Heart Disease & Failure: Seen in middle and old age, this is the most common problem to affect our beloved canine companions. This disease is particularly prevalent in small breeds such as Chihuahuas and even more frequently in Cavalaier King Charles Spaniels, but that is not to say we may not come across heart valve degeneration in large breeds too.
When taking your dog for a routine check up, your vet will check him over with a stethoscope to listen to his heart beat. He may pick up a murmur in the sound the heart makes and this is down to the way the blood is rushing through the distorted valve. However, just because your dog has a murmur doesnt always mean he will go on to develop heart disease. In fact, some dogs never go on to show any signs of chronic heart disease at all.
Early signs to look out for include:
* coughing (often during or after excitement or exercise)
* reduced ability to partake in any exercise activity (or indeed even the wish to try)
* abdominal swelling
* stopping while out on their daily walks
* restlessness during the night
More severe signs to look out for include:
Because the heart is a pump, if it becomes damaged and is less effective, some of the blood may “dam” backwards and cause fluid retention in the chest which in turn is the reason for the coughing and breathlessness. Fluid may also accumulate in the tummy causing the appearance of swelling
Various tests may be carried out to diagnose the precise form of heart disease and these include x-rays, ECG and possibly an ultrasound scan.
In the earlier stages of the disease, it is often possible to manage the condition quite effectively with drugs. This medication will help to ease the workload on the heart and prevent fluid accumulation in the chest, thus making it more comfortable for the dog to breathe.
Sadly, this condition is not curative, but many dogs do go on to live a number of years with a good quality of life when the heart failure is being well controlled with drugs and careful management. As the disease progresses, drug doses may be altered, diet may be reduced and exercise cut back to a more manageable level.
All dogs are different and their rate of progression with this condition is also unique to each dog – some managing a good many years with a perfectly reasonable quality of life, where as others may deteriorate more rapidly. It is important to keep stresses to a minimum, administration of medication to a tight regular schedule and day to day routine as predictable and calm as possible.
As you would expect, the costs with such a condition due to the drugs and tests required can very quickly become high and consideration needs to be given to this aspect of care too.