Monday, February 13, 2012


Helpful Buckeye has been preparing an overview of heart problems for pets and this week, with Valentine's Day coming up, seemed to be an appropriate time to run this issue.  We'll confine this first installment to the dogs out there in "petland" and take a look at cat heart problems a bit later.  Wishing a Happy Valentine's Day to all of you...and your pets.  If you have a special Valentine, give them an extra hug...and offer a hug and a treat to your pets...they deserve it!


Your dog’s heart is just like yours. It’s a four-chambered pump made of muscle.  The four chambers are separated by heart valves which ensure that blood can only flow in one direction.

Your Dog’s Circulation

The heart is a part of the circulatory system along with the lungs and blood vessels.  Each contraction of the heart muscle pumps blood around your dog’s body, supplying the organs with the energy and oxygen they need, while at the same time carrying away the waste products.

Heart Disease in Dogs

How common is heart disease in dogs?

About 10% of all dogs have some type of heart disease.  Most importantly, the incidence of heart disease increases dramatically with age. The incidence of heart disease increases to more than 60% in aged dogs.  This is particularly the case in dogs with valvular heart disease:

• About 10% of dogs between the ages of 5 and 8 years are affected
• 20-25% of dogs between the ages of 9 and 12 years are affected
• 30-35% of dogs more than 13 years are affected
• 75% of dogs over 16 years are affected

If your dog has been diagnosed with heart disease, don't lose hope. With early diagnosis and appropriate treatment and management, you increase your dog's opportunity to live a more normal life.

What Are the Causes of Heart Disease?

There are several ways your dog can be affected by heart disease:

Acquired Heart Disease

• Accounts for 95% of all heart conditions
• Disease that develops during the course of your dog's life

 Principal causes of acquired heart disease:
  •  Valvular disease, which is also known as atrioventricular valvular insufficiency (AVVI) or mitral valve disease or endocardiosis
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM)
Congenital Defects
  • Heart problems that your dog is born with
  • Will usually be diagnosed when your dog is very young (ie, still a puppy)
  • Account for a very small percentage of the diagnosed heart-related problems
What Is Valve Disease?

Atrioventricular Valvular Insufficiency (AVVI) or mitral valve disease is the most common form of heart disease in the dog. Three quarters (75%) of the cases of canine heart disease in North America are caused by chronic valve disease.  As the name suggests, this disease affects one or more of the heart valves. Heart valves normally form a perfect seal when closed. However, in valve disease one or more of these valves "leak," allowing blood to be pumped backwards. This backward flow creates a noise, called a murmur, which your vet can hear with a stethoscope.
Valvular disease is 1.5 times more common in male dogs than females. This form of heart disease usually occurs in small- to medium-size dogs, less than 44 pounds (20 kg). The most susceptible breeds are Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Poodles, Schnauzers, Chihuahuas, and Fox Terriers.

 What Is Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM)?

DCM is the second most common form of heart disease in a dog.  DCM is a disease of the heart muscle itself where the dog's heart fails to pump effectively. The contractions of the heart are weak and therefore blood is not pumped through the body efficiently.  Typically, the heart stretches and enlarges, which over time further decreases its ability to pump blood around the body.  DCM usually occurs in medium- to large-breed dogs such as Dobermans, Boxers, Great Danes, Dalmatians, Irish Wolfhounds, St. Bernards, English Bulldogs, and Cocker Spaniels.

 How Will Heart Disease Affect My Dog?

Most forms of heart disease will, unfortunately, eventually result in heart failure. Heart failure occurs when the heart, weakened by disease, fails to pump enough blood to meet the body's needs.  If your dog has been diagnosed with heart disease, don't panic. With early diagnosis and appropriate treatment and management, you increase your dog's opportunity to live a more normal life.

Diagnosis and Detection

How is a heart problem diagnosed?  It is important for you and your dog to make regular visits to your veterinarian. Early diagnosis and treatment will ensure your dog leads a happier, healthier, and longer life. Your veterinarian will follow a series of key steps and use some of the latest diagnostic tools to distinguish heart disease from respiratory problems.

