How to know if a dog has heart problems


Cough, fatigue and difficult breathing are signs that can warn that the dog suffers from heart failure

  • Author: By EVA SAN MARTÍN
  • Last update: August 16, 2012

The Heart problems they affect a considerable number of dogs, especially as the animal ages. However, the heart problems are different in large and small dogs. Therefore, it is worth recognizing some of the signs that warn that the dog has heart failure and learn how to take a dog's pulse at home.

Heart problems, different in large and small dogs

He heart of a dog, like that of people, may fail. The heart ailments they are due to different reasons and depend, in general, on the size of the dog. Sometimes, it is the valves of the heart that suffer some damage, a more frequent ailment in small dogs.

In small dogs, heart valve damage is more frequent, while in large dogs it cannot return blood to the rest of the body

The bacteria that infect the mouth of small dogs eventually affect the valves of the heart, a kind of floodgates that control the entry and exit of blood and cause the disease known as valvular insufficiency. "The heart failure of small dogs is due to a problem in the valves of the heart, which begins with an infection in the mouth, "confirms veterinarian Fausto Andrés.

Other times, this vital organ for any animal loses the force it needs to pump all the blood that the dog's body requires. This is the case of large dogs.

"In the big dog they happen when the heart itself grows so much that the valves don't touch each other," adds Andrés. When this occurs, the heart does not function properly, since it is not able to return the blood to the rest of the body, which needs it. In this case, the ailment is called dilated cardiomyopathy.

Signs of heart failure in dogs

The body of an animal with heart problems You don't get all the blood you need to perform your normal activity. Since blood carries nutrients and oxygen, essential for life, the muscles and organs of the sick-hearted animal waiting for this recharge will be forced to reduce its functioning. About 60% of dogs toy older than ten years (including Yorkshire dogs) suffer from some type of heart disease, according to Andrés.

A dog that you tire excessively during exercise, games or outdoor walks may suffer a heart problem. The heart of the animal with heart failure struggles to pump the blood with oxygen, which does not reach the muscles in the necessary amount. This translates into breathing problems and faster and faster air inhalations: the dog tries to capture the oxygen that his body demands.

"A feeling of fatigue or cough are other signs to shuffle that there may be heart disease in the dog," warns the veterinarian. In the most serious cases, even fainting is possible.

How to take a dog's pulse at home

The body of a dog who suffers a heart problem Try to work faster than usual to compensate for the lower arrival of blood to the body. This explains that the heart of a dog with this disease pumps blood at a faster rate, so the heartbeat speeds up.

Measuring the dog's pulsations at home can help detect heart failure in time

Measure at home the pulsations of the animal can be a useful way to perceive in time a heart failure in the dog. To do this, you have to try to make the dog lie on its side, without forcing it, so that it feels relaxed. Then the fingers (not the thumb) are placed in the middle of the thigh of the dog, since in this area it is easier to perceive the dog's pulse.

The number of dog beats over 15 seconds and multiply the amount of pulsations perceived by four, to obtain the number of beats of the dog per minute. The operation should be repeated to ensure that the count has been correct.

The usual number of beats for a dog weighing less than 13 kilos ranges between 100 and 160 per minute. For an animal above that weight, the number of beats is reduced to an approximate interval of between 60 and 100 beats per minute. The veterinarian will be the best person to report in each case.

What are the typical heart problems in dogs?

Believe it or not, more and more dogs are being treated and treated for heart problems. Diseases of this type may be due to sedentary lifestyle and improper feeding.. There are also some pathologies that affect some races more than others, although in most cases it has nothing to do with something congenital, but with their habits. Among the main conditions we can find:

4. Pericardial disease

In this case, the protective heart sac is filled with fluid and does not allow beats to be carried out accordingly.

Some breeds of small dogs - such as the Pekingese or the poodle - are prone to suffer from valvular heart disease because their heart beats faster than others. Larger breeds - such as boxer, Great Dane or St. Bernard - can present microcardiopathies slowly and progressively due to the effort made by the heart throughout life.

2. Exercise intolerance

We are not referring to a dog that does not want to run several kilometers, but one that does not even try to find a ball thrown a few meters away. If your pet is reluctant to exercise or play, pay attention, as it can be an alarm signal.

It also identifies if after the walks you are too tired or have trouble breathing, as it can be a sign of heart problems caused by obesity.

3. Respiratory problems

Persistent cough, which worsens at night - especially when you sleep - and when sitting or lying down may indicate heart problems. In addition, you may have difficulty breathing or frequent panting, even with very mild efforts such as getting out of bed.

4. Behavior changes

If your dog was quite active and gradually notes that he does not even want to go out to the garden, it may be due to something particular or a more serious problem. It may also happen that at night it takes a long time to go to sleep and change positions constantly, as if he was not comfortable anywhere.

5. Dizziness, fainting and lethargy

When the heart disease is advanced, the body will not oxygenate accordingly. And that can have many consequences. For example, that the animal is disoriented, that it gets dizzy or walks on its side, that it feels weak and apathetic, as if it has no strength all the time.

In the case of heart disease, proper treatment by the veterinarian is essential. The professional will perform the tests he deems necessary and then he will dedicate how to act. Do not miss the time to take it to the consultation, because the earlier it is treated, the better for the life of your pet.

