Heart Defects in Dogs

Heart defects in dogs can affect their quality of life. 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 dog’s heart and its valves.

The canine heart has four chambers with several veins and arteries. Deoxygenated blood flows from the heart and is pumped into the lungs, from where it is returned to the heart to be pumped into different parts of the body. In a healthy dog, various valves help prevent the blood from flowing backward or mixing incorrectly.

When there is a heart defect, there may be an issue that is genetic or congenital (present at the time of birth) or one that may be acquired due to illness or disease.

The canine heart valves may have:

  • Holes, allowing blood to mix or pass backward incorrectly,
  • Problems with surrounding muscles, keeping blood from being pumped effectively,
  • Problems with 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 side effects. Minor abnormalities may not show any issues until a veterinarian examines your dog and observes a murmur or other change in the heart beat. Dogs with more serious conditions may experience an inability to exercise, problems breathing, or have blue gums or tongue.  The dog may collapse, cough, wheeze, or have water retention around the chest and abdomen. All of these are signs that the heart is not pumping blood correctly, preventing oxygen and other nutrients from reaching the 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 risk. 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 problem from parents.

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 run for your dog. Proper medication, surgery, and exercise can help keep the heart healthier and in a 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 the best option.

Your vet will most likely perform a series of tests, including a full exam and observing the heartbeat with a stethoscope for any signs of problems. If an issue is suspected, your vet may recommend additional tests, such as X-ray or ultrasound, to judge the size and shape of the heart. An ECG may be done to determine problems with a heartbeat, which could indicate a valve issue. The dog may then be referred to a cardiologist (heart specialist) for further tests and specialized treatment options.

Minor heart issues may require keeping your dog on a lower activity regimen or shorter bouts of exercise. Dogs showing symptoms of heart issues may need certain medications, such as a diuretic, to reduce fluid buildup in the body or a treatment for an underlying illness or condition that may be causing the heart issue. Puppies and dogs with severe defects may need a surgery to close holes or repair valves to help improve the dog’s quality of life.

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 any further damage to the heart.

A deficiency in some nutrients, such as potassium and B1 (thiamine), can cause symptoms that may mimic a valve abnormality. By providing a supplement or food with these ingredients, you can help prevent nutritional deficiencies.  Homeopathic treatments, such as Rumex 6C and Adonis Vernalis 6C, may help to strengthen a weak heart.  Herbs, such as Rosemary and Valerian, may have a similar effect and can help with minor heart problems.

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