Heart disease is one of the most frequently seen problems in dogs. Different diseases involving the heart valves or heart muscle can lead to heart failure. Mitral insufficiency is by far the most common type of heart disease seen in dogs.
Mitral insufficiency involves the heart valve that separates chambers in the heart. If this valve becomes diseased and fails to close properly, blood is allowed to flow backward, which reduces blood flow forcing the heart to work harder to keep up with the body’s demand for blood. This over working of the hart eventually leads to premature heart failure.
This disease can result from normal wear and tear associated with age, or it can appear secondary to other diseases, normally periodontal disease. Bacteria from the diseased teeth and gums can enter the blood stream and attach to the heart valve, setting up infection and inflammation. Over time, the heart valve becomes damaged and scarred, making it unable to function properly. The end result is heart failure.
The clinical signs associated with a failing heart include coughing, especially at night and after exercise, breathing difficulties, distended abdomen, weight loss, and exercise intolerance. Your veterinarian can diagnose heart disease by x-rays and electrocardiogram.
Many forms of heart disease are accompanied by heart murmurs. A heart murmur is nothing more than an irregular sound caused by the disruption of normal blood flow within the heart. Heart murmurs are usually classified according to their intensity as heard by a stethoscope. Your veterinarian can identify which portion of the heart is affected by pinpointing the area on the dog’s chest where the murmur is the loudest.
Unfortunately, most cases of heart disease are nonreversible. The treatment for any dog suffering from such is to create an environment that relieves some of the workload on the heart. Special diets and medications can be used to improve the quality of life and extend the animal’s life expectancy. Early detection is the key here. At the first sign of clinical problems mentioned earlier you should get the dog to a veterinarian as soon as possible.