March is Canine Heart Health Month and Dr. Teresa DeFrancesco, an associate professor of cardiology at NC State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, is participating in a series of radio and television interviews to help raise awareness that congestive heart failure is one of the leading causes of death in dogs.
A goal of the public awareness campaign, supported by Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc., is to alert owners to preventive measures, the initial signs of heart trouble in a pet, and what can be done to slow the progression of the disease.
“Early diagnosis and treatment can prolong and improve the quality of a dog’s life,” says Dr. DeFrancesco, who is board certified in cardiology and critical care. “One in 10 dogs may develop heart disease but that percentage goes up dramatically with age and with the breed of the dog. An older dog that is predisposed to heart disease like a Doberman Pinscher may have a 60 percent chance of having heart problems.”
Appropriate nutrition and exercise and ensuring a healthy weight throughout your dog’s life stages is for your dog’s overall health. . Knowing if your dog is predisposed to heart problems and showing signs of heart disease is important.
“The initial indication of heart disease can be difficult for many owners to catch, particularly in an older dog,” says Dr. DeFrancesco. “Many owners attribute the dog’s lethargy, not being eager to play or take long walks, or even not greeting them at the door to the pet just getting old. These could signal the beginnings of congestive heart failure.”
As the disease progresses the signs are harder to miss and include coughing, lack of appetite and weight loss, extreme fatigue, shortness of breath, and even fainting.
Small dogs predisposed to heart problems develop mitral valve disease where mitral valve degrades and cannot close properly. Breeds at high risk of mitral valve disease include the Boston Terrier, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Chihuahua, Fox Terrier, Miniature Pinscher, Miniature and Toy Poodles, Miniature Schnauzer, Pekingese, Pomeranian, and the Whippet.
Larger dogs predisposed to heart problems suffer from dilated cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle characterized by an enlarged heart that does not function properly. Breeds at risk for this disease include Afghan Hound, American Cocker Spaniel, Boxer, Dalmatian, Doberman Pinscher, English Bulldog, English Cocker Spaniel, Great Dane, Irish Wolfhound, Newfoundland, Saint Bernard, and the Scottish Deerhound.
According to Dr. DeFranceso, regular visits to the veterinarian are important part of preventative care as the veterinarian can examine the pet for heart murmur or for any irregular heartbeat. If there is a need, the veterinarian can do diagnostic testing including radiograph (X-ray), blood tests, blood pressure, an echocardiogram, and an electrocardiogram. A dog with congestive heart disease will be placed on medications to reduce fluid buildup, open blood vessels, and reduce the workload on the dog’s weakened heart.
“The early detection of a heart problem is absolutely the key,” says Dr. DeFrancesco. “Good care will not only extend the dog’s life but will help ensure the quality of that life.”
For more information:
Cardiology Service at NC State’s Randall B. Terry, Jr. Companion Animal Veterinary Medical Center