1. Clinical History...The veterinarian will need to know the age, breed, and medical history of your dog. He/she will evaluate the onset and type of cough and may ask about:

• Changes in attitude, behavior, and activity level
• Changes in breathing
• Changes in appetite and weight
• Sleeping habits
• Previous evidence of heart disease
• Previous treatment history

2. Physical Examination...A thorough physical examination will provide your veterinarian with clues as to whether your dog has any heart-related problems. He/she will then evaluate:

• Weight and body condition
• Breathing rates
• Heart rates
• Pulse rates
• Skin or tissue abnormalities
• Abdominal shape

3. Listening to your dog's heart and lungs...A stethoscope may allow your veterinarian to determine if a heart murmur is present (Appreciate that not all murmurs are easily heard). Also, the heart rate and rhythm can be assessed with a stethoscope to determine if there is an irregular heartbeat. He/she can listen to the lungs to detect abnormal sounds.

4. X-rays...Technically known as radiographs, x-rays can help the veterinarian evaluate the size and shape of the heart and assess the severity of your dog's heart disease as well as allowing a veterinarian to view your dog’s other internal organs.
5. Additional tests:
  • A blood chemistry and complete blood count (CBC) analysis to assess your dog's cardiovascular health
  • A blood pressure test-- find out if your dog’s blood is flowing properly or if there is resistance in the bloodstream
  • An ECG (electrocardiogram)--to evaluate the electrical activity of your dog’s heart to measure and diagnose abnormal heart rhythms
  • Identification of a cardiac biomarker called NT-proBNP that signifies stretching of the heart’s chambers
  • An echocardiogram--ultrasound evaluation of your dog’s heart that can assess valvular function, identify leaking valves, and measure cardiac output
Heart Disease Symptoms

What are the signs of heart disease?  In the early stages of heart disease, your dog's body may make adjustments to allow him or her to cope with the disease. During this stage of the disease your dog may show no visible signs of being unwell.

As time goes by and the disease progresses into clinical heart failure, your dog's body will no longer be able to make adjustments for the disease progression. At this stage, owners often notice deterioration in their dog's health.  Signs of heart failure in your dog that you may notice include any of the following in any combination:
  • Coughing
  • Changes in breathing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Labored breathing
  • Rapid/fast breathing
  • Changes in behavior
  • Tiring easily
  • Reluctance to exercise/not wanting to go for walks
  • Less playful
  • Slowing down/lack of energy
  • Depressed/withdrawn
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Fainting/collapsing
  • Weakness
  • Restlessness, especially at night
  • Swollen abdomen
The signs of heart failure can be subtle and mistaken for changes associated with aging. Watch as your dog goes about his or her daily activities. If you notice any changes in your dog's behavior, appetite, or level of movement, talk to your veterinarian.

Commonly Affected Breeds

The following breeds are more likely to develop atrioventricular valvular insufficiency (AVVI):

• Boston Terrier
• Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
• Chihuahua
• Fox Terrier
• Miniature Pinscher
• Miniature and Toy Poodles
• Miniature Schnauzer
• Pekingese
• Pomeranian
• Whippet

The following breeds are more likely to develop dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM):

• Afghan Hound
• American Cocker Spaniel
• Boxer
• Dalmatian
• Doberman Pinscher
• English Bulldog
• English Cocker Spaniel
• Great Dane
• Irish Wolfhound
• Newfoundland
• Saint Bernard
• Scottish Deerhound

Treating Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)

Although there is no cure for the common causes of heart failure in dogs, there are treatments available that can greatly improve and extend your dog’s life.  If your dog has been diagnosed with heart failure and clinical signs are visible, it is likely that your veterinarian will recommend a treatment program.  Your dog’s treatment program will vary according to your dog’s individual needs and the type and stage of heart disease.

CHF Treatment Considerations

It is important to remember that treatment for CHF does not cure the disease, but it can help your dog resume a more normal life.  Your veterinarian may recommend one or more of the following medical treatments:
  • Diuretics are medications to remove excess fluid buildup from the lungs or abdomen, eg, furosemide (Lasix).
  • ACE-inhibitors, or inhibitors of angiotensin-converting enzyme, are a group of medications that open up constricted blood vessels and are used primarily in the treatment of hypertension and congestive heart failure. Commonly prescribed ACE-inhibitors are enalapril, benazepril, and ramipril.
  • Inodilators are medications that both increase myocardial contractility and open up constricted blood vessels, reducing the workload on your dog's weakened heart. Currently, there is only one dual-acting inodilator available, Vetmedin® (pimobendan) Chewable Tablets.
There are a number of other medications that your veterinarian may recommend for the treatment of your dog's heart failure. These will depend on the specific needs of your dog.

