Written by Dr Tim Laws
Did you know one of the most common causes of death in small dogs is heart disease?
At the clinic, we will quite often see small dogs brought in with symptoms of advanced heart disease.
The part of the heart normally affected is the mitral valve.
The mitral valve is the valve between the two chambers of the heart on the left side.
Because of the high pressure created when the heart contracts and pumps blood around the body, the mitral valve will often wear out and start to leak.
One of the earliest signs of a leaking mitral valve is a heart murmur which a vet will detect with a stethoscope, usually on a routine visit such as a vaccination.
The murmur is caused by turbulence from the blood leaking through the valve.
There may be no other symptoms at this point.
These types of heart murmurs can be detected in dogs as young as six years old but it can often take a while to show any obvious symptoms.
Some dog breeds are more prone to heart disease than others.
The Cavalier King Charles spaniel would be the most common followed by most terrier breeds, and their crosses, and chihuahuas.
As time progresses (between months and years), the leaking becomes more severe, the heart is working less efficiently and symptoms of heart failure start to occur.
Symptoms of heart failure are; coughing, especially at night, getting puffed easily on walks or when running and sometimes fainting.
You may also notice that the breathing rate and effort at rest have increased.
The good news is that if detected early enough, medications can help the heart to work more efficiently for a long time (sometimes several years).
A recent study has shown that by starting medication when your dog has a murmur, and before the signs of heart failure occur, life expectancy can increase by more than 12 months.
If a heart murmur is detected your vet may do some tests, such as chest x-rays and a cardiac ultrasound, to determine whether to start your dog on heart medication.
So next time you are at the vet, get them to check your dog’s heart, as it may improve both the quality and length of your dog’s life.