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Heart disease and heart failure in Dogs

Updated: Nov 2, 2021

Do you know that dogs can get heart disease and heart failure?


Your dog could be at risk for heart disease and heart failure. Unfortunately, heart disease is not just a human condition. It can affect dogs too. About 10% of all dogs have heart disease, and the prevalence of heart disease increases dramatically with age [1]. Almost all dogs that get heart disease to acquire the disease as adults. Only about 5% of dogs are born with heart problems (called congenital defects). These defects are usually diagnosed when a dog is still a young puppy.

There are 2 common types of heart disease in dogs that may lead to heart failure. The most common type affects the heart’s valves and is more commonly seen in small dogs. For example:

  1. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

  2. Boston Terrier

  3. Chihuahua

  4. Fox Terrier

  5. Miniature Pinscher

  6. Poodle

  7. Pekingese

  8. Pomeranian

  9. Whippet

The risk for heart disease of the valves in small breed dogs gets worse with age:

  • About 10% of small breed dogs between the ages of 5 and 8 years are affected [2]

  • 20–25% of small breed dogs between the ages of 9 and 12 years are affected [2]

  • 30–35% of small breed dogs more than 13 years are affected [2]

  • 75% of small breed dogs over 16 years are affected [3]

If your dog is getting older (7years or older) or is one of the breeds shown above, you may want to schedule a heart exam.

The other type of heart disease affects the heart’s muscle and is more common in medium to large dogs. For example:

  1. Doberman Pinscher

  2. Great Dane

  3. Afghan Hound

  4. Boxer

  5. Cocker Spaniel

  6. Dalmatian

  7. Irish Wolfhound

  8. Newfoundland

  9. Saint Bernard

  10. Scottish Deerhound

If your dog is at risk for heart disease, do not lose hope. In dogs with either type of heart disease, the body will adapt to the condition, and it will take some time before heart failure develops. In some dogs, heart disease may not lead to heart failure. Because the dog’s body can adjust to the condition temporarily, you may not know if your dog has one of these types of heart disease—especially early in the course of the disease. Both of these types of heart disease may be present for quite some time before you will see any outward signs. The best way to find out if heart disease is or could be a problem is to bring your dog in for regular checkups. We are able to detect the presence of disease much earlier than you can, even before heart failure begins. Remember, early detection is the key to successful management.

What is heart failure?


Heart failure occurs when the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. The heart works harder to do its job and begins to function poorly. The signs of early heart failure can be mistaken for normal ageing. However, if you see any of the signs listed below, these could be caused by heart failure.

This is what you should look for:

  1. Coughing

  2. Changes in breathing

  3. Difficulty breathing

  4. Shortness of breath

  5. Changes in behaviour

  6. Lack of energy/tires easily

  7. Exercise intolerance

  8. Restlessness—especially at night

  9. Changes in appetite

Heart failure - diagnosis and treatment


Early diagnosis makes heart disease easier to manage. The early signs of heart disease can look similar to other conditions. Signs like difficulty breathing, coughing, or rapid breathing may coincide with signs of other respiratory diseases. We will follow a series of key steps and use some of the latest diagnostic tools to distinguish heart disease from other problems.

1. History:

We will need to know the age, breed, and medical history of your dog. We will ask when the cough started (if applicable) in addition to the following:

  • Changes in attitude, behaviour, and activity level

  • Changes in breathing

  • Changes in appetite and weight

  • Sleeping habits

  • Previous evidence of heart disease

  • Previous treatment history

2. Physical examination:

This provides us with clues as to whether your dog has any heart-related problems. We will evaluate:

  • Weight and body condition

  • Breathing rates

  • Heart rates

  • Pulse rates

  • Abdominal shape

3. Listening to your dog’s heart and lungs:

A stethoscope will allow us to determine if a heart murmur is present. A murmur occurs when blood leaks back through the heart’s valves in the wrong direction, which is an early indication of valve disease. Also, the heart rate and rhythm can be assessed with a stethoscope to determine if there is an irregular heartbeat. We can listen to the lungs to detect abnormal sounds.

4. X-rays:

These can help us evaluate the size and shape of the heart and assess the severity of your dog’s heart disease.

5. Additional tests:

  • Blood testing for markers of heart disease

  • A blood pressure test

  • An electrocardiogram

  • An echocardiogram

Is heart failure treatable?


If your dog has been diagnosed with heart failure, we will recommend a treatment program. Your dog’s treatment program will vary according to your dog’s needs and the type and stage of their disease. There is no cure, but with early diagnosis and treatment, you may prolong and improve your dog’s life[4], [5]. With the most advanced treatment options and consistent dosing, your dog may live longer than those that are not treated (or not treated with the complete regimen of heart disease medications). [4] You should also see improvement in your dog’s quality of life: [5]

  • Less coughing

  • Increased energy

  • Improved appetite

  • Less likely to struggle for breath or faint

Call +254 (0713) 036 765 now to schedule a heart exam. The doctors at The Andys Veterinary Clinic may be able to help detect heart disease and give you advice on how you can help your dog.



  1. Atkins C, Bonagura J, Ettinger S, et al. Guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of canine chronic valvular heart disease. J Vet Intern Med. 2009;23(6):1142–1150.

  2. Sisson D. Valvular heart disease in dogs. In: Proceedings from the WSAVA World Congress; October 3–6, 2002; Granada, Spain. Available at: Accessed August 21, 2012.

  3. Guglielmini C. Cardiovascular diseases in the ageing dog: Diagnostic and therapeutic problems. Vet Res Commun. 2003;27(Suppl 1):555–560.

  4. Häggström J, Boswood A, O’Grady M, et al. Effect of pimobendan or benazepril hydrochloride on survival times in dogs with congestive heart failure caused by naturally occurring myxomatous mitral valve disease: the QUEST study. J Vet Intern Med. 2008;22(5):1124–1135.

  5. Lombard CW, Jöns O, Bussadori CM; for the VetSCOPE Study. Clinical efficacy of pimobendan versus benazepril for the treatment of acquired atrioventricular valvular disease in dogs. J Am Anim Hosp Assoc. 2006;42(4):249–261.

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