Fight Disease

The Fickle Phases of Leptospirosis in Dogs

Leptospirosis in dogs is caused by the spirochete bacteria. This bacteria infects dogs and humans. If not diagnosed early, the prognosis is dire.

Warmer weather means swimming, camping, hiking, and biking.  Tropical or subtropical climates present an increased risk of infection and disease from waterborne pathogens.

Studies show a global increase in cases of canine leptospirosis.  Perhaps it’s a sign of climate change.  We’ve all seen the devastating images of mass flooding on the news. Floodwater of that nature pulls in a wide variety of pathogens that thrive for a long time. It only takes one infected animal to contaminate an entire body of water.

Leptospirosis in dogs is transmitted when the dog:

  • drinks from infected urine
  • is in contact with other domestic animals who have it (through skin cuts, eyes, mouth)
  • drinks or swims in urine-contaminated water (floodwater, rivers, etc.)
  • interacts or lives in close proximity to infected livestock or wildlife

The bacteria lives up to six months in urine-contaminated water. Even the damp soil can harbor the bacteria. This creates a risk of infection through scratches, scrapes, open wounds, and mucous membranes.  Dogs can transmit the bacteria to humans. However, the number of reported cases is relatively low.

The Worst Sign of Infection is No Infection At All.

Early detection of leptospirosis in canines is treatable. The problem lies in the difficulty of diagnosis.  The most commonly seen patients are considered “clinically inapparent”.  That simply meaning the dog has no obvious symptoms.

In the beginning stages, the dog is lethargic and appears under-the-weather.  The reality is that most of the time, there really isn’t anything seriously wrong with the dog.  However, if you’ve been near floodwater recently or live in a susceptible area, ask the veterinarian to test for leptospirosis.   Better safe than sorry.

Once a diagnosis has been made, the veterinarian will assess whether the dog is in one of the four following categories:

  • per-acute
  • acute
  • sub-acute –  most common
  • chronic


In the acute and sub-acute stages of the disease, clinical signs are evident. Unfortunately, that could mean a grave progression in the disease. Renal failure and liver damage are the top two concerns.  If the dog has developed a cough, it’s likely the bacteria has compromised the lungs.

Watch the video below for a discussion on leptospirosis in dogs. Dr. Becker discusses the risks, signs, and symptoms.  Video embedded from YouTube:


Lyme Disease:  The “Second Cousin” of Leptospirosis

You might be surprised to learn that there as many as 230 types of leptospira bacteria and that eight of them are known to cause disease in dogs. The four strains that commonly result in canine infection are:

  • Leptospira icterohaemorrhagiea
  • L. canicola
  • L. grippotyphosa
  • L. pomona

The Borrelia burgdorferi strain of bacteria falls under the larger umbrella and is known to cause Lyme disease .

Leptospirosis Risk Map and Endemic Tick Population Map

The Fickle Phases of Leptospirosis

As frightening as the clinical signs and symptoms seem (see below), the reality is that many dogs present with vague symptoms that could be mistaken for any number of things.  The dog might lack energy, refuse to eat, vomit, or have diarrhea.  In fact, the dog might even appear to recover after a few days.  There’s relief in the eye of the hurricane, until you realize it’s back with a vengeance.

The second phase of leptospirosis erupts with fury, striking its victims with intense symptoms including:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Anorexia – the dog will not/cannot eat
  • Vomiting – perhaps with blood
  • Painful Abdomen
  • Diarrhea
  • Decreased urination
  • Abnormally rapid breathing
  • fever
  • severe pain in the joints
  • jaundice – often first seen as yellowing in the eyes
  • renal failure
  • liver failure
  • combined renal and liver failure associated with the infection is known as “Weil’s disease”

Eradicating The Disease Through Appropriate Vaccination

The days of many crippling or deadly infectious diseases are seemingly behind us now. The use of vaccines eradicated a host of once-feared diseases such as:

  • smallpox
  • polio
  • whooping cough
  • measles
  • tuberculosis
  • rabies

It’s been over 200 years since the first vaccine was discovered.  Immunization can be credited with saving approximately 9 million lives a year worldwide, and yet there remains skepticism from particular groups on the safety and necessity of inoculation.

