, breathing, appetite, etc.)
  • Physical Examination (examine weight and body condition, pulse abnormalities, etc.)
  • Cardiac and Pulmonary Auscultation (to detect a heart murmur caused by blood leakage )
  • Thoracic Radiographs (for info about heart size, changes in the lungs, etc.)
  • Additional Diagnostic Tests (blood- & urine tests, echocardiography, electrocardiograms, etc.)

Once you notice signs of heart disease, you should consult your veterinarian as soon as possible so that diagnostic tools can provide answers. Unfortunately there is no cure for CHF, but therapeutic intervention can improve symptoms and prolong life.

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Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) As a Result Of Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) Read Now

Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) As a Result Of Atrioventricular Valvular Insufficiency (AVVI) Read Now

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