Skip to Content

9 Large Breed Dogs at Risk of Heart Disease in the United States

Did you know that approximately 95% of heart disease cases in dogs are considered “acquired”?

Nine large breed dogs at risk of heart disease in the United States is a post dedicated to information on heart disease.

Veterinarian medicine has come a long way and it seems our dogs are living longer and healthier lives than ever before. That’s great news!

If your dog has been diagnosed with heart disease, this post will help explain what that means for your dog. We’ll also go over some of the treatment options and life expectancy of dogs with cardiovascular disease.

This post will cover the top 9 large breed dogs that are more at risk of developing heart disease.

Congenital Heart Disease in Dogs – Is Your Puppy At Risk?

Congenital heart disease is a defect present at birth. They may be caused by genetic defects, environmental conditions, infections, etc.

Common congenital heart defects include:

  • patent ductus arteriosus
  • pulmonic stenosis
  • aortic stenosis
  • persistent right aortic arch
  • ventricular septal defect

Detecting congenital heart defects early is important for treatment and prognosis. Some defects can be corrected with surgery. In fact, treatment should be performed before the defect leads to congestive heart failure.

If heart disease isn’t corrected early, it can lead to irreversible heart damage.

Signs of Heart Disease in Large Breed Dogs

Knowing your dog may be at risk of developing heart disease is one thing, recognizing the signs is another.

As pet owners, we know when something isn’t quite right with our dogs. Unfortunately, heart disease can be hard to detect. Heart disease in dogs is progressive and it may take a while for signs to develop.

If your dog is experiencing any of the following signs and symptoms, be sure to make an appointment with a licensed veterinarian as soon as possible.

Some of the signs noted below can be caused by any number of things. It’s not necessarily related to your dog’s heart, but you don’t want to take that chance.

Signs to Watch For:

  • Dry cough following physical activity
  • Dry cough that gets worse at night
  • Shortness of breath
  • Breathing too fast (elevated breathing)
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Fainting (may look like a seizure)
  • Fluid-filled potbelly
  • Tires rapidly

How A Diagnosis of Heart Disease is Made in Dogs

Veterinarians may suspect heart disease based on results of regular wellness checks. In fact, he/she may recommend specific procedures to help make an accurate diagnosis. These include:

  • x-rays
  • cardiac evaluation
  • electrocardiogram
  • physical examination
  • echocardiogram
  • cardiac catheterization
  • blood test
  • urine analysis

Treating Heart Disease in Large Breed Dogs

The term “heart disease” can refer to a large number of conditions that affect the pet’s heart.

For that reason, treatment options are varied. Types of heart conditions and their treatment options are explained below according to breed.

Preventing Heart Disease in Dogs

Dog ownership can come with many ups and downs, especially when it comes to disease.

t may not be entirely possible to prevent heart disease in dogs, but there are some things you can do to ensure your dog has a healthy life.

In some cases, you may not be able to prevent acquired heart disease in dogs. However, with care and attention, you may be able to catch the disease early.

The earlier heart disease is discovered, the better the outcome.

Dental Health = Heart Health

It might be difficult to understand the connection between the two. The reality is that bacteria caused by dental disease is the same bacteria that is implicated in heart disease.

This bacteria is associated with endocarditis (inflammation and infection of the heart’s interior) and valvular disease. This can affect dogs and cats.

In addition to ensuring your dog has a healthy diet (not a lot of human foods that can rot their teeth), regular brushing and occasional professional cleanings are helpful.

You Might Be Interested In Similar Topics Including:

Can Dogs Get Cavities? 5 Signs of Dental Disease in Dogs

Dog Tooth Abscess – 5 Things You Need to Know

45 Dog Breeds Known to Have Black Gums & Tongues

Periodontal Disease in Dogs: 5 Easily Missed Signs


Adequate exercise is a great way to ward off obesity in dogs. Different breeds have different exercise requirements.

Not sure how much exercise is appropriate for your dog? Visit the Academy Animal Hospital for useful tips.

Regular Wellness Checks

Annual wellness checks with the veterinarian can go a long way in catching canine heart disease early. Unfortunately, many signs of heart disease easily go unnoticed until it is advanced.

Healthy Diet

The number one thing to consider for your dog is a healthy diet. A healthy diet should include Taurine (amino acid) and omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil).

Your veterinarian will help you choose the best food for your dog. The type of food suggested will likely coincide with the stage of your dog’s heart disease.

The following are affiliate links. This means that if you click on a link and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission.

The following prescription diets are sold through Chewy, one of my favorite stores for all-things pet related.

