On September 29, World Heart Day is celebrated to raise awareness about the growing heart diseases in the world. Although it is focused on human beings, we cannot forget that we are the only animals that suffer from heart disease, since up to 10% of dogs also suffer from cardiovascular diseases. Manuel Lázaro, companion animal clinician and member of the Governing Board of the Official College of Veterinarians of Madrid , talks about the most common heart diseases among dogs and how to detect them.
Heart disease, very common in dogs, especially the elderly
Around one in 10 dogs suffers from heart disease, a high figure that, according to Manuel Lázaro, is due to the increase in life expectancy, “as with people, the significant increase in life expectancy entails the appearance of certain diseases, such as heart diseases, much more frequent in elderly individuals. It is part of the natural aging process and the progressive deterioration of the organism ”, hence up to 60% of elderly dogs suffer from a heart disease.
Other factors that influence when it comes to having or not having a heart disease, in addition to age, we find “genetics, because unlike people, diet, sedentary lifestyle or stress do not have the same impact, although, for example Obesity can worsen the prognosis of an individual who already has it ”, clarifies Lázaro.
What are the most common and what breeds are most prone to?
Among the cardiac pathologies that a dog can suffer, there are two that stand out above the others, since “they encompass more than 90% of cases, and they are Mitral Valve Disease (EVM) and Dilated Cardiomyopathy (CMD) . Other disorders, such as congenital diseases or cardiac neoplasms are much less frequent ”.
• Mitral Valve Disease (EVM). In this pathology, the heart valves that separate atria and ventricles thicken, altering their normal morphology and making it difficult for them to function properly. “This valve, which prevents the backward movement of blood from the atrium to the ventricle, deteriorates and thickens, making it difficult to function properly; and by not closing completely, the blood can go back towards the atrium, which dilates and causes the heart to have to make a greater effort, with its consequent deterioration ” .
The symptoms that will appear, once the disease is well established, will be “fatigue, exercise intolerance, cough, accumulation of fluid in the chest (pulmonary edema) or abdomen (ascites), cardiac arrhythmias or even sudden death.”In the initial stages these are very subtle symptoms. There are breeds especially susceptible to this disease, which are “in general , the smallest breeds (less than 20 kilos), such as” the Cavalier King Charles, Poodle, Yorkshire terrier, Dachshund, Bichon, Shi-Tzu, Mini Schnauzer, Pomeranian or Jack Russell, among others ”. It usually appears between the ages of 5 and 8.
• Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM). In this disease, according to Manuel Lázaro, “the muscular wall of the ventricle weakens, thins and the heart progressively dilates, so it is not able to perform its function correctly”. As the muscle is damaged, the blood is not pumped normally throughout the body, which can even cause sudden death from tachycardia or fibrillation if it is not diagnosed in time. It is a disease that progresses very quickly and symptoms can appear suddenly when the disease is very advanced.This disease usually occurs in dogs between 4 and 6 years old and the most prone breeds are “the large ones, such as the Great Dane, Doberman, Boxer, Irish Wolfhound, Labrador, Golden Retriever, German Shepherd, Mastiff or Saint Bernard”, among others. .
In both cases, “cardiac malfunction, whatever its origin, represents a serious problem with repercussions for health, quality of life and the risk of death for the dog.”
How are they detected, treated and prevented?
As Manuel Lázaro advanced at the beginning, they are not diseases that can be easily prevented, “ it is not possible to carry out an effective prevention of these diseases, beyond trying to detect certain genetic lines in which they occur more, or to look for certain genetic markers to try avoid his inheritance . But in the presence of a dog that already has it or is going to present it, we cannot do much so that it does not appear ”.
However, the fact that we cannot prevent it from occurring does not mean that it cannot be treated if it is detected early, which will allow both prolonging and improving the quality of life of the dog, ” early detection and taking the appropriate measures can make our dog lives with one of these pathologies with a great quality of life and for many years ”, he tells us. Data that these diseases usually present an evident symptomatology only when the advanced disease, to detect them in time, the only way is the regular check-ups that include a cardiac review from a certain age, from five years in small and medium dogs and from all four in the case of large breed dogs.
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Currently, there are advances that allow, on the one hand, to detect the disease very early, even before the appearance of symptoms, and, on the other, to treat it , “the auscultation of a murmur can be the first indication that leads us to carry out additional tests such as chest radiography, electrocardiogram or ultrasound of the heart that determine the diagnosis and be able to start a treatment that slows down its evolution and allows the dog to be kept symptom-free for longer, and prolong life expectancy ”, he assures.
We can also help ourselves with food, which, although it does not prevent these pathologies, “can be of help once the disease is already established. In general, these are diets reduced in sodium and hypocaloric, to avoid obesity or being overweight ”. In addition, although we believe that our dog is healthy, before any sign of “fatigue, cough, dyspnea or syncope”, we should go to the vet as soon as possible.