It is estimated that about ten percent of dogs in the United States are affected by some sort of heart disease.
If it is your dog that was just diagnosed, or you suspect your dog is affected, you need knowledge and immediate answers to your questions.
What is heart disease? What caused it? What can you do to make your dog more comfortable?
And, most importantly, is there anything you can do to ensure your dog lives a long, healthy life?
What Is Heart Disease?
Cardiovascular disease is a large group of dysfunctions of the heart. It can affect the blood vessels, heart structure, and efficiency of both.
Your heart is a vital organ cushioned and protected inside your chest. It is responsible for pumping blood (which contains oxygen and nutrients) to your entire body.
Your dog’s heart works the exact same way, so it is easy to understand why you would want to make sure it is functioning properly.
The heart pumps blood both to and away from it through the rest of your body via an intricate system of hollow tubes called blood vessels.
The narrowing of these blood vessels, especially those directly surrounding the heart, is often a factor in a cardiovascular system being diseased; this can lead to blockages that cause heart attack (a myocardial infarction), angina (severe chest pain), and stroke.
While there are many types of heart disease, each with its own set of symptoms, causes, and treatment, they all break down into two main groups: congenital or acquired. Congenital means a physical abnormality was present from birth, while an acquired condition was developed over time through some root cause.
For instance, the most common cause of congestive heart failure (the heart's complete inability to do its job, typically the end prognosis for heart disease) in dogs is congenital heart disease. It is especially prominent in small breed dogs like toy poodles and Pomeranians. They are usually diagnosed when your dog is still young, and there is no way to cure it.
Acquired heart disease makes up 95% of all diagnosed dog heart-related issues. These problems are developed through your dog’s life and are sometimes related to lifestyle choices like diet.
There are two principal causes of acquired heart disease in dogs : valve malfunctions and cardiomyopathy (which is a chronic health condition affecting the muscles of the heart).
Some other common heart-related conditions your dog may be diagnosed with are:
- Valvular Disease, which is damage to one of more of the valves of the heart. The heart has four valves: the mitral, aortic, tricuspid, and pulmonary. An incompetent valve allows small amounts of blood to flow back into the area it just left.
- Heartworm is caused by the parasite Dirofilaria immitis And is spread through mosquito bites. Disease resulting from heart worms can cause massive organ failure and death.
- Myocardial Disease affects the muscles of the heart and can be caused by myocardial ischemia (when blood flow through one of your arteries is insufficient). This results in less oxygen to your heart and muscle cell death.
- Cardiac arrhythmia occurs when electrical impulses in the heart do not work properly, resulting in irregular heartbeats.
- Pericardial effusion is excess fluid buildup around the heart.
While some breeds are more predisposed to developing heart disease than others, and some dogs are just born with heart malformations, there are factors that can cause or worsen potential problems.
Nutrition and body size play a huge role- the harder the heart has to work to pump blood through an unhealthy body (especially with lack of nutrients to heal it) the faster the muscle may deteriorate. Heartworms can cause disease. Old age, too, can cause heart problems.
Human heart disease may be easier to find and treat than heart disease in dogs. Humans have the capacity for intelligent conversation and we can check into our family history for chronic health concerns and bring them up to our doctor.
Your dog does not have the ability to mention that his chest is feeling tight, for instance, and information about his family can be impossible to obtain if you adopted him from a shelter.
It is essential, for that reason, that you carefully observe ANY changes in your dog’s behavior. Call your veterinarian if you have any concerns or questions.
The best way to ensure your dog's heart is working in top shape is regular visits to your vet.
Outside of normal annual check ups, contact your vet immediately if you notice any of these symptoms potentially related to heart disease:
- Abnormal lack of energy
- Fainting or collapsing
- Coughing or difficulty breathing
- Poor appetite and weight loss
- Muscle weakness
- Swelling in the abdomen or extremities
- Changes in behavior, such as suddenly becoming anxious at night or isolating himself from people
Congestive heart failure can be the end result of heart disease.
A diagnosis of heart failure does NOT mean your dog’s heart has stopped pumping. Chronic disease can leave the muscles of the heart too weak or too stiff to efficiently pump blood to the rest of the body. Heart failure means the heart is not capable of working as it should.
Congestive heart failure requires immediate lifesaving medical attention.