There are roughly 100 – 150 outbreaks of leptospirosis in the United States every year.  Over 1 million cases happen globally with an average of 60,000 deaths.

CDC, “Leptospirosis Face Sheet for Clinicians”


American Animal Hospital Association Leptospirosis Vaccination Guidelines

The AAHA does not recommend that dogs be immunized for leptospirosis unless they live in a part of the world considered high-risk.  Avoiding absolutely unnecessary vaccinations eliminates the side-effect risk factors including:

  1. Facial swelling
  2. Hives
  3. Deadly anaphylactic shock

The controversy surrounding the vaccines offered before 2004 was heightened by the short-term gain stacked against the risks.  In 2004, a new vaccine released by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals was considered safer and longer lasting. The newer vaccines have essentially removed the unwanted “extras” from the formulation, resulting in fewer side-effects.

It’s suggested that dogs in at-risk areas should only be vaccinated against leptospirosis at 12 weeks of age.  That is considered the absolute minimum age, with an average age of inoculation between 14 and 16 weeks.

Dog Deaths Cause Controversy Over Vaccine

There have always been segments of the population against vaccinations.  The reality is that no vaccination can provide 100% protection, and the risks generally associated with inoculations (from mild to fatal) are considered a lesser worry than the proliferation of the disease itself.

The following video highlights fears and hysteria surrounding the leptospirosis vaccine. Whether you agree or disagree, it’s always worth debating both sides of the equation.

While the debate over the safety of vaccines continues around the world, leptospirosis continues to infect livestock, wildlife, canines, and humans.


 A small study performed in Baghdad revealed these results:
  • 565 serum samples were taken from cattle, sheep, and goats
  • 260 cattle
  • 171 sheep
  • 134 goats
The above animals were screened for the presence of leptospiral antibodies and the results showed:
  •  57.3% prevalence in cattle
  • 24.6% prevalence in sheep
  • 22.4% prevalence in goats.


The veterinarian will suspect leptospirosis based on a history of the dog’s recent activities, geographic location, and physical symptoms.  It’s important to let the veterinarian know about any and all outdoor excursions as far back as six months.  While the bacteria will die instantly when subjected to hot and dry conditions, it can easily survive up to 180 days in the right climate.

A variety of diagnostic tests including blood and urine analysis will be conducted. If leptospirosis is being considered, the veterinarian will recommend caution when handling the dog as the disease can be transmitted from animal to human.  A more likely scenario would involve the dog spreading infection to other animals.

Once a diagnosis has been confirmed, the dog will be placed on antibiotics right away. He/she will also be treated symptomatically to alleviate immediate issues like dehydration and pain.


To reduce the risks associated with this particular pathogen, avoid:

  • walking through floodwater
  • avoid rivers (no swimming!) after a heavy rainfall
  • if your drinking water is questionable, boiling or chemically treating it will kill the bacteria.
  • discourage wildlife and rodents from your property
  • treat any cuts and scrapes with protective covering

At The End of The Day…

Use common sense around potentially contaminated water systems. Don’t drink, wash, or bath in rivers or other bodies of water that could be infected with the urine of contaminated wildlife.

Dog parks are the perfect place to give your dog some space to run, but be mindful of interactions with other dogs.  We all love to be “kissed” by our favorite pouch, but considering the contagious nature of leptospirosis, it might be a habit best left aside, especially if you live in a wet climate.  Please view the map above to identify the risks inherent in your neighborhood.

Has your dog been diagnosed with leptospirosis? What did you do?

Please share!



DISCLAIMER:  LISA is not a veterinarian, nor does she play one on TV. While she tries to provide the most relevant, quality content, mistakes can happen. Please do not rely on this blog for your pet’s medical needs. See a veterinarian for accurate diagnosis and follow-up treatment.

