Have you noticed that your dog isn’t greeting you at the door like he used to, is short of breath or has started coughing for no apparent reason? Renowned veterinarian Dr. Teresa DeFrancesco says these could be signs that your dog is suffering from heart disease.
Dr. DeFrancesco was kind enough to join me recently for an interview to discuss congestive heart failure in dogs, heart disease, risk factors, common symptoms we should look out for, and treatment options so you can ensure your best pal and family member has a long healthy life!
Candace Rose: What is congestive heart failure and how many dogs are affected by it?
Dr. Teresa DeFrancesco: “Well, a lot of dogs are affected, more than most people think. A lot of people think that their dogs may just be getting old, and some of the signs and symptoms may be attributed to heart disease. We estimate that as many as one in 10 animals in the United States may develop heart disease over their lifetime. Certain breeds are more predisposed than others, and with increased age, they also have an increased incidence of heart disease. In certain breeds when they get older, it can be as high as 60%.
Heart failure- congestive heart failure is the stage of heart disease where fluid actually builds up in the lungs and in other body parts. They’ll start to show signs and symptoms of heart failure, such as coughing or shortness of breath.”
Candace Rose: Are there any other warning signs that we should look for?
Dr. Teresa DeFrancesco: “Early heart disease- the signs can be very unspecific, it can just be lethargy, laying around not greeting you at the door when you come home. But as the heart disease progresses and it progresses to the phase of congestive heart failure, then coughing, shortness of breath are the most common signs. But you can also see decrease in appetite, weight loss, or weakness episodes or fainting episodes can also be possible.”
Candace Rose: You mentioned that some dogs are at a greater risk for heart disease. What breeds are (at a higher risk)?
Dr. Teresa DeFrancesco: “Dogs like Jack (please see video above) who is a Cockapoo are at risk for Mitral Valve Disease, which is the main cause of heart disease in dogs. So Cocker Spaniels, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Poodles, Pomeranians, Dachsunds, Beagles- there’s a very long list of small breed dogs that get Mitral Valve Disease, which is a heart disease of the valve of the heart.
There’s another type of heart disease that’s also common in dogs, and that’s called Cardiomyopathy. And that tends to affect larger breed dogs like a Doberman Pinscher, a Boxer dog, or a Great Dane. It’s important to recognize that any dog can get heart disease, but these breeds certainly have a higher predisposition or maybe a mixed breed has one of those breeds in them.”
Candace Rose: What should you do if you suspect that your dog is at risk?
Dr. Teresa DeFrancesco: “If you have a dog that’s at risk, one of those breeds that we just mentioned or you’re starting to see some of those signs and symptoms that we just talked about, the next step is to go to your veterinarian and have them take a listen. They’ll listen carefully to your dog’s heart, listen for a heart murmur or an irregular heartbeat, or maybe do some more screening tests if your breed is at high, high risk for heart disease and maybe have a family history of heart disease as well. They’ll suggest more testing such as an x-ray or an Echocardiogram and some blood tests to assess where your dog is in the continuum of heart disease.”
Candace Rose: Is there anything else that pet owners can do to protect their dog(s) from this?
Dr. Teresa DeFrancesco: “Keeping your dog fit and trim is important. Making sure that they don’t get overweight, which is a big problem in veterinary medicine. But the main thing is early detection of the heart disease by going to your veterinarian and having them listen because there can be some medicines that may delay the progression of heart disease and keep them around feeling better for longer.”
Candace Rose: Do you have any additional tips or information you’d like to share with us?
Dr. Teresa DeFrancesco: “I want to make sure your viewers have the website, which is YourDogsHeart.com. It’s a great website for all dog lovers to educate themselves about breeds that are at risk for heart disease. It’s got a really nice comprehensive list of dogs, breeds that are at risk, as well as signs and symptoms to watch for, and how we diagnose and treat the heart disease so you can keep your loved one around for as long as possible with great quality of life.”