It is estimated that heart problems can affect around 10% of all dogs in the UK. Some heart diseases may be present when the animal is born (congenital), however the majority of heart disease in dogs will develop in their adult years, with some breeds more likely to develop heart disease than others. The two most common types of heart disease we see in dogs are; Dilated cardiomyopathy and degenerative mitral valve disease. Dilated cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle; the heart muscle becomes thinner and loses its pumping ability, this is most commonly seen in larger breeds. Degenerative mitral valve disease is the most common heart disease we see and is more commonly seen in smaller breeds. In this type of heart disease, the mitral valve in the heart changes shape and starts to leak which causes a heart murmur; this can be minor to start with but can develop into congestive heart failure over time. It is estimated that 90% of Cavalier King Charles Spaniel’s have heart disease by the time they are 10 years old, 50% of boxers, Dobermans and Pinschers will by middle age develop heart disease and all small breeds of dog have a 75% chance of developing heart disease during their lifetime.
Signs of heart disease can include; coughing, fainting, collapse or hind limb weakness, a swollen abdomen due to a build-up of fluid, poor appetite, weight loss, no energy for exercise, laboured breathing and the gums may appear paler in colour. If you notice your dog showing any of these signs then contact your veterinary practice for a consultation with the vet, who may conduct further tests to work out if heart disease is the problem; with early diagnosis most dogs can carry on for many years with medications and regular check-ups. Even for dogs who are not routinely seen by the vet for vaccinations should ideally have a check-up with the vet annually, so heart disease and other health problems can be diagnosed and treated early to keep your dog living a long, healthy and happy life.