Yamila Papa Painter is a sports journalist (Circle of sports journalists, 2006-2008). Between 2010 and 2011 he worked as sports journalist in "Argentinos Pasión".

Since 2011 he works in the article writing on different topics: health, sports, travel, pets and cooking recipes, among them. It is also radio and television broadcaster, and a great enthusiast for natural life. It is vegetarian and active participant of a foundation in charge of planting trees in his country of origin, Argentina. In terms of languages, he is fluent in English and Portuguese, and has a basic level of Arabic.

He recently completed his training with the course of: »Introduction to Food and Health» (Stanford University, 2019)

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Symptoms of heart failure in dogs

The observation of these symptoms in our dog should make us suspect that his heart is not functioning properly:

  • Dyspnea and cough: respiratory distress or dyspnea manifests as rapid and superficial breathing. The cough usually occurs at night. It is a consequence of the formation of edema in the lungs due to the increase in venous pressure.
  • Exercise intolerance and weakness: your activity level will decrease and you will get tired earlier during the walks. The tissues are not well irrigated and cannot withstand a normal level of activity. The last consequence of poor tissue perfusion is cardiac cachexia or extreme loss of body condition.
  • Edemas: liquid is released from the blood vessels into cavities such as the abdomen (ascites).
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea, vomiting ...): are due to venous congestion of organs such as the liver or stomach.
  • Syncope: transient loss of consciousness, usually due to certain arrhythmias, due to the absence of blood perfusion at the brain level.

Tests for the diagnosis of heart disease in dogs

If we suspect that our dog could be suffering heart failure or simply over eight years of age, we must go to our veterinarian to perform a cardiological study, determining the causes of the insufficiency and focusing properly on medical treatment. We present some of the most used tests for diagnose heart disease in dogs:

  • Auscultation: Using a stethoscope or stethoscope placed on the chest it is possible to hear heart murmurs or noises. It is complemented with the pulse taking, to determine its quality and heart rate.
  • Electrocardiograph: It consists of recording the electrical activity of the heart. It gives us information about the heart rate, the existence of arrhythmias and abnormalities in the size of the heart chambers. It is also possible to perform continuous monitoring by holter.
  • Bone scan: it allows to visualize the shape and size of the heart, as well as the existence of pulmonary edema and congestion of other organs, such as the liver.
  • Echocardiography: It is the only technique that allows us to visualize the cardiac anatomy in motion, observing the size of the chambers, the force of contraction, the functioning of the valves and the blood flow.
  • MRI and computerized axial tomography: They assess cardiac anatomy much more accurately.
  • Tensiometry: There are currently specific devices for our pets that allow us to know blood pressure reliably.

1. Arrhythmias

Arrhythmias are undoubtedly symptoms of heart disease in dogs. It is a irregular heartbeat pattern of the heart and, although they may be caused by many factors, it is an abnormality that must be evaluated by the specialist.

There are very different arrhythmias, slow or accelerated, but clearly indicate a problem in the internal organs of the dog.

2. Breathing problems

Sometimes it is not easy to detect an arrhythmia and it is not usual to study the rhythm of our pet's heart. For that reason, one of the most common symptoms that alert a responsible owner are the different breathing problems that dogs with heart disease suffer:

  • Accelerated breathing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Cough
  • Heart murmur
  • Frequent panting

Any of these symptoms may be an indication of cardiovascular problems in the dog or that are associated with other diseases. Frequent cough is a very common sign.

3. Exercise intolerance

Dogs with heart problems suffer discomfort and weakness when actively exercising. For that reason it is usual to see them lying down following a sedentary lifestyle. The fainting, constant beatingand even the refusal to exercise These are alarm signals that our partner sends us. A healthy and accustomed dog to an active or moderate routine should not present problems to exercise of any kind.

Dog discomfort and other factors that arise when you suffer from heart disease can cause the dog to vomit on a regular basis. In these cases it is common to observe small regurgitations composed of bile. Although this type of problem is also a symptom of other diseases, it is common in dogs sick from heart problems.

To end with these 5 symptoms of heart disease in dogs it is important to highlight that, all the symptoms together, will cause such a degree of discomfort in our dog that it is likely that be weak, apathetic and lethargic.

If you observe more than one of these symptoms it is very likely that your dog may be suffering from a problem in its internal organs.

What to do if our dog suffers from any of the 5 symptoms of heart disease in dogs?

There are very diverse diseases and health problems that can affect our dog. Among the most common we highlight dilated cardiomyopathy and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

To know what is the disease that is affecting your dog will be basic go to the vet in search of a diagnosis that must be made by an electrocardiogram, an ultrasound and even an x-ray. It will depend on each case.

From the diagnosis, the veterinarian will prescribe the relevant medication or changes in the dog's routine that are indicated for your case specifically, assessing the age of the patient and the physical capacity he possesses. In the most serious cases an intervention may be requested.

Taking care of your pet's health is very important, for that reason going to the veterinarian on a regular basis is essential to detect any health problems in time.

This article is purely informative, at we have no power to prescribe veterinary treatments or make any kind of diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian in case he presents any type of condition or discomfort.

If you want to read more articles similar to 5 symptoms of heart disease in dogs, we recommend that you enter our section of cardiovascular diseases.