Emergency Care

Your Complete Guide to Symptoms of Heart Disease in Dogs

You’re worried about your dog because of some symptoms you’ve noticed recently.  Maybe you picked up on a cough your dog developed, or noticed some changes in your dog’s energy level.  It’s possible your dog is having trouble breathing properly.

Of course, you’re worried.

If you haven’t brought your dog to the veterinarian yet, but your mind has jumped to the worst-case scenario, I want to help bring your panic level down with solid information on what heart disease/heart failure really is, the difference between the two, how heart disease is diagnosed, and the treatments available.

Canine cardiologists see heart disease as a chronic problem requiring long-term treatment.  They do not see it as a death sentence.

If the veterinarian believes your dog has heart disease, ask whether it’s early stage or late stage. Treatment options and outcomes will depend on whether any heart damage has already been done.

Let me try to break this down for you…

SYMPTOMS OF HEART DISEASE IN DOGS VERSUS HEART FAILURE – WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Heart Disease is a group of conditions that cause wear and tear on the heart muscle, leaving patients at risk for heart failure.

Heart Failure happens when disease has weakened or damaged the heart. When this happens, the heart can’t pump enough blood through the dog’s system. This is a chronic condition requiring long-term treatment.

Getting the Right Diagnosis Takes Time

If your dog is older and you’ve noticed a persistent cough, you are right in assuming that something is wrong. Presenting with a simple cough isn’t enough for a veterinarian to make a diagnosis of heart disease. The cough is what you see and hear on the outside.  In order to identify swelling or damage to the heart, the veterinarian has to have a look inside.

A recent article by the Cardiac Education Group (www.CardiacEducationGroup.org) reports that:

“chronic bronchitis is the most common cause of chronic coughing in mature dogs…”

A full work-up is required to diagnose heart disease in dogs.  That means the vet will want to do some blood tests and a thoracic radiograph.  The veterinarian will also ask about the dog’s history relative to how long he/she has been having symptoms.  He/she will want to see the inside of your dog’s mouth for coloring (pale, bluish gums signify lack of oxygen) and will ask a variety of questions meant to narrow down the possibilities.

  “Not All dogs with heart failure cough, and not all coughs are associated with heart failure.”  Dr. Sonya Gordon, Associate Professor of Cardiology, Texas A&M University.

A thoracic radiograph (x-ray) presents an image of your dog’s heart which will show whether the organ is enlarged or not. Thoracic radiographs (chest x-rays) are non-invasive and painless.  

To get an accurate cross-sectional analysis of the heart, two images are taken.  First, your dog will be laid on his/her side in order to get the best picture.  It’s important for your dog to be as still as possible and, in some cases, sedatives might be necessary.

Once that’s finished, your dog will be rolled onto his back and a front-chest image will be taken.

Taking a cross sectional image of the heart enables the veterinarian to determine whether the heart is actually enlarged, or normal in proportion to the dog’s size and breed.

 “Cardiac enlargement is usually present by the time heart disease has progressed to heart failure.” 

-Dr. Rebecca L. Stepien, Clinical Professor, School or Veterinarian Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

TWO TYPES OF HEART DISEASE THAT LEAD TO HEART FAILURE IN DOGS:

  1. MITRAL VALVE DISEASE (MVD) is what’s known as a heart murmur. It’s typically diagnosed in puppies showing no symptoms. As the disease progresses, you may notice more coughing and your dog won’t be able to exert himself through exercise or play.  Mitral Valve Disease is responsible for ¾ of all canine heart disease.

When MVD is discovered early, the dog can be treated with medication.  That medication helps to ease the burden placed on the heart, manages blood pressure and controls fluid retention.