Lisa is dedicated to writing a high-quality blog based on professionally researched data. Her time is spent writing and researching balanced with enjoying family life with her husband and two dogs.

Lisa’s writing skills emerged at an early age. Over time, her fiction has been published in various literary magazines. She has also written for non-fiction journals internationally.

Dogs are Lisa’s passion, and blogging is the means to direct her energy towards their well-being on a global scale.

To find out what Lisa is really about…click here.



A Guide to Vestibular Disease in Dogs

Vestibular disease in dogs is a common occurrence, but a scary situation when you don’t know what’s happening. The condition, also known as Old Dog Disease, tends to happen out-of-the-blue.

Your dog will spin in circles, his/her eyes will dart back-and-forth, or up-and-down, and will appear to be in a drunken state.  Most people tend to think the worst, but there’s a good chance it’s a benign inner-ear problem.

Read on…I want to show you the symptoms, signs, variations, and treatment options for vestibular disorders in dogs.

Check out the infographic glossary of clinical terms at the end of this article!

Does Vestibular Disease in Dogs Have to do With Their Ears?

Yes. Vestibular disease in dogs is related to the inner ear canal. There can be a clinical reason for the condition, but oftentimes it’s labelled as “idiopathic”, meaning no clinical reason could be found.

We refer to it as a “disease”, but it’s really a set of issues affecting the dog’s vestibular system.

Symptoms of Vestibular Disease in Dogs.

  • Tipped head to the side. 
  • Wobbling around in a dizzy state.
  • Vomiting
  • Circling 
  • Nystagmus (darting eyes) In this case, the dog’s eyes might be rolling, horizontal, or vertical.

Check out the physical examination in this YouTube video!

What if it’s NOT Vestibular Disease?

There is a possibility that it could be something more serious, which is why you should always bring your dog to the veterinarian when he/she is experiencing symptoms like the ones listed above.


  • Tipped head to the side:

This could be caused by an ear infection.

  • Wobbling around in a dizzy state:

There could be any number of reasons for this including possible poisoning, stroke, head trauma, tumor, and encephalitis. 

  • Vomiting:

It’s not unusual for dogs to vomit, especially if they’ve eaten too fast or nabbed some old food from the compost. If the vomiting doesn’t match the circumstances, it could be a sign of poisoning (chocolate, toxic plants), parasitic infection, bowel obstruction, upset stomach, or motion sickness.

  • Circling:

You’ve probably seen your dog chase his/her tail, spinning around at the same time.  The kind of circling we’re talking about here is different.  In the case of vestibular syndrome, it will occur suddenly. It might also be a sign of a tumor, onset of stroke, or head trauma/cognitive dysfunction.

  • Nystagmus:

Nystagmus, or darting eyes, is a common symptom of vestibular disease. The darting eyes are an involuntary action that might be cause by an middle ear infection or a ruptured ear drum, head trauma, cancer, hypothyroidism, encephalitis.

This video was taken from Twitter. The kind owner of this dog wants to help inform others about the issue of vestibular disease in dogs.


Gently lift one of your dog’s front paws and flip it over so that the pads are face-up. If your dog flips his own paw back to normal without assistance, there’s a good chance your dog isn’t having a stroke.

IMPORTANT: The tip above should ease your worries a bit, but it’s still not a substitution for a veterinarian check-up.

Tell the veterinarian that you tried this test and give him/her the results. If some time has passed since you last tried it, the veterinarian may want to try it for verification.



Three-fourths of vestibular disorders in people are considered peripherally based. The most common disorder for people is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo.  This type of disorder involves the middle and inner ear.

I have benign paroxysmal positional vertigo and when it flares up, it feels as if the whole world tips upside down whenever I move my head. It makes me nauseous, dizzy, unsteady on my feet, and…quite frankly…like shaking my head. I can easily see how these symptoms also relate to dogs.

-LA Theriault

Peripheral disorders happen when there is irritation or a lesion in the nerves that send signals to the inner ear. Dogs with peripheral vestibular disease will have darting eyes in the direction of the lesion.