It’s important to make sure you get the best food for your dog. The following are suggestions you may want to talk over with your veterinarian before purchasing.

Hills Prescription Diet

The Key Benefits of this prescription diet include:

  • Clinical nutrition especially formulated to support dog’s heart health
  • Helps maintain normal blood pressure
  • Helps minimize fluid retention
  • Protects kidney function while supporting a healthy immune system with antioxidants
  • Formulated with low sodium, high levels of I-carnitine and taurine.
  • Appropriate levels of protein and phosphorus

Solid Gold Young at Heart Grain Free Gluten Free

The Key Benefits of this prescription diet include:

  • good for senior dogs
  • grain-free
  • chicken
  • sweet potato
  • spinach
  • pro-biotic support
  • gluten free
  • highly-digestible easy on stomachs
  • Made in the USA
  • Zero fillers, corn, wheat, soy, grain, gluten, carrageenan, or artificial preservatives

Dr. Mercola Heart Health for Cats & Dogs

The Key Benefits of this prescription diet include:

  • Formulated with 12 active ingredients
  • Supports heart health for cats & dogs at high risk of heart disease
  • Human-grade antioxidants, amino acids, plant compounds
  • Organic cheddar cheese base
  • Easy to incorporate into dog’s diet

NOTE: If you purchase dog food with added supplements, your dog may not need an additional supplement. More isn’t necessarily better. Ask your veterinarian about adding this to your dog’s diet.

Wellness Core Grain-Free Reduced Fat

The Key Benefits of this prescription diet include:

  • helps dogs maintain a healthy weight
  • fortified with omega fatty acids, antioxidants, glucosamine, probiotics, taurine, vitamins and minerals
  • advanced natural nutrition with a savory flavor that dogs love
  • formulated by nutritionists, veterinarians and animal lovers
  • nature’s finest ingredients
  • no meat by-products, wheat, corn, soy, artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives

Important Note Before Purchasing Food

Please note:

I’m more interested in your dog’s health and safety than earning a small commission. Please check with the veterinarian before starting your dog on a new diet. This is especially true for dog’s with heart disease and/or underlying conditions.

Ask your veterinarian about grain-free dog food. Please see the quote below regarding grain-free dog food and the risk of DCM in dogs:

The FDA does not know the specific connection between these diets and cases of non-hereditary DCM and is continuing to explore the role of genetics, underlying medical conditions, and/or other factors. 

— U.S. Food & Drug Administration
Questions & Answers: FDA’s Work on Potential Causes of Non-Hereditary DCM in Dogs

Great Danes

Great danes are at risk of a variety of health problems.

Great Danes tend to suffer from cardiomyopathy.

This disease is characterized by degeneration of the heart muscle. As the heart gets weaker, the muscle becomes thinner. The blood pressure inside the heart causes the thin muscle walls to stretch and enlarge.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Dilated cardiomyopathy is a common cause of heart failure in many large breed dogs as you will see below. The problem with this heart condition is that it develops slowly over time.

You may not even know your dog has it until he/she suddenly experiences intense clinical signs.

Signs of Cardiomyopathy in Dogs

  • rapid breathing when at rest (includes sleeping)
  • your dog appears to have difficulty breathing (increased effort)
  • restless sleep
  • coughing or gagging
  • weakness
  • exercise intolerance
  • collapse
  • fainting
  • low appetite
  • weight loss
  • pot belly
  • suddenly very quiet or not interactive
  • sudden death

Treatment for Dogs with Cardiomyopathy

Treatment usually involves a combination of prescription drugs. In the early stages, the veterinarian will want to stabilize your dog with diuretics and blood-pressure medicine.

Other treatment options may include the use of:

Angiotensin Converting Enzyme Inhibitors (ACE-inhibitors)

This medication works by lowering blood pressure. Most importantly, it reduces the resistance of blood flowing out of the heart.

Cardiac Glycosides

These drugs work by improving overall heart function. They slow the heart rate and help to strengthen heart contractions. Unfortunately, this type of medication has the potential for side-effects. Doses are typically well-monitored.


Vasodilators enlarge (dilate) the arteries and veins in the body. This reduces the amount of work the heart has to do to pump blood efficiently. ACE-inhibitors are commonly used when congestive heart failure is associated with cardiomyopathy.


Bronchodilators are used to help the dog breath easier.


This drug lowers blood pressure in the veins and arteries. It is known to improve heart muscle strength.

Anti-arrhythmic Drugs

Some dogs diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy also have heart arrhythmias. If the standard medication doesn’t help control the arrhythmias, anti-arrhythmia drugs might be prescribed.

