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Dog Heart Disease

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Dog Heart Disease (Canine Heart Disease)

Signs and Symptoms

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Canine heart disease is a serious problem that affects a significant number of dogs, especially older dogs. The heart is a muscular organ consisting of four chambers, two of which are located on the left side of the heart, and two on the right side. Each side of the heart also has a set of valves. When heart disease is present, certain parts of the heart cease to function properly. The rest of the organ then tries to compensate for this improper function. Although there are different kinds of heart disease, most of the types that affect dogs lead to congestive heart failure rather than heart attacks. Congestive heart failure involves a somewhat slow appearance of symptoms which then grow progressively worse with time.


There are a number of different symptoms associated with heart disease in dogs, and different types of this disease will cause separate sets of warning signs. Yet, there are certain symptoms that are common to several different forms of heart disease. Often when a dog is suffering from this condition, a lack of energy and willingness to exercise will slowly become apparent. General fatigue, lethargy, and increased time spent sleeping during the day could also be signs that something is wrong with your dog's heart. Increased panting and puffing may also occur. A dry cough is another symptom frequently exhibited by dogs with heart disease, especially during the night or first thing in the morning. Loss of appetite and weight loss are also common warning signs of this condition. In addition, some dogs may develop a potbellied appearance and a grey or bluish tinge to their gums.

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As suggested earlier, the symptoms likely to be exhibited by a dog with heart disease will depend upon the type of heart disease that is affecting the animal. Furthermore, the symptoms associated with certain forms of this disease tend to vary from dog to dog. However, if your pet is displaying any of the above mentioned symptoms and warning signs, it's important to contact your veterinarian immediately and have your dog undergo a medical examination.

Diagnosis

When heart disease is suspected for a canine patient, there are a variety of diagnostic tools and methods that a veterinarian can employ in order to confirm whether or not such a condition is present. A veterinary doctor will take into account the symptoms and behaviors that you have observed at home and will also conduct a physical exam and run tests. Many dogs with heart disease will have a heart murmur, which veterinarians can hear and identify simply with the use of a stethoscope. Other types of examination that may be used include electrocardiograms, echocardiograms, chest x-rays, and ultrasound.

An electrocardiogram, or ECG, is able to detect irregular heartbeats, also known as arrhythmia. This type of test also helps a veterinarian to determine the type of treatment required. An echocardiogram involves the use of harmless sound waves. These waves pass through the heart, valves, and blood vessels and can reveal a number of characteristics of the patient's heart. For example, echocardiograms can measure the strength of heartbeats, detect irregularities, and reveal congenital birth defects. Chest x-rays can also be helpful, as they allow for observations of the heart's physical characteristics, including its shape and size. The dog's lungs can also be examined in this manner. This is important because the presence of fluid in the lungs can assist a veterinarian in determining the type and severity of heart disease that is affecting a particular canine patient. Ultrasound will also help with regards to examining the physical characteristics of a dog's heart.

When checking for heart disease in a dog, a veterinarian will likely employ one or more of these examination methods. Once a diagnosis of heart disease is confirmed, further specific tests may be required in order to determine the particular type of heart disease present. This will allow for the selection of the most proper and effective course of treatment for the individual dog.

Pathophysiology

If your beloved canine companion is unfortunately suffering from heart disease, it could be beneficial for you to have a general understanding of what this disease involves. Having a basic knowledge of heart disease will help you to deal with the situation in the best way possible and to provide quality care for your pet.

As mentioned previously, the heart is a muscular pump with four chambers, two sides, and several valves. A healthy heart continuously supplies the body and its organs with the nutrient-rich blood required for proper function. When blood travels through a healthy canine heart, it moves in several stages. To begin with, the blood is in the left ventricle, which is another name for the bottom left chamber. It then moves through the aortic valve, after which it is pumped throughout the body. After supplying all of the organs and extremities, the blood returns to the heart by entering the right atrium, the upper right chamber. Next, it is moved through the tricuspid valve and into the lower right chamber, also called the right ventricle. The blood is then pushed through the pulmonic valve and into the lungs. Here, the blood is reoxygenated before reentering the heart into the left atrium. Finally, the blood passes through the mitral valve back into the left ventricle where the cycle begins again.

