Q&A: Do dogs suffer from heart disease like people and what are the symptoms?

Q. Do dogs suffer from heart disease like people and what are the symptoms?

A. Yes, dogs can suffer from heart disease. If you are anything like my mother and view your pets as an extension of the family, it is very important that you are able to recognise the symptoms that may indicate your darling pooch could be suffering from heart disease. The sooner your vet can diagnose heart disease, the sooner we can get to spend extra time with our loved ones!

In my experience as a vet and from the pet owner’s point of view, the most common symptoms that dogs experience related to heart disease are as follows:

“Doc, Cupid has been coughing for weeks now and the antibiotics are not working.”

Coughing can be due to many illnesses. Dogs with heart disease tend to cough more at night. The cough can be dry or wet. If a cough persists for more than three days or if your dog is coughing in addition to the below symptoms, it is best to take him to be assessed by your vet.

“Doc, Cupid is battling to breathe and is hyperventilating!”

This is an emergency! If this is due to heart disease, the chances are that your dog is already in heart failure with fluid building up in the lungs. Go straight to your vet to seek medical assistance.

“Doc, Cupid has started getting really tired during our afternoon walks.”

Tiring easily is one of many behavioural changes that you might notice if your dog has heart disease. Reluctance to play and showing signs of general depression are also common, but can also be due to many other reasons.

“Doc, Cupid suddenly collapsed and looked like he had a fit or seizure!”

Fainting in dogs is often confused with a dog having a mild seizure. Fainting related to heart disease will often occur when the dog is excited and during exercise, or if the underlying cause of the heart disease is an arrhythmic heartbeat.

“Doc, Cupid looks like he’s pregnant! His tummy is getting so big, despite him not wanting to eat.”

If your dog’s tummy is steadily getting rounder by the day, he is eating less with skinny legs and generalised muscle wastage, rather take him to your vet for a check-up. This is also not necessarily only due to heart disease, but the alternatives can also be quite serious. In heart disease, a pendulous-shaped tummy is a result of fluid accumulation in the abdomen.

So if your beloved pooch is showing symptoms of a chronic cough, difficulty in breathing, lethargy, fainting and/or has a growing pendulous stomach, request that your vet does a thorough check-up. Rather be safe than sorry. Time is of the essence and you don’t want to end up with a broken heart.

Dr Kristen Lachenicht, Yuppiepet


 Q. With all the various brands of dog food now on the market in SA, how does one choose the food that’s right for your own dog?

A. There are so many different brands of dog food available today, it’s no wonder that pet owners have a hard time deciding which food to feed their dog! Many pet owners underestimate the importance of good nutrition for their dogs. Good quality ingredients and the correct balance of nutrients go a long way in improving your pet’s health and performance, managing disease and increasing longevity.

The leading dog food manufacturers have teams of veterinarians, PhD nutritionists and food scientists who do a tremendous amount of research into formulating the maintenance and veterinary-specific diets which are available today. This means that we can feed our dogs according to their specific needs and life stages – these include puppy, adult and senior ranges with small, medium and large breed options for each stage.

When deciding on a food for your dog, there are a few things you need to take into consideration:

  1. Breed

Some breeds are more prone to developing problems, for example skin conditions, so these dogs would without a doubt benefit from being on a diet which helps to prevent the problem before it starts. A few examples of breeds which are more prone to developing problems in their lifetime include Bulldogs, Rottweilers, German Shepherd Dogs and Bull Terriers.

  1. Age

Young dogs and puppies are in a constant state of growth and development, so a well-balanced, nutritionally sound diet is extremely important in early life; this is especially important in large and giant breed puppies, as they are at higher risk of developing bone and joint problems later on in life. Senior and geriatric dogs also have specific nutritional needs, as their metabolism has slowed with age, and good nutrition helps to keep the joints, heart and kidneys healthy.

  1. Size

Small, medium and large breed dogs all have different daily nutritional and mineral requirements. Veterinary diets are tailor-made to suit your dog’s specific size and weight.

  1. Level of activity

Active, working dogs or dogs who participate in agility training/increased levels of exercise have much higher energy requirements when compared to a companion/indoor dog.

  1. Budget

This is often the deciding factor for most dog owners. Unfortunately the reality is that you get what you pay for – cheaper brands of dog food often mean poorer quality protein and higher variability in the final product, in other words, not every bag is of the same quality. There is also often less research which goes into formulating the diets. It always pays to work out the cost per day; this will differ with dog breed, age and size. A cheaper bag of dog food doesn’t always work out cheaper in the long run, as most of the time you end up feeding more, especially with larger breed dogs.

If you’re not sure how to work this out, take the food bag label to any veterinary hospital for assistance – the front staff, veterinary nurse or vet will be able to help you analyse the label, work out feeding costs and can give advice specific to your pet.

Dr Taneale McFarlane, Jeffreys Bay


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