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One in Ten Dogs Suffers from Heart Disease

Although it is common for people in today's fitness-minded society to monitor their own cardiovascular health, pet owners nationwide should be concerned about the cardiovascular health of another member of the household: their dog. Unsuspecting dog owners may not be aware that their pets are susceptible to forms of heart disease which can be fatal. Just as humans take preventive steps to ward off health problems, dog owners can play a vital role in managing the cardiovascular health of their pet by making regular visits to their family veterinarian. "Waiting until a dog displays signs of illness may mean a serious health risk for the dog and a greater expense for the owner," says Dr. Tom Dougherty, President, of the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association. "So when it comes to heart disease, the best way to ensure your dog's health is to be prepared. That means taking your dog for a physical examination at least once a year."

Heart Disease in Dogs: a Matter of Life and Death Studies show that about one in 10 dogs seen by veterinarians suffers from heart disease that can lead to heart failure. Of these, approximately 22 percent suffer from moderate to severe heart failure, 56 percent have mild signs and the remainder have no outward signs of the disease. Heart failure results from the heart's inability to pump blood at the rate required to meet the body's needs. While the heart compensates by continuing to work harder to pump blood, the result is that the heart suffers even more. Although some forms of heart failure in dogs have no visible signs, heart disease can be diagnosed through a clinical examination by a veterinarian. Owners of dogs with mild to moderate signs of heart failure typically report that their pets experience coughing, lethargy and difficulty in breathing. Severe heart failure is characterized by difficulty in breathing (even at rest), fainting, profound intolerance to exercise, loss of appetite and weight loss. A veterinarian can confirm heart failure in a dog through diagnostic tests and, depending on the severity of the condition, may recommend a treatment schedule. "When a heart murmur is detected in your dog, your veterinarian will recommend a schedule of regular visits and prescribe treatment that can help keep your dog's heart healthy," advised Dr. Dougherty. "Although heart failure can occur in any dog, some breeds that may be particularly prone to heart failure include Poodles, Cocker Spaniels, English Springer Spaniels, Irish Wolfhounds, Great Danes, German Shepherds, Saint Bernards, Doberman Pinchers and English Mastiffs. That's why it's important to see your family veterinarian on a routine basis and have your dog examined for evidence of heart disease."

Protect! Your Dog! From Heartworm Disease Another common cause of heart disease in dogs is the heartworm parasite Dirofilaria immitis, which can severely affect a dog's heart, lungs and blood vessels. When a dog is bitten by a mosquito carrying infective heartworm larvae, worms mature in the dog's tissues and they migrate to the heart and pulmonary arteries where they can grow up to 14 inches in length. Heartworms invade the heart, lungs and other vital organs, and if left untreated, can be fatal. The tell-tale signs of heartworm disease - fatigue, chronic cough and loss of appetite - may not appear until the disease is very advanced. Treatment of advanced heartworm disease is risky to the pet and expensive for the owner. Prevention is the key to protecting a dog from heartworm disease. It is best to take a dog to a veterinarian at least once a year for a blood test to determine if the dog is infected. Ask your veterinarian how easy prevention can be.

Routine Visits to a Veterinarian Help Ensure a Healthy Dog! Whether healthy or showing signs of old age, it is important that every dog is checked regularly by a veterinarian (at least once a year). In addition to being able to detect and prescribe treatments for heart disease, a veterinarian can give pet owners valuable advice on exercise, nutrition and preventive care that can help keep a dog in top shape. By playing it safe and protecting a dog's heart and overall health through proper care and veterinary supervision, pet owners can reap the rewards of love and affection from their dogs for many years to come.

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Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association
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