Heart disease is very different in dogs than it is in humans, and dogs are rarely reported to have the main type of heart attacks that humans do.
The main risk factors for heart disease in dogs, are family history (genetics are huge here, and the reason that we see certain conditions recur in certain breeds) and age (risk does increase with age, although some dogs are born with a congenital condition).
Unlike humans, obesity or being overweight doesn’t increase the risk of heart disease, but what it does do is compromise a heart patient further than they already are, not to mention increasing the risk of diabetes and significantly worsening pain with osteoarthritis.
Know the signs
Signs that can indicate reduced heart function in your fur kid:
- Weight loss
- Reduced energy levels
- Reduced appetite
- Coughing- there are many causes for a cough as dogs age, and heart failure is only one of them.
Monitor at home
So whilst you can’t control your mate’s genetic makeup, you can be proactive rather than reactive in how to monitor their health. Have regular wellness check ins with a Vet, have your annual hands on health check with your local Veterinarian, watch your pet for the signs above, and in cases of early heart disease or high risk, you can also measure their sleeping respiratory rate (SRR) – see below.
Sleeping respiratory rate (SRR)
The SRR is a great tool for monitoring heart disease and is a good indicator for when it has become congestive. This means it’s progressed to a point where there is pressure causing fluid to leak in the lungs, which in turn compromises the lungs ability to transfer oxygen to the body, so the lungs have to work faster and harder to do the same job they previously did.
Hence, an increased SRR is the result of congestive heart disease.
This is measured by watching your dog when they are asleep, (not resting, but definitely asleep), accompanied by a paper and pen. Count the number of breaths they take in 1 minute. The rise and fall of the chest counts as 1 breath.
In a dog, a normal SRR is in the teens to the low 20s, if the SRR is 30 or above, in a room that is not too hot or not too cold, it’s considered too high. This doesn’t confirm congestive heart disease, as other conditions can cause the SRR to be up too, but it does mean that things should be investigated ASAP.
Do this weekly, keep the results so you can see if there are any changes, and update or chat to a Veterinarian for advice if you have concerns.
By recognising the signs of heart disease and monitoring your pet at home you can see that they are treated as soon as a problem arises, not further down the track.