SMALL BREEDS MORE SUSCEPTIBLE TO MITRAL VALVE DISEASE:

  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Chihuahua
  • Miniature Schnauzer
  • Shih Tzu
  • Maltese
  • Toy Poodle

Listen to this short video to hear what a dog’s cough could sound like:

 

  1. CARDIOMYOPATHY: Any disease that negatively affects the heart is referred to as cardiomyopathy.  This type of disease falls under three categories:
  • Dilated Cardiomyopathy

This is the most common and refers to the heart muscle’s inability to pump efficiently. Dilated cardiomyopathy is caused by an enlarged heart, which leads to poor circulation, irregular heartbeat, and heart failure.

LARGE BREEDS more susceptible to dilated cardiomyopathy include the Great Dane, Labrador Retriever, Irish Wolfhound, Golden Retriever, Great Dane, and the Doberman Pinscher.  These breeds tend to become symptomatic in middle to later life.

  • Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy

This condition affects a portion of the heart that becomes thickened. Symptoms may include fatigue, swelling, fainting, or heart failure.  When discovered early, this can be treated with medication.  In some cases, an implantable cardiac defibrillator might be recommended.  Generally, this would be reserved for dogs who don’t respond well to other treatment measures.  There is no known, identifiable cause for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

  • Restrictive Cardiomyopathy

Restricted cardiomyopathy is less common than the other two and involves the heart valves becoming more rigid and not being able to stretch properly. This particular type of disease is rare and because of that, limited data is available.

COULD IT BE SOMETHING OTHER THAN HEART DISEASE?

Veterinarians/cardiologists want to be certain the dog actually has heart disease before beginning treatment.  In addition to listening for cough, respiration rate, and radiograph analysis, the veterinarian will also take into consideration the age, size, and breed of the dog.

Before the doctor makes a diagnosis of heart disease, he/she will want to rule out other causes including:

HEART WORM

Heart worm is spread by mosquitos carrying the heartworm larvae. Dogs who live in hot, humid climates where there is a high mosquito population might be prone to heartworm. Symptoms, which include coughing and tiredness, could easily be mistaken for heart disease in an older dog. 

Heart worms are long and stringy, much like a piece of spaghetti. They infiltrate the heart and lungs, and if left to reproduce, cause permanent damage resulting in heart disease and death.

CHRONIC OBSTRUCTIVE PULMONARY DISEASE (COPD) or CHRONIC BRONCHITIS

COPD occurs when the dog’s airway becomes inflamed.  The first thing you’ll notice is the cough, which is likely the reason you brought your dog to the veterinarian in the first place.

While doctors are unable to narrow down any specific cause for this disease, it’s thought to be a result of long-term exposure to airborne irritants. Tobacco smoke, pollution, smog, chemical exposure, and allergens could all contribute to the disease. 

COPD is characterized by a dry, gagging cough that mimics the symptoms of heart failure.

PNEUMONIA

Fluid in the lungs will make a dog cough. The dog will be tired because of the inability to absorb enough oxygen into his system. In addition, a dog with pneumonia isn’t going to be able to easily take a deep breath which results in a faster respiratory rate, as indicated above.  Your dog will probably have a fever and low appetite.

LUNG CANCER (ADENOCARCINOMA)

The difference in a cough caused by lung cancer as opposed to heart disease involves the spitting up of blood.  This is the most common cancer in dogs over 10 years of age.  Lung cancer spreads very quickly to other parts of the body including the organs, lymph nodes, bones, brain, and eyes.

If the veterinarian were to spend too much time on a false assumption of heart disease, something like this could be overlooked and, by the time it becomes apparent, could be too late.

KENNEL COUGH (CANINE INFECTIOUS TRACHEOBRONCHITIS)

Have you traveled recently? Left your dog at a kennel? Kennel cough produces a terrible-sounding cough that would strike fear in the hearts of any dog owners.  Thankfully, it’s not considered a serious illness and can be treated with medications.

A dog is exposed to kennel cough the same way humans are exposed to colds and flu. Our immune systems become compromised, leaving us vulnerable to viruses.  The same thing happens to dogs. Dogs exposed to cigarette smoke, cold temperatures, or conditions like those seen in kennels are more likely to succumb to viral infections like kennel cough.