Flawless execution of this cycle is characteristic of a healthy canine heart. On the other hand, disease of this organ involves defects and improper function of one or more parts of the heart which lead to stress and disruption of this vital system. Heart disease does not involve one particular type of defect or one specific type of disruption to this organ's blood-pumping system. Rather, different forms of this disease are caused by different problems, weaknesses, and flaws.

Causes

There are two broad categories of heart disease -- acquired heart diseases and congenital heart diseases. The latter type of disease results from a defect of this organ that is present since the dog's birth. These defects can either be genetically inherited or can develop during embryogenesis. Congenital forms of heart disease, however, only account for approximately five percent of the incidences of this disease in dogs. Acquired forms of this disease, on the other hand, are quite prevalent and make up around ninety-five percent of the cases of canine heart disease. Acquired heart disease typically develops as a result of one of three underlying causes. Often, dogs are affected by this condition simply as a result of the normal wear and tear that occurs in a body over time. Other common causes include injury or infection.

These underlying causes can lead to several different changes in the structure or strength of the heart, which will then affect the organ's ability to function. Sometimes improper heart function arises from detrimental changes to the valves. For instance, if the shape of one or more of these valves changes, it will be unable to close properly and, therefore, proper flow of the blood through the heart will be disrupted. Such changes to the valves of the heart often occur in cases of acquired heart disease in older, smaller dogs. They are also characteristic of certain types of congenital heart disease. Other forms of congenital heart disease and the acquired types of this condition that most frequently affect larger dog breeds often involve a weakening of the heart muscle. In either case, whether the valves or the muscle are affected, the organ's efficiency and ability to pump blood become compromised. This places great stress upon the heart as it tries to compensate for its deficiencies, and will also begin to affect the dog's entire system in a variety of negative ways.

Treatment If your dog is diagnosed with heart disease, this does not necessarily mean that you are about to lose your beloved canine companion. As with humans, many dogs are able to live relatively happy and healthy lives despite their condition when early diagnosis occurs and proper treatment is administered. This is why it's absolutely imperative to have your dog seen by a veterinarian as soon as you notice any unusual behaviors or symptoms.

Most of the treatment options available focus upon fixing irregular heartbeats, increasing the amount of blood that the heart pumps with each beat, and reducing the build up of fluid that this condition often causes in the lungs and abdomen. Traditionally, most forms of this disease have been treated with certain drugs that help to achieve the results listed above. In some cases, surgery may be required. Furthermore, diet and exercise play a vital role in treating your dog's heart disease and can be of great help in increasing your pet's comfort and quality of life. While some dogs may require an initial rest period after diagnosis, is likely that normal exercise will soon be encouraged. This is important to promote good circulation, heart health, and your dog's general well-being.

Diet is also extremely important. The fluid retention typical of many forms of heart disease can exert extra pressure on the heart and can cause symptoms such as coughing and an uncomfortable swelling of the abdomen. For this reason, it's important to avoid feeding your pet salty foods which will contribute to and worsen these effects. In addition, there are several vitamins and herbal supplements that can help your dog's body fight back against heart disease.

Dogs suffering from this condition may be deficient in certain vitamins, minerals, or amino acids. Replenishing their system with these substances can help to strengthen their heart and reduce the effects of heart disease. Furthermore, there's a wide variety of natural substances that are very beneficial with regards to treating this condition. For example, hawthorn berries, mistletoe, valerian, and numerous other natural substances are known to have positive effects upon the function of a heart's dog and body. Some of these effects include controlling irregular heartbeats or palpitations, relaxing spasms, increasing enzyme metabolism in heart muscle, and improving blood flow. As result, many homeopathic remedies can be very beneficial when it comes to treating canine heart disease. However, it's incredibly important that any course of treatment only be carried out after consulting with a qualified veterinary doctor.

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