Five signs of heart disease in dogs

February is Heart Awareness Month and a great time for pet owners to think about their dog’s heart health.

To help pet owners spot heart disease in their dogs, Senior Veterinary Advisor at Agria Pet Insurance, Robin Hargreaves shares the top red flag warnings dog owners need to look out for.

We may be familiar with the signs of heart disease in people, but do we know how to spot the signs when our dogs are affected? Knowing what to look out for – leading to a faster diagnosis, can make a significant difference in the outcomes for pets suffering with the condition.

Robin explains some of the classic signs and symptoms to watch out for:

1 Reduced exercise tolerance

This means pets that are no longer able to walk or run the distance they once could. Often, dogs with heart disease will stop unexpectedly for rests on walks and refuse to go on as they usually would. This is much more noticeable in warm or hot weather.

2 Shortness of breath

We often identify this by counting the number of breaths per minute a dog takes when relaxed and resting. As heart disease progresses, the number will gradually increase. Typically, it should be between 15-30 breaths per minute – so more than this or a change to what is normal for your dog is a flag to have investigated.

3 Coughing

Dogs with heart problems will often cough. This is usually a soft non-productive cough, which is often worse in the evenings. The cause of the cough is either the retention of fluid in the lungs or heart enlargement, which often accompanies heart failure. The enlarged heart actually bumps the trachea, causing some dogs to cough when it is beating hard.

4 Fainting

Dogs in heart failure will sometimes faint if they suddenly become excited or overexert themselves. They can recover quite quickly because fainting takes the load off the heart, but any dog that appears to faint should have their heart checked by a vet.

5 Swollen abdomen

In people and animals, fluid retention is often a feature of heart failure. We have already mentioned fluid in the lungs, which is caused when the left side of the heart is failing. Fluid can also accumulate in the abdomen, giving a bloated appearance if the right side of the heart is failing.

Robin adds: “The good news with heart disease in pets is that our ability to treat it has improved enormously in recent years. However, the response to treatment does depend on an acute diagnosis, and sadly, some conditions do deteriorate much faster than others. The best management of the condition can rely on an accurate diagnosis, which will often require a specialist investigation by a veterinary cardiologists. Treatment will be lifelong for as long as it is effective and may involve multiple medications.

“Many of our patients with some of the more common conditions can now enjoy many extra months of an active and happy life, thanks to the right diagnosis and good heart medication. Always seek veterinary advice as soon as possible if your pet shows any of the symptoms above or you are worried in any way.”