Your favorite dog in the whole world is getting older. As he does, the aging process starts to “catch up” to his internal organs. They often just don’t work as well as they once did. One vital organ that can be especially affected is the heart. Indeed, heart disease in older dogs is very common, and can obviously be very serious.
When we speak of heart problems in older dogs, we usually refer to two main areas: the heart valves and the heart muscle fibers. We know that as dogs age, it is common for the heart valves to become fibrotic (scarred). This is especially seen in our smaller breeds of dogs such as poodles, dachshunds, Chihuahuas, and others. These valves are meant to allow blood to flow only in one direction through the heart. As they scar, they become “insufficient”, that is, they allow some of the blood to flow in the wrong direction, thus creating pressure changes in the heart. These pressure changes can lead to abnormal stress to the heart chambers, thus causing the heart to enlarge and the muscle fibers themselves to stretch and weaken. This “wrong direction blood flow” also causes the murmur we commonly hear in these dogs.
There are several symptoms of congestive heart disease in dogs. Some of the most common are coughing, especially at night or early morning, build up of fluid in the abdominal cavity, or extreme intolerance to exercise. Once we hear the first hint of a heart murmur, it’s time to develop a sensible plan of action. It’s not wise to wait until we see severe life threatening symptoms before intervening. We cannot cure heart disease in these dogs, but many of these symptoms can be controlled to help the pets feel much better. And often we can extend a useful, happy quality of life. At the Rannals Small Animal Hospital, we have protocols in place to assess and treat your pet’s heart. The steps to treating heart disease include:
1. Complete diagnostic work-up, including radiographs (X-ray), physical exam, sometimes ultrasound exam (“echo”) and various laboratory profiles. This work-up is important in any dog eight years or older, but especially when we discover heart disease.
2. Dietary changes which are better suited to your pet. These may simply be commercial senior foods, or prescription diets like K/D.
3. Reduced stress on the heart by limiting exercise in the symptomatic pet, especially in our East Texas hot summers.
4. Medications to relieve excess pressures on the heart (“ACE inhibitors”), reduce fluid accumulation in the lungs or abdomen, and in some cases, meds that actually increase strength of the heart’s contractions.
Your pet has given you lots of love and companionship over the years. In most cases, you can help him to feel much better and improve his quality of life as his senior years continue. Call us at 903-839-7235.