Signs of congestive heart failure include:
- Coughing, panting, and inability to breathe. Breathing may be shallow and fast.
- Severely distended abdomen
- Coughing up blood
- Blue-tinged gums
- Very fast, weak heart rate
- Refusal or inability to move
How Is Heart Disease Diagnosed?
If your vet is examining your dog and notices abnormalities in his heart, he may suggest a consultation with a pet cardiologist and further testing.
These tests may include:
- Blood tests may be used to measure the amounts of certain cardiac biomarkers (substances like Troponin I). Heart deficiencies can cause changes to blood composition.
- Urine tests, to check for kidney function and any concurrent diseases
- Chest x-rays use a very low amount of ionizing radiation to produce pictures of the inside of the chest cavity. X-rays are considered safe amounts of radiation.
- An electrocardiogram (ECG) that measures electrical impulse activity in the heart
- An echocardiogram (EKG) which uses ultrasound to check out heart function in real time
- A heartworm antigen test will find any evidence of heartworms present
- A Holter monitor may be taped to your dog for a couple of days to record heart rhythms during various activities
Your veterinarian (and any specialists you may see) should inform you of all the findings of every test performed on your dog. They should discuss potential diagnoses and treatments with you immediately upon reviewing the test results.
What Treatments Are Available For Heart Disease In Dogs?
First, it is important to know that there are efficient treatments for heart disease in dogs. A diagnosis of heart disease - or even congestive heart failure - is not necessarily a life sentence for your pet.
It is possible for him to live a full life with you!
There are many treatment options available to your dog. These range from small lifestyle changes to large multi-step surgeries. Which treatment other you choose depends on the diagnosis and severity of your dog’s disease.
Lifestyle changes may seem like a solid first step. These can also act as preventative measures for dogs predisposed to heart disease, and are generally healthy options for most pets.
Effective ways to immediately start helping your dog be healthier include
- Maintaining a healthy body weight and a healthy body mass index (BMI). Too much excess body weight can put a serious strain on your dog’s heart and may reduce the effect of any other treatment method used.
- Ensuring good nutrition. There are heart care dry dog food options available. In general, it is good advice to avoid feeding your dog a diet high in sodium and saturated fats. Your goal is to make sure he is maintaining healthy muscle mass (the heart is a muscle!) and getting enough vitamins and minerals to support his body. An antiquated method of treating heart disease was to severely reduce protein intake, but this is no longer considered a viable treatment.
- Multivitamins and supplements, including vitamin B complex and electrolytes could help (especially if your dog is on diuretics)
- Adding fish oil to his meals
- Adding plenty of fresh human foods like fruits and vegetables and avoiding feeding him unhealthy human snacks
- Making sure he gets plenty of regular exercise (unless your veterinarian has put him on activity restriction to reduce the wear and tear on his heart)
Prescription medications may be used to reduce the buildup of fluid around your dog’s heart and improve blood flow.
One of the most commonly prescribed medicines for heart disease is an angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor, or ACE inhibitor. These medicines cause blood vessels to dilate, or widen, to increase blood flow and decrease blood pressure. An example of an ACE inhibitor is lisinopril.
Beta blockers can also be used to reduce the workload on the heart. They can lower blood pressure and stabilize the heart rate. A common beta blocker is acebutolol.
Vasodilators can help widen the blood vessels and decrease the pressure put on the heart, as well.
Diuretics can help the excess fluid around the heart to be absorbed by the kidneys and excreted by the body. Hydrochlorothiazide is one such option.
Oxygen therapy is an up-and-coming treatment tool for dogs that have heart conditions that may reduce the amount of oxygen in their blood. This can help prevent further deterioration of the heart muscle as well as other dangerous conditions caused by low oxygen.
Brain damage and death could result from low oxygen, so it is critical to ensure your dog’s heart can adequately circulate oxygen-rich blood to the entire body.
In the most advanced cases of heart disease, your dog may need open heart surgery to repair or replace valves and mechanically widen blood vessels.
As always, talk with your vet before attempting to treat your dog’s heart disease.
What Is CBD Oil?
You may have heard of CBD oil by now. You may even be using it yourself.
CBD oil may be the answer to your dog’s heart disease concerns!
CBD, or cannabidiol, is a naturally-occurring complex chemical compound found in various parts of the hemp plant.