Treatment includes antibiotics. It’s also important to note that your dog can be vaccinated if he/she might be at higher risk.

PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR DOG’S BREATH CYCLES

If the veterinarian isn’t able to make a definitive diagnosis right away, he/she may ask you to monitor your dog’s respiration rates for about a week.

*Important: Please take your dog to see a veterinarian as soon as possible. The following explanation is designed to give you an awareness of the procedure, not substitute an emergency visit.

Dog owners are often keenly aware of out-of-the-ordinary signs and symptoms. Have you noticed a change in your dog’s breathing rate?  If so, make sure to mention it to the veterinarian. You don’t have to know the exact respiration rate. Simply telling the doctor that you’ve noticed faster breathing will help tremendously.

HOW TO PRACTICE RESTING HOME RESPIRATION (BREATHING) RATES ON YOUR DOG.

If you’ve ever had pneumonia, you understand how hard it is to take a deep breath. That’s because the lungs are holding water (edema).  When restricted that way, the lungs can’t expand and when that happens, your breathing rate becomes shallow.

The next time your dog curls up beside you, watch and count how often the chest rises within a 1 minute span.  COUNT ONE BREATH FOR THE ENTIRE RISE AND FALL OF THE CHEST DURING BREATH INTAKE.

  • Most dogs at rest will have a respiratory rate between 15 – 30 breaths per minute. REMEMBER: One breath includes the full rise and fall of the chest during inhalation and exhalation.
  • 35 breaths per minute is considered the cut-off, or maximum for most dogs.
  • Hot, recently active, or anxious dogs will normally experience a higher respiration rate, but it shouldn’t remain that way.
  • Breathing rates noticeably and consistently higher than 35 is a cause for concern.

It’s best if you have already established a baseline for your dog’s normal breathing rate, but most people don’t think of that when enjoying the companionship of a healthy dog.

That’s okay!  As mentioned above, simply noticing a faster breathing rate and telling the veterinarian about it is a huge help in aiding a fast diagnosis.

You might notice an increased respiration rate before your dog develops a cough

CLINICAL METHODS OF RULING OUT OTHER CAUSES OF COUGH IN DOGS.

If clinical signs don’t immediately point to heart disease, the veterinarian might suggest a broad-spectrum antibiotic to take care of any infectious disease that could be present.

If symptoms improve after a few days of antibiotics, the veterinarian will be reasonably assured that the presenting symptoms are not related to heart disease.  However, depending on a number of factors (age, other health conditions, obesity), the veterinarian may still want you to monitor the dog’s conditions weeks after the last dose of medication in case the symptoms return. 

THE TESTS ARE BACK AND IT IS DEFINITELY HEART DISEASE

Okay, the worst part – the waiting – is over.  Now you know what you’re dealing with and the veterinarian will be able to customized a treatment plan specific to your dog’s needs.

The veterinarian should use a combination of the following classifications to record your dog’s disease progression.

 

CLASSIFICATION

Class I     The dog shows no obvious systems of heart disease, even with heavy exercise.

Class II    The dog only shows clinical signs and symptoms during or after hard exercise.

Class III   A dog in this classification will exhibit signs and symptoms of heart disease doing moderate kinds of everyday activity.

Class IV   At this level, the dog is showing severe signs of heart disease, even when at rest.

STAGES

Stage A.  In Stage A, the dog may be at higher risk of developing heart disease but has no immediate signs and symptoms that warrant deeper investigation.

Stage B.  The dog might have a heart murmur, but shows no signs of having developed heart failure.

  • B1 – The dog has no telltale symptoms of heart disease. Radiograph and echocardiogram show no evidence of disease.
  • B2 – A murmur could be present, but the dog hasn’t developed signs of heart failure or enlarged heart.

Stage C.  At this stage, heart disease has progressed but the dog can still be treated on an outpatient basis.

