Pet Health 101: How to Tell If Your Dog Has a Heart Issue

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Filed Under: Heart Health, General Health, Health Advice
Last Reviewed 04/11/2014

Pet Health 101: How to Tell If Your Dog Has a Heart Issue

I know that pet health is top of mind for many of you. After my recent blog post about the danger of walking pets on chemically treated grass, several of you asked how you would know if your dog might have a heart issue. So, I thought it was time to dedicate a blog to “canine cardiology.” My friends and neighbors often stop to ask me these very same pet health questions.

While dogs can develop cardiovascular health problems that are similar to humans, they don’t tend to clog their arteries like people can. Instead, canines most often have valvular problems, as well as cardiomyopathy, and congestive heart failure. Plus, they can have cardiac arrhythmias.

When it comes to your pet’s health, remember that no one knows your canine better than you do. The most important thing you can do is keep an eye out for signs and symptoms that your dog may be having a health issue.

What Pet Health Signals Should You Watch For?

1. Physical signs:

  • Weight loss or weight gain: If your pet is losing weight, and you haven’t been trying to help him/her take off the pounds with diet and exercise—this is a huge red flag. When it comes to weight gain, watch for a bloated abdomen and/or "pot belly" appearance.
  • Edema: The extremities, as well as the abdomen, may exhibit swelling.
  • Fainting or collapsing: These are very serious signs that something is wrong. Your pet should be taken to the vet immediately.

2. Respiratory signs:

  • Coughing
  • Any difficulty breathing: Watch for shortness of breath, labored and/or rapid breathing.

3. Behavioral signs:

  • Poor appetite: A lack of usual interest in food can be a symptom of many things, but combined with other signs and symptoms on this list, it may be related to a cardiovascular health issue.
  • Weakness and sleeping a lot: Both of these can be general signs of aging, but if combined with other symptoms listed here see your vet.
  • Restlessness: Observe if your dog just can’t seem to get comfortable.
  • Self isolation: Note of your dog shows a lack of interest in or isolates him or herself from other pets and people.

If your pet has a cardiovascular health issue, chances are your vet has some of the same sophisticated tools that are used in a regular doctor’s office. That’s because much of what we have learned about the human heart began as canine research. Your pet’s health can be assessed with all the same cardiac tests used on humans: blood work, an electrocardiogram, echocardiogram, and Holter monitor evaluation. Your vet may even order medication to help heart function.

My “country vet” still does a lot of his dairy and horse farm work out in the field, and relies on his stethoscope and the observational assessment skills he’s honed over decades.  But many larger veterinary clinics have invested in technical equipment for diagnoses. So, ask when you make an appointment what tests might be available if it is important to you.  

Now it’s your turn: Has your dog had any cardiovascular health issues or tests?

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