These drugs are available in two classes: beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers.


The Boxer breed may be at increased risk of heart disease.

Boxers have a genetic predisposition to something called Boxer Cardiomyopathy. It’s also known as Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC).

Good breeders have access to blood tests that can detect this genetic mutation.

In addition to cardiomyopathy (description under Great Danes), Boxers are prone to congenital aortic and pulmonic stenosis.

Boxers are also at risk of developing atrial septal defect. In atrial septal defects, blood gets shunted from the right side of the heart to the left side. This can happen if the heart fails to form properly in the animal embryo.

The result is a hole in the heart that occurs between the right and left atriums. Ultimately, this results in the heart not being able to pump blood efficiently. This creates a significant heart murmur (abnormal heart rhythm) that’s usually only detected during a regular physical exam.

Signs of Congenital Aortic and Pulmonary Stenosis

This is the most commonly diagnosed congenital heart condition in dogs. Signs of aortic stenosis in dogs is very similar to those seen in cardiomyopathy and can include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Rapid breathing
  • Abnormal lung sounds
  • Arrhythmia
  • Heart murmur
  • Weak pulse
  • General weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Unable to exercise (intolerance)

Treatment of Aortic and Pulmonary Stenosis in Dogs

Clinical treatment typically involves medications to control the disease. There is no cure.

Beta-blockers can be used to try and protect the heart muscle by limiting the occurrence of arrhythmias. The other option may be surgical intervention. The procedure known as “balloon valvuloplasty” requires a veterinary cardiologist. The surgeon inserts a catheter with a balloon through a vein in the neck or the leg.

The balloon is dilated at the pulmonic valve in an attempt to reduce obstruction.

Cocker Spaniels

Cocker spaniels are prone to dilated cardiomyopathy. Read this and discover the implications for your dog.

Cocker spaniels are also prone to dilated cardiomyopathy. Dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs can result in pulmonary edema. This happens when there is an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the tissues between blood vessels.

Pulmonary edema is either considered cardiogenic (originating in the heart), or non-cardiogenic.

Irish Wolfhound

Did you know that roughly 1/3 of Irish Wolfhounds develop dilated cardiomyopathy in their lifetime? Read this to learn more.

Roughly 1/3 of Irish wolfhounds develop dilated cardiomyopathy in their lifetime. As mentioned above, this progressive disease leads to loss of heart function. It also creates abnormal heart rhythms.

Specific to the Irish Wolfhound, this disease is known as “Irish Wolfhound Type Cardiomyopathy”.

Nearly all Irish Wolfhounds diagnosed with cardiomyopathy (99%) will also have atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation affects the top chambers of the heart (atria).

Irish Wolfhounds with this disease appear to have longer survival times than other breeds.

Signs of Irish Wolfhound Type Cardiomyopathy

Dogs affected with atrial fibrillation as a result of cardiomyopathy may have few obvious signs. Pet owners may notice the following:

  • lack of appetite
  • acting or behaving “off”
  • general weakness

Treatment for Irish Wolfhounds with Cardiomyopathy

This disease presents a little differently in Irish Wolfhounds than in other dog breeds. As a result, treatment options may vary.

Treatment options generally include medications to control arrhythmias. These prescriptions could include digoxin, sotalol, or diltiazem. They work by slowing the heart rate to (hopefully) the targeted resting heart rate of 80-100 beats per minute.

Other treatment options include ACE-inhibitors to improve the strength and efficiency of the heart muscle.

Doberman Pinschers

Dogs like the Great Dane can develop the potentially fatal heart condition known as DCM.

As with many large breed dogs, dilated cardiomyopathy is common. It affects nearly half of all Doberman pinschers.

Sadly, dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is potentially fatal. Researchers are studying the disease to evaluate the effects of environmental factors, diet, supplements, and exercise on how the disease progresses.

Golden Retriever

In addition to heart problems, Golden Retrievers are also prone to a number of health issues.

Golden retrievers are prone to a number of health problems.

Some of these health issues, including dental disease, are common in many breeds. In fact, it’s thought that dental disease affects as many as 80% of all dogs by 2 years of age.

Other types of health problems can include bone and joint problems, eye disease, epilepsy, diabetes, and heart disease.

Some golden retrievers develop a heart condition known as aortic stenosis. This causes a partial obstruction of blood flow as it leaves the heart.

Unfortunately, this causes a lot of strain and prevents the heart from pumping efficiently.

Signs of Aortic Stenosis in Golden Retrievers

  • chronic cough
  • weakness
  • fatigue
  • lack of appetite
  • weight loss

As you’ve seen already, many dogs including golden retrievers, are also at risk of developing dilated cardiomyopathy.