Stage D:  At stage 4, the heart disease has progressed to a higher level of seriousness that could result in death. All of the stages mentioned above are designed as guidelines to determine the best treatment options.

Identify symptomatic dogs with advanced heart failure from CVHD and refractory to conventional therapy—these patients require aggressive or new treatment strategies or potentially hospice‐type end‐of‐life care

DIET TREATMENT PLAN WITH LIFESTYLE CHANGES

Maintaining muscle mass in a dog with congestive heart failure is vital in preserving strength.  The clinical term for muscle wasting is cachexia.

Dogs with heart disease will often experience fluctuations in appetite ranging from sudden changes in food preference (known as dysrexia), to a reduction in the amount of food eaten (known as hyporexia) or a complete loss of appetite (known as anorexia). In order to extend your dog’s life, it’s important to maintain a high-protein diet using healthy foods suggested by the vet.

Your veterinarian will have specialized food for sale; however, you might be in a good position to make the dog’s food using beef, chicken, or fish. 

YOUR DOG NEEDS A HIGH PROTEIN DIET

At this stage of your dog’s life, the most important thing is feeding him/her protein from appropriate sources.  Dogs with heart disease tend to be lacking in certain vitamins and minerals, and you want to be sure that whatever you are feeding your dog adds these things to the diet.

Be prepared to change your dog’s food fairly often to make sure he’s getting the right ratio of nutrition that your dog specifically needs.  The most common deficiencies associated with heart disease in dogs include:

TAURINE:  A building block for protein best obtained from meat and fish products. Taurine supports heart, brain, retina, and blood cell function. Although researchers are unable to specify exactly how taurine aids in the treatment of heart disease, it’s thought that this amino sulfonic acid eases nervous system functioning and may reduce blood pressure.

OMEGA-3 Fatty Acids: This fatty acid is normally only found in low doses from the dog’s diet, but can easily be supplemented. It’s thought to benefit dogs with heart disease because of the reduced inflammatory effects .

MINERALS:  Dogs with heart disease might be prescribed a diuretic to reduce edema (swelling) in the lungs.  However, long-term use of diuretics can dilute the amount of minerals the body needs for health.  Without these minerals in the body, dogs will become weaker and at increased risk of arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm).

VITAMIN B: Vitamins are also lost through the urine in dogs prescribed diuretics.  Not all commercial brand dog food contains the recommended amount of B vitamins (specifically, B6 and B12).  To make sure your dog is getting the recommended dose, use dog food formulated by a board-certified veterinary nutritionist.  Your vet will be the best guide in this situation.

  “If owners are feeding their animals home-cooked diets, a variety of vitamin (and other deficiencies” are possible. Studies have shown that, unless formulated by a board-certified veterinary nutritionist, nearly all home-cooked diets are nutritionally unbalanced.” – Dr. Lisa Freeman, School of Veterinary Medicine, Tufts University.

FOODS TO AVOID IN DOGS WITH HEART DISEASE

  • baby food
  • bread
  • cheese
  • lunch meat
  • cold cuts
  • most pet treats
  • rawhides
  • bully stick

The food choices mentioned above are often high in salt and do not provide the necessary nutrients for dogs; specifically, dogs at risk of heart failure.

Do not leave the veterinarian’s office with a vague idea of what a heart disease diet should look like. If your veterinarian is not specific about a diet, make sure to ask.  This is going to be a lifestyle change for you and your dog. Unlearning certain dietary behaviors is paramount to ensuring a good quality of life for your dog.

LONG-TERM ILLNESS COMES WITH A PRICE.

The bottom line is that there’s hope.  You knew the day would come when your aging dog’s health would decline.  When you’re finally faced with a serious, chronic illness like heart disease, it can be an emotional roller coaster.  The overall longevity of your dog and his/her quality of life from this point rests on your shoulders.

