It’s not uncommon for dogs to develop heart disease, in fact, a lot of dogs are at risk of it! It's estimated that over 7 million dogs in the USA suffer from poor cardio health, and 10% are prone to falling ill from this dangerous downfall. But, before you call the vet and reach for your defibrillator, there are lots of ways we, as pet parents, can protect and prevent the onset of this deadly disease.
Before we can understand how best to prevent heart disease from affecting our beloved pets, we need to know what it is, and the symptoms to look out for. Remember, our dogs can't tell us if they feel unwell or in pain. In fact, as pack animals, it's in their nature to hide any weakness or illness from their other family members. It's our job, therefore, to look out for the signs ourselves.
Heart Disease, as a term, usually refers to conditions that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack or stroke in the sufferer. Other conditions can affect the heart's muscle or rhythm, and these can be considered as forms of heart disease, too. There is no specific cause of heart disease, but there are factors that can make a dog more susceptible to developing it. Heart disease can come in different forms, but the two main types are:
1. Chronic Valvular Disease: the heart valve leaks, reducing quantity of blood being pumped.
2. Myocardial Disease: thickening or weakening of the heart muscle, causing the heart to pump less efficiently.
Both cause the amount of blood being pumped around to be less than they need, which will leave your dog feeling weaker because of the lack of oxygen and nutrients their body is being fed.
Unfortunately, heart disease isn’t always an obvious thing to spot. But noticing a change in your dog’s behavior is a sign that there could be something wrong. If you’re not sure what heart disease would look like, here are a few symptoms of heart disease in dogs to look out for:
- Frequent coughing
- Shortness of breath
- Fainting or collapsing
- Loss of appetite
- Unable to walk or exercise
- Swelling of the abdomen
If you notice any of these changes, notify your veterinarian as soon as possible for further investigation.
A larger dog means more weight to carry. And more weight means a bigger strain on the heart. Obesity in dogs is becoming an increasingly regular problem, with 56% of dogs in the US being overweight or obese.
Exercise keeps the heart working, especially cardio exercise! So for lifelong heart health, it’s best to keep your pup constantly active, with daily walks, hikes, swims or games.
How much exercise your dog needs depends on their age and breed. Puppies are generally more active and need the chance to exhaust their energy. But it might not take a lot of time to do that – puppies may become tired soon afterward. Adult dogs require between 30 minutes and 2 hours of exercise per day depending on their age, breed, and lifestyle.
Check out our handy Petlab Co. exercise guide for your adult aged dog, dependent on their breed:
The older your dog gets, you’ll notice the less active they become. Most dogs will suffer from joint pain as they age, too, so don’t push your senior pooch to do too much, otherwise, it could damage their joints further.
Excess weight can strain your dog’s heart. That’s why it’s vital that you make sure they stay fit and maintain a good weight. It’s usually easy to notice if your dog is putting on weight just by looking at them, but if you’re not sure, you can check by feeling their ribs and spine. You should be able to feel the bones, so if they’re buried under a layer of fat, your dog is likely to be overweight...
For more on weight loss for dogs, read our blog on ‘Dog Obesity Kills! Try These 6 Proven Weight Loss Tricks’
As with exercise, the diet you feed your furry friend will affect their weight, and overall health. And as we know, the more weight they hold, the more strain there is on their heart. Ensuring your dog has a healthy diet will help to maintain a healthy weight that reduces the strain on the heart and will make them feel more able to be active.
You might be surprised to find that your dog enjoys the occasional tree of broccoli as a snack or some slices of apple and carrot. Experiment with fruit and vegetables - if your pal does like them, swap to the healthy snacks, instead of those biscuits you feed them as treats!
For older dogs, or dogs that find it more difficult to move about as much they used to, cut down on the carbs, and feed them more protein. A higher protein diet supports weight loss, which will improve their heart’s health.
A healthy diet has so many more benefits than you might realize! It aids your dog’s skin and coat, leaving it softer and fuller. It also gives them the energy to not only physically do activities, but also to learn new things. Learning tricks and training boosts dogs’ confidence, which can only be advantageous to their health.
Supplements are an easy and affordable way to keep the heart healthy, which means you and your pup can live happy and worry-free. They provide that extra bit of support that we all could do with! Look to a reputable pet brand who make supplements for dogs that either target heart health specifically or offer an all encompassing multivitamin. Ingredients to look out for in an ideal formula include:
Omega 3 Fatty Acids: Derived from fish oil, this is a great supplement ingredient for dog’s who suffer from heart disease or have a weaker heart. It’s proven to improve irregular heart rhythms and promote good heart function. This, in turn, reduces the risk of heart disease in your dog.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C is a strong anti-oxidant. It’s known for numerous health benefits, in humans as well as dogs, but first and foremost it strengthens the body’s natural defenses against heart disease and oxidative stress.
Iron: Iron helps oxygenate red blood cells, and promote a healthy immune system and a good production of energy.
Vitamin A: Vitamin A is not only responsible for supporting good vision, but Vitamin A also helps with overall health and wellbeing.
A healthy dog = A happy dog!
Dogs' mouths are a breeding ground for bacteria to grow. Gum disease isn’t uncommon but is often treatable. However, when it’s left untreated, the infection can enter the bloodstream and get to the heart or other vital organs - resulting in catastrophic consequences.
The best way to prevent the spread of diseases starting from the mouth is by getting into a good dental care routine. Vets recommend brushing your dog's teeth every day, once they reach around 6 months and their adult teeth have grown. Do not use human toothpaste though, it contains ingredients that are harmful to dogs!
Healthy fruit and vegetable infused diets are also great for their teeth! Raw foods naturally clean the teeth by removing the plaque that builds up. If plaque is left to fester, it can damage the teeth and gums, and lead to infection of more than just the gums.
Sometimes, it’s not down to what we do as pet parents. Certain breeds of dogs are more vulnerable to developing heart disease, as well as other health conditions. It’s best to find out what your dog’s breed is more at risk of as early as possible, so you can learn how to prevent or slow down the onset of disease.
Here are just a few breeds to look out for when it comes to heart disease:
- Great Dane
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
- German Shepherd
- Doberman Pinscher
- Golden Retriever
- St Bernard
- Miniature Poodles
Heartworm disease is a dangerous and potentially fatal disease that is transmitted through mosquitoes. Unfortunately, heartworms thrive inside a dog’s body – the pesky worms can grow into adulthood and reproduce, increasing their numbers into the hundreds.
When heartworm disease is left untreated, there can be irreversible and lasting damage to the heart and lungs. All pet owners should be aware of the risk of heartworm disease, but if you live in a climate that invites mosquitoes, ask your veterinarian about the best preventive medicine for your dog. Heartworm disease can not only be dangerous itself, but it can be the instigator of further health problems, one of which is heart disease.
The heart needs to be looked after, and hopefully, now you know what you can do to save your furry friend from suffering from heart disease. It’s unpleasant, but when it’s caught early on it can be treated. If you’re ever unsure about your dog’s wellbeing, it’s best to take them to the veterinarian, just to make sure. Heart health is vital to having a long and happy life – doesn’t every dog deserve that?