Central vestibular disease isn’t as commonly diagnosed. It refers to disorders that affect the brain stem and cerebellum.  Although dogs will exhibit the same signs noted above, other symptoms might also be present. These include:

  • Unusual posture
  • Unusual mental state
  • Some facial paralysis might be present
  • reduced sensation in the face
  • slow movement of the tongue
  • reduced gag reflex
  • eye-twitching up-and-down and NOT side-to-side.

These additional signs and symptoms are related to brain stem dysfunction.


Vestibular Disease in dogs refers to an inner-ear condition.  The disease could be peripheral (the eyes dart side-to-side), or the more rarely diagnosed central vestibular disease (the eyes do not dart in the direction of the lesion)

If no known cause can be identified, the condition is considered idiopathic. However, if the condition is identified as being central, it’s more likely that a central cause will be identified.

Distinct symptoms that you won’t find in central vestibular disease:

  • Eyes that dart in different directions, independent of themselves. The term for this is disconjugate nystamus.  This is rarely seen in both central and peripheral vestibular conditions
  • Direction of eye-darting (nystagmus) changes when the position of the animal is changed. This is rarely seen in central vestibular conditions. It is never seen in cases of peripheral vestibular disease

FACT:  Any vestibular disease in dogs (whether it’s considered peripheral or central) can still be considered idiopathic if the veterinarian isn’t able to establish an underlying cause.


During the exam, the veterinarian will perform some tests to identify vestibular disease. The doctor will first perform a physical examination. He/she will look into the dog’s eyes, assess gait and response.

In addition to a physical exam, the veterinarian will want to know the dog’s history. He/she will also want to know if your dog has exhibited signs like this in the past (recent or distant).

He/she will want to know when you noticed the problem, where the dog was, what the dog has eaten, whether or not the dog has been treated for worms, and whether or not the dog has any other chronic conditions.

If the veterinarian isn’t satisfied with the results so far, he/she may order blood tests.


If your dog was perfectly fine one minute and exhibiting these sudden symptoms (with no other indication of infection, poisoning, or stroke), the veterinarian is likely to diagnose a vestibular condition.

The veterinarian will want to know if your dog has been on antibiotics recently. Overusing antibiotics, specifically one called metronidazole, has been shown to cause toxicity in some dogs, at certain dosages.  The Journal of Veterinary Medicine reports that the dosage doesn’t even have to be particularly high.

How Will I Know if my Dog Has Taken Metronidazole?

To find out whether your dog has taken this particular antibiotic, ask your veterinarian (current or past) for a list of the medications that have been prescribed to your dog.

Metronidazole is used to treat infections in dogs. It also stops the growth of bacteria and parasites. The side-effects of this drug can include dizziness, headache, stomach upset, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Was this article useful to you?  If so, please share it with your people.  Thanks!

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…


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 ( 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.


  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.


  • 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:
  2. 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.


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 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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. 


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.


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.


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


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. 


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.


  • 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.


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.

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Foods You Should Never Feed Your Dog Infographic

Infographic by: Tal of San Franciso, CA

7 Ugly Truths About Lyme Disease in Dogs

Did you know that a vaccination against Lyme disease in dogs is no guarantee that they won’t contract the illness?  Even so, it’s important to take every precaution available to help prevent dogs from contracting the disease.

Lyme disease doesn’t go away. Your dog can be treated for active symptoms, but the disease remains in the body for the lifetime of the dog. It’s no different if you or I were infected.

1. Vaccinations Are No Guarantee Against Lyme Disease in Dogs

It’s still important to have your dog vaccinated, and here’s why:

  • Lyme Disease is a common tick-borne disease worldwide.
  • The most common clinical effect of Lyme disease in dogs is inflammation of the joints.
  • Dogs may also suffer from lack of appetite and depression.
  • In some cases, Lyme disease causes damage to the kidneys.
  • Rarely, the disease will progress to the heart and/or nervous system.

