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July 27, 2023 – Heart disease is a common problem in dogs and – like in people – it can be caused by a variety of underlying health issues. Despite the many types of heart disease affecting dogs, most share common signs that can alert owners to a problem.  

Five Common Signs of Heart Disease in Dogs Include:  

  • Cough: Dogs with heart disease often have a cough that doesn’t resolve within a few days. This can be caused by fluid accumulating in the lungs, which can irritate the airways and trigger a cough. Any persistent coughing that lasts more than a few days should be checked by a veterinarian.  
  • Fainting or collapse: When heart function decreases, vital organs such as the brain can become deprived of oxygen. This can lead to fainting or collapse, especially during exercise, although sometimes coughing can trigger an episode.  
  • Difficulty breathing: Dogs with heart disease often have difficulty breathing (dyspnea), which can be characterized by rapid or labored breathing. Some dogs will sit or stand with their legs wide apart and with their neck stretched out. Dogs with severe heart disease have more trouble breathing when lying down and will often sit or stand for long periods of time. 
  • Fatigue/inability to exercise: Dogs with heart disease will tire out more quickly on walks and during exercise. They may sleep or rest more than usual. 
  • Behavior change: Some dogs with heart disease may show behavioral changes such as decreased appetite, isolation or a reluctance to play. 

Signs of heart disease can mimic symptoms of arthritis, seizures and chronic lung disease. Your veterinarian can narrow down the diagnostic possibilities with a good medical history and diagnostic tests. Tests helpful in heart disease diagnosis include:  

  • Chest X-ray: X-rays remain a good way to assess heart size, and they’re one of the best ways to assess fluid build-up in and around the lungs.  
  • Electrocardiogram: An ECG is the best way to detect an arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat. Sometimes a veterinarian will have a dog wear a special monitor at home to look for irregular heartbeats over a period of several days.  
  • Echocardiogram: An echocardiogram is an ultrasound of the heart. An echocardiogram can provide important information not only about the disease, but also provide measurements to assess therapy and long-term prognosis.  

Although heart disease in dogs can be serious, many treatment options are available to help control the symptoms and help your dog live a high-quality life. Diet, therapy, modification of activity and therapeutics are all strategies used to treat heart disease in dogs.