Heart defects in dogs can affect the quality of life of both you and your dog. Some canine heart defects can be resolved with care, surgery and ongoing treatment.
What Are Canine Heart Defects?
A heart defect in a dog is any problem with the parts of the dog’s heart and its valves.
The canine heart has four chambers and several veins and arteries coming and going from it. Deoxygenated blood gets brought to the heart and pumped into the lungs, then it is returned to the heart to be pumped out into the body. In a healthy dog, various valves help prevent the blood from flowing backwards or mixing incorrectly.
When there is a heart defect, there may be an issue that is genetic or congenital (present from birth), or one that may be acquired due to illness or disease.
The canine heart valves may have:
- holes in them, allowing blood to mix or pass backwards incorrectly,
- problems with the surrounding muscles keeping blood from being pumped effectively, or
- problems with the nerves that control how the heart beats and pumps blood.
Symptoms and side effects of heart defects in dogs
All of these issues can cause your dog to show several side effects. Minor abnormalities may not show any issues until a veterinarian examines your dog and notes a murmur or other change in heart beat sounds. Dogs with more serious conditions may experience an inability to exercise, problems breathing, blue gums or tongue, collapse or may cough, wheeze or have swelling of fluid around the chest and abdomen. All of these are signs that the heart is not pumping blood correctly, preventing oxygen and other nutrients from getting to needed areas.
How can I prevent canine heart valve problems?
While congenital (from birth) heart problems can’t be actively prevented, measures can be taken through careful breeding and selection of parents to reduce the chances. Some breeds may be more prone to the disease, and breeders should be sure to remove dogs with a history of heart conditions from the breeding pool. Dogs that are being considered for breeding programs should be screened for any genetic markers or heart problems prior to breeding to help reduce the chances of puppies acquiring the issue.
If you already own a dog with a heart valve problem, not much can be done to prevent it, however working with a vet can prevent further damage or problems in the long-term for your dog. Proper medication, surgery if needed or care in exercise and activity can all help keep the heart healthier and in working condition for much longer.
What should I do if I suspect my dog has a heart valve defect?
If you suspect a heart valve defect, or your dog appears to have symptoms of a heart problem such as coughing and wheezing, breathing issues, problems with activity or exercise or swelling in the chest and abdomen, making an appointment with your veterinarian is best.
Your vet will most likely run a series of tests including a full exam and listening with a stethoscope first for any signs of heart beat problems. If an issue is suspected, your vet may then recommend additional tests such as X-ray or ultrasound to judge the size and shape of the heart. ECG to help determine problems with heart beat that can indicate a valve issue, or a referral to a cardiologist (heart specialist) that can help with further testing and treatment options.
Minor heart issues may just require keeping your dog on a lower activity regimen or shorter bouts of exercise. Dogs showing symptoms of heart issues may also need medications such as a diuretic to reduce fluid buildup in the body, or treatment for an underlying illness or condition that is causing the heart issue. Puppies and dogs with severe defects may need surgery to close holes or repair valves in order to sustain life. Testing and your vet’s recommendation can help determine which course of action is best.
Natural remedies for dog heart problems
Some natural remedies are available that may help keep the heart healthy with minor abnormalities. However, many of these remedies can alter the chemical and blood-balance in the body, so your veterinarian should be alerted to any of these remedies during care so that adjustments to regular medications and even fluid therapies can be done to prevent damage to the heart.
A deficiency in some nutrients such as potassium and B1 (thiamine) can cause symptoms that may mimic a valve abnormality. Providing a supplement or food with these ingredients can help prevent their deficiency. Homeopathic treatments such as Rumex 6C and Adonis Vernalis 6C may also help to strengthen a weak heart. Herbs such as Rosemary and Valerian may also have a similar effect, and can help with minor heart problems.