German Shepherd

Read about the risks of dilated cardiomyopathy in German Shepherds.

German shepherds are vulnerable to dilated cardiomyopathy which is explain in more detail further in this post.

American Staffordshire Terriers

The American Staffordshire Terrier can develop a number of heart conditions including aortic stenosis and mitral valve dysplasia.

The American Staffordshire terrier is at risk of a variety of heritable heart disease. These include the following subvalvular aortic stenosis, valvular pulmonic stenosis, mitral valve dysplasia.

The term “subaortic stenosis” refers to the narrowing of the area just below the aortic valve. This is usually the result of an abnormal fibrous band of tissue.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

Read this post to find out the leading cause of death in the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is prone to various health conditions, including degenerative mitral valve disease (MVD).

This is the leading cause of death in the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel throughout the world.

MVD causes the degeneration of the heart’s mitral valve. This is one of four sets of valves in a dog’s heart. The valves are supposed to fully open to allow blood to flow through and then close so that the blood cannot flow backward.

When the valve deteriorates it can no longer fully close.

This inability to close properly allows the blood to flow backwards into the atrium. Over time, the disease tends to result in heart failure for the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

However, this isn’t necessarily true of other breeds.

Signs of Mitral Valve Disease in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels

All cavalier pet owners should have their dog screened for sounds of turbulent blood flow.

These are called heart murmurs. Since early-onset mitral valve disease is an inherited disease in the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, breeder’s should take steps to ensure their breeding stock are not affected.

Unfortunately, many dogs in the early stages of the disease have no outward signs. In fact, they are very subtle.

Owners with older dogs could easily chalk up signs of fatigue, for example, as a natural aging process.

Clinical Signs include:

  • exercise intolerance
  • coughing
  • trouble breathing
  • increased breathing rate
  • collapse
  • weakness

If your dog is experiencing signs noted above, it could be a sign of heart failure.

Treatment Options for Dogs with Mitral Valve Disease

Treatment of this disease depends on the stage. There are different stages including:

Stage A

At this stage, dogs are at high risk of developing heart disease. Medication may not be required.

Stage B1

At Stage B1, a heart murmur is heart but no signs of heart failure are present. Medication may not be required.

Stage B2

It’s possible that the heart may be enlarged and medications may be started. Pet owners may not realize there dog is sick because there are often no signs at this stage.

Dogs with Stage B2 Mitral Valve Disease will require daily medication to slow the progression of congestive heart failure.

Stage C

Worsening heart disease and signs of heart failure. Signs include coughing, fatigue, and fainting. More medication may be needed.

Stage D

Stage D involved end-stage heart disease. At this point, the disease probably isn’t responding to treatment.

Life Expectancy of a Dog with Heart Disease

Life expectancy depends on a number of things including:

  • dog’s age
  • dog’s overall health
  • underlying health conditions
  • progression or stage of the disease
  • type of heart disease
  • environmental factors

As you’ve read above, early diagnosis is key to managing heart disease in dogs. If caught early, medications and sometimes surgery may help your dog live a longer life.

There’s no template to say how long your dog can live with heart disease.

According to Modern Dog Magazine, “Studies have shown that dogs who were started on a medication before showing clinical signs of heart disease had a better long term prognosis.”

You May be Interested in:

Quality of Life – Is Your Dog Living His/Her Best Life?

Symptoms of Heart Disease in Dogs

Life Expectancy of a Dog with Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Dog Heart Murmur Life Expectancy Guide


Many dog breeds (both large and small) are at risk of various types of congenital heart disease. The most common one is dilated cardiomyopathy. Heart murmurs are also a risk to some dog breeds.

Unfortunately, there are often no obvious signs or symptoms in the early stages of heart disease. If there are any, they can often be mistaken for signs of aging.

The best way to catch heart disease in its early stages is to take your dog for annual wellness checks. The early heart disease is diagnosed, the better the long-term outcomes.

Thank you for reading. Please share and sign up for the newsletter.

SOURCES: – Everything You Need to Know About Heart Disease in Dogs

American Kennel Club – Great Dane Life Span & Health Issues

Acorn House Veterinary Hospital – Heart Disease in Boxers

Thank you for reading this post!

I want to take a moment to thank you for reading this post. I hope you found it useful and informative. If so, could you take a second to spread doggy love through social media?

You'll find the buttons at the top of this post and at the bottom of the post. might have noticed a little heart at the bottom left of your screen? Give it a click if you want to bookmark this page for future reference.