Dog Cardiology: When Do You Need It?


As you know, the heart is one of the most important organs in a dog's body. It pumps nutrients and oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. When the heart isn't working well, the rest of the body can be affected, often resulting in changes to stamina and breathing.

Many people are surprised the first time they hear about dog cardiology. They weren't aware that dogs can have heart problems just like people, but they can and they do. 

In fact, your dog can experience heart murmurs, arrhythmias, and high blood pressure (hypertension) just like you which calls for a certain level of specialty care. If your primary care veterinarian suspects that your dog has heart issues she will likely refer you to a dog cardiologist for a further diagnosis. 

According to Vet Specialists, "Board certified veterinary cardiologists focus on diagnosing and treating disease of the heart and lungs, which include:

  • Congestive heart failure (CHF)
  • Heart muscle disease (Dilated cardiomyopathy or hypertrophic cardiomyopathy)
  • Age related changes to the valves of the heart (Degenerative mitral valve disease)
  • Coughing and other breathing problems
  • Congenital (present at birth) heart defects
  • Cardiac arrhythmias (problems with the rate and/or rhythm of the heart)
  • Diseases of the pericardium (sac surrounding the heart)
  • Cardiac tumors
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs)


As you can see, this is a lengthy list of possible heart conditions your dog could experience and that may require a dog cardiologist to properly diagnose. 

Listening to the heart is an essential element of any visit to your veterinarian. Through the stethoscope, your veterinarian can hear if there are any unusual patterns, skips, or heart sounds and if so, make a recommendation to see a dog cardiologist for further investigation. 


Types of Heart Disease in Dogs

According to Pet Health Network, the most common form of heart disease in dogs is valvular disease, which primarily affects small breed dogs over 5 years of age and makes up 70-75% of heart disease in dogs. Heartworm disease, which is entirely preventable, sadly causes 13% of heart disease. Myocardial disease, such as dilated cardiomyopathy, makes up 8% of heart disease. This form of heart disease primarily affects large breed dogs of all ages. 

Valvular disease is also known as "leaky valve disease" which means the heart's blood pumping system isn't flowing smoothly. When the heart is strong and healthy, the blood flows in one direction throughout the body. When one of the four valves doesn't close properly, some of that blood "backs up" and returns to the chamber it just left.  When the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the demands of the body, this is known as congestive heart failure or CHF. Symptoms of Heart Disease in Your Dog 

Many dogs show no symptoms at all. This is one reason it's so important to see your veterinarian regularly for check ups. Your veterinarian will check your dog's heart and blood pressure to see if they appear normal.  When dogs DO show symptoms, this is what they usually look like: 

  • Coughing more than usual, especially in relation to exercise
  • Trouble breathing
  • Less stamina -- sometimes people chalk up their dog slowing down as "old age" when it's actually heart disease
  • Pacing or otherwise having trouble settling down
  • Distended abdomen These are all indications of dogs in distress and could be signs of heart disease. What if your dog is diagnosed with congestive heart failure? Working in tandem with your cardiologist, you can create a treatment plan.  How Do You Manage CHF in Dogs? 


Your veterinary cardiologist will use equipment like a stethoscope, chest x-rays, ECG, and echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) to assess your dog's heart health and make recommendations for your dog's care. According to Tufts University Veterinarian School, "The specific treatment for congestive heart failure depends on the underlying heart disease and how severe the heart failure is. The primary goals of treating congestive heart failure are to reduce this buildup of fluid and to increase the amount of blood being pumped by the heart to the lungs and the rest of the body. These outcomes are meant to improve the quality and length of a pet’s life.

A variety of medications, supplements and diets are available to help reach these goals. One of the most common types of medication used is called an angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor, or ACE inhibitor. Examples of these are enalapril (Enacard®), lisinopril and benazepril. These have been shown to improve both clinical signs and survival in dogs and cats with congestive heart failure." 

Now that you know more about dog cardiology, do you need to make an appointment to assess your dog's heart health? 

Blog Category: