Heart conditions in dogs are not unusual but the one most often seen, particularly in Great Danes Boxers or Cocker Spaniels is known as Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). The heart becomes enlarged so the heart muscle becomes weaker causing the heart not to be able to pump blood effectively around the body. The exact reason for the enlargement is still unknown.
Heart conditions in dogs: symptoms
Because the heart is struggling to pump blood, the amount of oxygen that your dog’s heart is able to carry to the body is less. This causes these common symptoms:
• A very fast heart rate
• Weight loss
• Less interest in playing and being active
• Abnormal heart beats and even fainting spells.
• Other symptoms include coughing, panting and swelling of the tummy.
Heart conditions in dogs: diagnosis
Your dog’s heart needs to be x-rayed, just as you would with a human. A chest x-ray is usually the first test to start the investigation; it may show a very enlarged heart. Other signs such as fluid in the lungs may also be seen. An ultrasound (Echocardiograph) that shows the enlargement of the heart chambers can further confirm the diagnosis.
What treatment will he need?
Unfortunately, the changes in the heart cannot be reversed so there is no cure. Treatment is directed at decreasing the symptoms and helping the heart to function better. There are many medications that can be used in treating DCM, the most important is aimed at improving the pumping action of the heart. If the disease progresses, additional treatment may be needed, and that includes dilating the blood vessels so that the heart does not work so hard, removing the fluid build-up in the lungs and controlling the heart rate.
How long can my dog live with this condition?
The success of the treatment is very much dependent on the stage of heart disease at diagnosis. Dogs that have not had any fluid on the lungs tend to live longer than those that start treatment after symptoms are present. But overall, dogs tend to unfortunately die within 1-2 years of diagnosis.
Living with a pet with DCM
Frequent follow up visits are important to keep track of deterioration. As a pet owner, keep an eye out for weight loss, laboured breathing, coughing, fainting, a distended tummy or loss of appetite. If you notice any of these symptoms in your dog, please see your vet as soon as possible.
As the condition affects the heart some changes at home are needed. Exercise should be encouraged, but it is important not to overdo it. Running is not advised and care should be taken when swimming. Gentle, regular exercise is encouraged.