Heart disease

Heart disease affects an estimated 15% of dogs in the UK, making it the second most common cause of death after cancer.

But science has been coming along in leaps and bounds over the last few years, and the outlook for a dog with heart failure is often not as gloomy as it once was.
The heart is simply a muscular pump divided into four chambers; two on the left and two on the right.

The signs of Heart disease
In the early stages of heart disease, your dog’s body may make adjustments to allow him or her to cope with the disease. During this stage of the disease your dog may show no visible signs of being unwell.
As time goes by and the disease progresses into clinical heart failure, your dog’s body will no longer be able to make adjustments for the disease progression. At this stage, owners often notice deterioration in their dog’s health.
Signs of heart failure in your dog that you may notice include any of the following in any combination:
•    Coughing
•    Changes in breathing
o    Difficulty breathing
o    Shortness of breath
o    Laboured breathing
o    Rapid/fast breathing
•    Changes in behaviour
o    Tiring easily
o    Reluctance to exercise/not wanting to go for walks
o    Less playful
o    Slowing down/lack of energy
o    Depressed/withdrawn
•    Poor appetite
•    Weight loss or weight gain
•    Fainting/collapsing
•    Weakness
•    Restlessness, especially at night
•    Swollen abdomen
The signs of heart failure can be subtle and mistaken for changes associated with aging. Watch as your dog goes about his or her daily activities. If you notice any changes in your dog’s behaviour, appetite, or level of movement, talk to your vet.
How Does The Vet Diagnose Heart Disease?
First, you’ll be asked to provide background information about your animal, along with your observations about any problems you’ve noticed. The vet will perform a physical examination:
•    Listening to the heart and breathing sound.
•    Taking the pulse.
•    Inspecting the gums.
•    Feeling for enlarged or swollen internal organs.
A number of procedures may then be recommended by your veterinarian to evaluate your dog and determine the best treatment. These can include:
•    Chest X-rays (radiographs) – to help determine the size and shape of the heart, the condition of the lungs, and the size of the blood vessels.
•    Electrocardiogram (ECG) – to assist in evaluating the rate and regularity of the heartbeat.
•    Blood and Urine Samples – to check the function of the kidneys, liver and other organs for their involvement in the heart failure process, and for the presence of other diseases.
•    Echocardiogram (ultrasound) – to aid in visualizing the internal structures of the heart and its ability to function.

Steal 4 pics from http://www.heartydog.co.uk/healthy/en/index.shtml
The common heart diseases suffered by dogs often lead to heart failure. That’s not to be confused with heart attacks experienced by people. Dogs will generally suffer what is called Congestive Heart Failure (CHF), a relatively slow worsening of symptoms – also suffered by people – as the heart struggles to compensate for whatever defect or disease is present. As the condition develops, it will affect all other organs in the body that rely on the efficient supply of nutrient-rich blood.

Experts classify canine heart diseases in one of two categories:

Acquired heart diseases are those that a dog acquires during its lifetime, usually as a result of normal wear and tear, infection or injury.

Acquired heart disease accounts for 95% of all heart disease seen in dogs, and usually appears after they reach middle age.

By the time a dog shows obvious symptoms of acquired heart disease, it is likely that irreversible damage has already been done. Usually, the earlier heart disease is diagnosed, the better your vet will be able to manage the condition.

This is one of the reasons our vets always perform a full annual health check regardless of how well your dog seems at their vaccination appointment. In this way, they’ll stand the best chance of picking up any signs that you would not be able to spot yourself.

If your dog is diagnosed with an acquired heart disease, the outlook is not necessarily all bad. With the latest drug therapy, he may be able to live a comfortable life for some time to come.

Congenital defects are those that have been present since birth. Thankfully, they are comparatively rare, accounting for only 5% of the cases seen by vets.

Congenital defects will usually cause the blood flow through the heart to become turbulent; making a distinctive whooshing noise that vets can hear using a stethoscope. That’s what is meant by a ‘heart murmur’. However, if your vet tells you they’ve detected a heart murmur in your dog, it’s not necessarily cause for concern.

Many puppies are born with a slight heart murmur (or puppy murmur) that clears up by itself after 4-6 months. In many cases, vets will simply recommend a later check-up, just to be sure that the condition has resolved itself.

Pronounced heart murmur is quite rare, but may be indicative of a serious congenital defect. However, without specialist experience and equipment, it can be difficult for a GP vet to know what defect is causing the murmur. For this reason, if the murmur is pronounced, or persists beyond puppyhood, patients will often be referred to a specialist cardiologist.

Treatment
It’s important to distinguish between heart disease and heart failure. Heart disease is the underlying condition. It can rarely be cured per se. Heart failure is the consequence of heart disease.

Heart failure is rarely a sudden cessation of the heart’s function, but a slow complex process in which its decline affects the performance of almost every part of the body. Unlike the underlying disease, heart failure can often be managed with drugs that improve and extend the dog’s life.

Chief amongst these are ACE inhibitors. First used in man, ACE inhibitors reduce blood volume and blood pressure, thereby relieving stress on the heart. They are also thought to slow the deterioration of the heart muscles. Frusemide (water tablets) which also reduce blood volume and and fluid accumulated in the lungs or abdomen and Vetmedin which improves the pumping action of the heart.

There are many other drugs, diets and surgical techniques used to treat heart disease or manage heart failure. A special exercise regime for your dog will also be very important.

The most appropriate person to oversee the care of your animal is always your usual veterinary surgeon. We are familiar with your pet’s medical history, and will be best placed to monitor the results of treatment.

However, as in human medicine, some veterinary surgeons decide to specialise in certain areas of care, such as cardiology.

In some cases, your vet may decide to refer your pet to such a specialist for advanced treatment or a second opinion.

We are in the fortunate position that we have access to a specialist cardiologist who will visit us here at the Stamford branch when required. Making it much more convenient for you and means that your pet does not have to travel far afield.