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The Top 5 Signs of Heart Disease in Dogs

Written by: Adri Sandoval
Adri Sandoval is the Special Projects Manager for iHeartDogs and iHeartCats. Her work has deepened her love for animals, fostering a strong passion for rescue and animal advocacy.Read more
| Published on February 5, 2018

Heart disease is scary, and the quicker you can identify it, the better. These signs are not meant for self-diagnosis, but to help you notice more quickly that something is wrong and your dog needs to see his vet as soon as possible. Dr. Diane Levitan, VMD, Diplomate American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and owner of Peace Love Pets Veterinary Care (PLLC) shared with us the top 5 signs pet owners are most likely to notice.

#1 – Elevated Respiratory Rate

The most subtle but reliable sign is a faster than usual respiratory rate at rest. This can be very hard to notice if you are not looking for it. If you know your dog has a heart problem and know it may be facing a crisis in the future, your vet may recommend that you learn your dog’s normal character and rate of breathing at rest so that you may recognize a problem in the future if you become concerned. Atypical rapid shallow breaths or atypical rapid rate of breathing while at rest or even while being active could be an indication of declining heart function and a reason to see your veterinarian.

#2 – Cough

The most common reason a dog with heart disease is seen by a veterinarian is due to the development of a cough. The cough may be a dry hacking cough that sounds like your pet gags after coughing. Some describe it as if their pet is “trying to hack up a hairball” at the end of the coughing spell. Others describe an occasional moist cough. Coughing is never normal in a dog. So if your pet does develop a cough for any reason, especially if you have been told that your pet has a heart murmur, you should seek veterinary attention sooner than later. Coughing in a dog with a known heart murmur (and even if you did not know your pet had a murmur) is a RED FLAG to see your vet.

#3 – Rapid Tiring

If you take your dog out for his usual walk and you notice that he does not want to walk the usual mile, but instead stops at the third or fourth block and sits down and pants, this may mean he is tiring sooner than he used to. This could be a sign of what vets usually call “poor exercise tolerance.” There are several reasons for such a lack of exercise tolerance, however, weakening of the heart muscle from heart disease is high on the list and should be investigated. Regardless of the reason, it is not normal behavior for your pet and should be checked out.

#4 – Pot-belly

Weakening of the heart muscle from heart disease can also result in poor forward flow of blood, which then causes fluid buildup in the belly. This manifests as a sudden or gradual onset pot-bellied appearance. There are also other reasons why this could occur, but you will definitely want to see a veterinarian regardless the reason. This will often accompany muscle mass loss and lack of appetite, even though they look like they are getting larger.


#5 – Fainting

A less common, but more alarming sign, is fainting (which can look like seizures) when your pet gets very excited. This is very scary, but they often faint and then quickly recover from the episode. If your dog is doing this, take them to the vet immediately.

Related: The 13 Best Heart Supplements for Dogs

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