Also, your veterinarian will closely monitor your dog's medication(s) to determine if adjustments need to be made.  Always consult your veterinarian if you notice any change in the behavior or activity of your dog, particularly during the first few days of treatment.

Caring for Your Dog with CHF
  • Visiting your veterinarian...It is likely that your dog will be put on long-term medication after being diagnosed with heart failure, so your visits to the veterinarian may need to be more frequent at first. However, once your dog’s condition has stabilized with treatment, you can expect to resume a more regular and potentially less frequent visit schedule.  The objective of successful treatment is to make your dog feel better and live longer, at the same time as minimizing unexpected problems and emergency visits.  If your dog’s condition changes noticeably at any time, you should consult your veterinarian immediately.
  • Diet and exercise...Your veterinarian may recommend dog food that is nutritionally well-balanced and suitable for a dog with a heart condition. Some degree of sodium (salt) restriction may be recommended for some patients.  Ask your veterinarian about treats and “people food,” such as cheese and meat, as many foods will not be suitable for a dog in heart failure. Avoiding high sodium (salty) foods is often recommended.  Exercise is important, but it’s recommended that you consult your veterinarian about the type, level, and frequency of exercise for your dog. If your dog collapses or seems weak during activity, you should consult your veterinarian immediately.
  • Additional Care...The most important thing you can do for your dog with heart disease is to watch it closely. Monitor your dog’s appetite, behavior, and level of movement. Be sure to alert your veterinarian of any changes in your dog, such as weight loss or increased water consumption.  Respiration rates are an additional method of monitoring your dog’s health. Counting your dog’s breaths per minute can help you assess your dog’s lung function and overall health.  When your dog is resting or sleeping, count the number of breaths he or she takes in 15 seconds. Multiply that number by 4 to get the number of breaths per minute. If the “resting” respiratory rate increases by more than 20 percent over 2 to 3 days, contact your veterinarian.
Remember that there is no substitute for the personalized care your dog receives from your veterinarian, so always seek professional advice for this or any other problems you feel your dog might be experiencing.

Adapted from: 

Sponsored by: Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc.

© 2011 Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc.


The Ohio State Buckeyes basketball played the Spartans of Michigan State yesterday in Columbus.  Over the last 10-15 years, these 2 teams have been the class of the Big 10 conference and this year is no different.  Well, one of the teams showed up to play and it sure wasn't the Buckeyes!  The Michigan State players played like the game really meant something while the Buckeyes seemed to be just going through the motions.  The result was an impressive thumping by the Spartans.  Unlike college football, a loss like this probably won't cause any overall damage to the Buckeyes' season...however, it should definitely get their attention about having to play better as the NCAA Tournament gets closer. 


Desperado and Helpful Buckeye had a really nice evening celebration of Desperado's "Big" Birthday on Thursday...accompanied by good friends, one of whom had her birthday the same day.  Desperado's horoscope predicts a pretty good, we're awaiting that with open arms!  After the numerous difficulties we went through last year, this quote from the author of "The Great Gatsby" will be our current mantra:

“Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist but the ability to start over."

--F. Scott Fitzgerald, American author

With Mardi Gras rapidly approaching, we're starting early on the preparation of food and compilation of music for our Mardi Gras dinner party at the end of this week.  The combination of Cajun, Creole, and Zydeco foods and music presents a wonderful expectation for the culinary and acoustic senses...bring it on!  Laissez les bons temps they say down in the Big Easy!

This Tuesday, the 14th of February, 2012, is not only Valentine's Day, but also the Centennial of Arizona, the youngest of the "lower 48" states.  Desperado and Helpful Buckeye's adopted state has provided many attractions for us and we have attempted to see as much of it as possible.  The history, cultural mixes, foods, visual beauty, and, yes, some wacky, out of the blue locations have been a real joy to witness and experience.  We still have a lot we plan to see this year....
~~The goal of this blog is to provide general information and advice to help you be a better pet owner and to have a more rewarding relationship with your pet. This blog does not intend to replace the professional one-on-one care your pet receives from a practicing veterinarian. When in doubt about your pet's health, always visit a veterinarian.~~

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