Be prepared to spend more money on:

  • More frequent visits to the veterinarian
  • Specialized dog food diets
  • Laboratory tests
  • Radiographs or x-rays
  • Echocardiograms
  • Prescription Medication
  • and possible surgery

Ideally, you would have pet insurance to stay ahead of the financial expense. However, if you don’t fall into that category, don’t be afraid to shop around the best price. And don’t worry! There aren’t that many people who can immediately afford these tests. It doesn’t mean that you don’t love your dog.

If money is a problem, ask your veterinarian for a referral to a less-expensive clinic or discuss what other options might be available. Dogs are family, and we always want to do what’s best for family.

I really hope you were able to learn something valuable in this article and now, I’d like to ask you to share this with friends and/or family.  Whether you’re just in the process of getting a puppy, or nurturing a geriatric dog, anybody can find useful information on how to prevent and treat heart disease in dogs.

Go ahead!  Share through Twitter, LinkedIn, or facebook.

Thank you for your time.

 

 
 

Foods You Should Never Feed Your Dog Infographic Infographic by: Tal of San Franciso, CA

 

Co-Founder & CMO of Visual.ly. A true geek that loves Infographics & Data Visualizations, Sports and everything related to Thundercats and Baking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Truth About Canine Distemper Vaccinations

I feel pretty confident that my two dogs are safe from canine distemper, but are they really? They’re both 7 years old and, depending on the veterinarian you talk to, should both be due for boosters against canine distemper.

I really hope you’re not worried that your dog has distemper, but if you are, I’m going to talk about the symptoms to watch for, and the benefit of the canine distemper vaccine.

 I want you to keep in mind that if your dog was vaccinated against the virus as a pup, there’s a good chance that it’s still working.

ISN’T CANINE DISTEMPER ONE OF THOSE DISEASES THAT DISAPPEARED ALONG WITH POLIO AND SMALLPOX?

Actually, it’s still around and unless dog owners around the world are doing their part to ensure proper vaccinations, there’s a chance the disease could make a come-back.

Canine distemper is a serious illness with no known cure. It affects:

  • Pet dogs
  • Coyotes
  • Wolves
  • Fox
  • Skunk
  • Racoons
  • Ferrets

YES, Animals can catch canine distemper from each other!

Did you see what I did there? I answered your question before you had a chance to ask.

Any dog that has come into contact with the virus whether it be through shared drinking water, particles in the air, or a bite from another animal, is at risk of catching the deadly virus.

Not sure if your dog is due for a booster?  Call your veterinarian or dig out your dog’s health file.

SO, WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF CANINE DISTEMPER?

Symptoms of canine distemper include:

  • Enlarged lymph nodes in your dog’s neck. Distemper enters the body and first settles in the lymphatic system.
  • The virus replicates itself until there is enough of the virus to attack the lungs, gastrointestinal lining, urogenital system, and the dog’s nervous system.
  • Early signs of canine distemper include red eyes with a persistent, water discharge.
  • The dog will also appear to be very tired and will lose appetite; also known as anorexia.

 

  • As the condition worsens, the dog will vomit, cough persistently, and have diarrhea.
  • The infection will continue to move through the dog’s body. As it infiltrates the spinal columns, seizures are common.
  • The dog is quite dangerous and will easily attack hysterically without warning.
  • As the nervous system is quickly damaged, the dog will succumb to tremors in the head or other parts of the body.
  • Your dog may stumble when he walks as a result of the attack to the nervous system.
  • You may notice the pads on the paws will harden or increase in size.

HOW LONG WILL IT BE BEFORE MY DOG IS BACK TO NORMAL?

The sad truth is that there is no cure and the prognosis is not good. The only medications available are those that will help the dog remain comfortable. Once diagnosed with canine distemper, follow-up care is mostly palliative.

I WAS TOLD THERE WAS A DOG WHO WAS VACCINATED BUT STILL CAUGHT THE VIRUS.