Hemp is a close cousin to marijuana but does not contain psychoactive levels of THC, the compound that induces the ‘high’ of marijuana.
Industry-standard THC concentration for high-quality CBD products is less than .3 percent.
CBD is extracted from the stems, leaves, and flowers of the hemp plant, then is separated from impurities and distilled in alcohol.
The CBD is then made into a variety of products including
- CBD suspended in carrier oil (like coconut, hemp, or almond oil) that can be taken orally itself or poured into food or drinks
- Tinctures, which is CBD suspended in alcohol. Tinctures are generally used sublingually (which means it is placed under your tongue before swallowing) and are the fastest, most efficient way of getting CBD into your body because it bypasses the time-consuming digestive process.
- Edibles, which includes human gummies and dog treats
- Health and beauty products, like topical lotions for muscle aches
- Pills and gel-filled capsules
- E-liquids for vaping devices (some with THC or nicotine)
There is essentially no difference between CBD oil made for pets and those made for humans. They should both be high-quality pure CBD oil.
Of course, some CBD products are not useful for your pet (like vape cartridges) and some human-safe additives are not pet safe. Some beauty products may have essential oils added, for instance, that could hurt your dog.
Finding a quality oil product is not difficult. They are readily available online through a number of different vendors, and more and more you can find local health stores that carry solid products.
If buying online, there are a few guidelines to follow to ensure the safety and purity of your CBD oil:
- Find a product labeled as USA-grown. The United States has a strict set of guidelines for growing hemp and manufacturing products made with it. These rigorous standards equate to a product with fewer impurities and more informative labels.
- Make sure the shop you buy from has a professional website. Customer service contact information, a variety of products with different concentrations, and a secure checkout area are all good signs the company is reputable.
- Organic CBD oil has a lessened risk of pesticide contamination and is a safer choice.
There are so many products available, each labeled with different concentrations, specific blends with specific uses, and dosing instructions. It can be confusing to understand the jargon. Finding a store locally may help, or ask your veterinarian or pet care specialists (groomers, trainers, etc) for guidance or recommendations.
Make sure you check with your vet before choosing a product for your dog.
What Can CBD Oil Do?
CBD has been shown to interact with a unique system of cell membrane receptors in our nervous and digestive systems called the ECS (the endocannabinoid system). Every animal has one, and they function the same way regardless of species.
The ECS plays a role in many biological systems contributing to homeostasis, which is your body’s ability to maintain internal equilibrium regardless of outside stressors. This means things like body temperature, heart rate, and the processes of digestion continue despite the environment changing around you.
CBD has been shown to affect your body- and that of your dog- in a number of beneficial ways including
- Reducing anxiety and frequency and duration of panic attacks
- Improving pain and reducing inflammation body-wide (especially as related to chronic disease)
- Fighting cancer and shrinking tumors
- Boosting the efficiency of your immune system
- Helping to manage epilepsy and reducing the frequency of seizures
- Protecting cardiovascular health
- Stimulating the appetite and improving digestion (especially when it is affected by nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea)
- Protecting the nervous system from degenerative disease
- Promoting good-quality, restful sleep and faster muscle recovery
If your dog has chronic heart conditions, you will be pleased to find that CBD can drastically improve his cardiovascular health immediately. It can reduce the damage done by inflammation in his blood vessels and protect them from further damage. It can reduce heart rate and blood pressure. It may even be able to begin assisting the muscles in recovery.
CBD has been shown to have antibiotic properties and is a powerful antioxidant as well.
CBD is generally well-tolerated. Very few side effects have been reported and they are all mild. They include drowsiness, nausea, and anxiety.
Most users find relief immediately, but regular use is important because the CBD can continue to improve overall health outcomes for up to a month.
CBD can interfere with the body’s ability to metabolize certain prescription medicines because of a change in liver enzyme output, so make sure your veterinarian approves of CBD use in conjunction with any medicines your dog may be taking.
If your beloved pet has been diagnosed with any form of heart disease - or is predisposed to developing it - it may make good sense for you to ask your veterinarian about supplementing with CBD oil in addition to other methods of treatment. It can be an effective, valuable addition to a treatment plan.
Your dog deserves to live a long, healthy life free of pain and complications from heart disease. Products made with quality cannabinoid oil can help!