2. Not All Ticks Carry Lyme Disease

  • The ticks that carry Lyme disease are the ones that transmit the bacteria known as

    Borrelia burgdorferi.

  • This microorganism is from the Spirochete family and resembles spiral-shaped worms. The only ticks known to carry this bacterium are the Eastern Black-Legged Tick (some call them Deer ticks), and the Western Black-Legged Tick.

    3. Lyme Disease has a Complicated Relationship With  Dogs

  • Lyme Disease in dogs is a complicated situation in which many variables can take place.
  • Veterinarians feel that treating a dog as close to the time of infection as possible reduces the antibodies faster.
  • Lyme Disease doesn’t really ever go away, even with repeated antibiotics.
  • As with people, antibiotics work best when administered less than 48 hours after the bite.
  • Dogs who test positive, but who show no symptoms, are still treated with antibiotics to reduce the antibodies and minimize long-term clinical complications.

4. It’s Rare for a Dog to Die From Lyme Disease

This one surprised me. I always thought the diagnosis of Lyme disease in dogs was a death sentence, but research shows that is not true.

The prognosis is compromised if the bacterium damage the kidneys.  Regardless, your dog is still left with a permanent, painful disease that requires care and the possibility of repeated doses of antibiotics as flare-ups occur.

I suspect most veterinarians would prefer not to extend antibiotic use for fear of antibiotic resistance and further weakening of the dog’s immune system.

5. I Don’t Want to Go Outside Anymore!

I’ve felt like that myself; however, there are lots of things you can do to prevent tick bites from happening.

  • I use a monthly oral medication for my dogs and it works extremely well. The medication is absorbed into the dog’s fatty tissue (especially around the upper body and neck where ticks are most likely to bite). It’s safe for the dogs but fatal for the ticks.
  • Don’t let your dog romp through tall grass and keep your lawn mowed as short as possible.
  • Remember to also treat any cats in your house with topical tick treatments. Outside cats are the worst offenders because they carry ticks into the home, then flick them off with their rough tongues.
  • Check your pets regularly for ticks by combing through the fur. Personally, I take my fingers and run them all around the dogs’ ears neck and back. I check their armpits, groin, and top of the head.

6. Ticks Are Gross And I Don’t Want to Pick Them Off of My Dog!

They are really disgusting creatures and I don’t blame you. But for the sake of your dog, you have to.

Find out how I handled my first experience with ticks here.

  • Use tweezers
  • Grasp the tick as close to the dog’s skin as possible
  • Pull up and at a slight angle
  • It’s thought that if you pinch the tick’s abdomen to pull it out, the tick will release more toxins into the dog’s body.

As YUCK as it is, this requires attention. You can’t close your eyes and give it a yank because you could leave the head of the tick embedded in your dog, leaving it open to infection.

7. Check Yourself For Ticks

It’s important to check your clothes and your skin as soon as you enter the house. I’ve had ticks on my ankles just from taking a walk down the street where long grass lines the ditch. Obviously, if you live in a city, this isn’t going to be the case (hopefully!).


  • AT THE DOOR: Remove your hat, jacket, and socks.  Pull your socks inside out and scan for anything crawling. Look on the top and insides of your cap/hat. Lift the tongue of your shoes and look inside and around the shoe opening for ticks.
  • IN THE BATHROOM: Strip down completely. Ticks like to make their way to where there is the most blood flow. Check the back of your knees, buttocks, back, armpits, neck and hair.  Also check behind your ears.


To sum it all up, it’s only the Eastern black-legged tick and the Western black-legged tick that carries the bacterium that causes Lyme Disease.

Remember: Lyme Disease is the most prevalent, but it’s not the only disease carried by ticks.

As mentioned above, clinical signs of Lyme disease in dogs includes painful joints, stiff back and/or gait, lack of appetite and depression.

Ticks need to be removed from your pet ASAP. Have your dog vaccinated and tested for Lyme disease, especially if you live in an area where the tick population is endemic.


And finally, the best place to get advice on the best preventative tick treatments for your dog is at the veterinarian’s office.