That might be true. Some things to consider are:

  • The initial age the dog was when he/she was vaccinated.
  • The size of the dog.
  • The overall general health of the dog.
  • Whether a booster schedule was followed.

In rare cases, dogs who’ve been inoculated could still catch the virus. However, it’s important to note that the vaccine itself does not cause dogs to catch distemper.

While the vaccine does use a microscopic amount of live virus, it’s not enough to stimulate a full-blown illness. What it does, however, is trigger the dog’s immune system to develop antibodies against distemper.

  CANINE DISTEMPER VACCINATIONS SINCE 1950

Vaccinations have always carried some controversy with consideration to any live ingredients and the risk of serious complications due to the vaccine itself.

In my opinion, the risks of the vaccination are much lower than the risk of transmission to dogs who have not been inoculated.  Remember, those raccoons that scarf down whatever is in your garbage can at night could be rampant with the disease. Your dog comes along, comes into contact with the virus, and then it’s too late.

SIDE-EFFECTS OF A CANINE DISTEMPER VACCINATION (DA2PPC):

  • Some dogs will get a bump at the injection site. (I get a bump whenever I have a flu shot). Sure, it’s uncomfortable, but only for a short time.
  • Your dog might feel a little tired for the rest of the day after the vaccination.
  • While the vaccination is in there doing its thing, your dog might feel a little sick to his stomach. That’s totally normal!  It will pass.
  • Your dog might temporarily lose his appetite and he might even feel a little weak for a day or two.
  • In extremely rare cases, dogs could go into anaphylactic shock. Please read that again.  In extremely rare cases. 

Ultimately, inoculation are safe and, compared to the alternative, as a wise investment of time and money.

NEW ON THE HORIZON.  A NEW VACCINE FOR CANINE DISTEMPER?

My research led me to an abstract by the Veterinarian Microbiology Journal that suggests the time might come to develop a new strain of vaccine to better protect the pet population.

According to the article, incidents of canine distemper have risen and include previously vaccinated dogs.  But, like the common cold, there’s more than one strain out there.

The article suggests that it might be time to look at a new vaccination to protect dogs against canine distemper.  For now, however, please make sure your dog is updated on all of his/her vaccinations and boosters, as per the veterinarian’s instructions.

CANINE DISTEMPER IS THE LAST THING YOU WANT YOUR DOG TO SUFFER THROUGH!

The risks of the vaccination are ridiculously small compared to the death-sentence of distemper.

TESTING FOR CANINE DISTEMPER

The two main ways used to diagnose canine distemper is through biochemical tests and urine analysis. During the analysis, the number of lymphocytes—white blood cells that are contained in the lymph nodes are greatly reduced.  

The urine sample will often show viral antigens. Mucus may also show antibodies. MRI or Magnetic resonance imaging will show whether there are any lesions on the brain.

PALLIATIVE CARE FOR DOGS INFECTED WITH DISTEMPER

Once a dog is infected with canine distemper, the most the veterinarian can do is provide supportive, palliative care. That would include painkillers and the treatment of secondary infections as a result of the compromised immune system.

Antibiotics would be administered for secondary infections. If seizures are present, the doctor will likely administer a course of potassium bromide.

While the dog may survive, some of the negative effects of the disease may remain hidden and only show up when the dog gets older. Seizures may develop along with abnormalities of the teeth.

IT’S NOT TOO LATE.

Don’t think your dog was ever vaccinated against canine distemper?  If you brought the puppy in for regular inoculations and worming, there’s a good chance your dog is protected.

There’s no need to worry. If you’re not sure and you want to find out, contact the veterinarian who would have the dog’s health records.

If you found this article helpful, I’d like you to take a minute to Tweet, Pin, or share to facebook so that someone else might benefit from the information.

From Visually.

 

 

 

I also want to thank you for taking the time to read this post and I hope you’ll come back for more.

Before you leave, why not find out more about me and where my love of dogs originated?  When you’re done, go ahead and share that too.