Does Your Dog Have Heart Disease?

Does Your Dog Have Heart Disease?

Heart disease in dogs is more common than you might think. But earlier detection, along with an understanding of the role diet, supplements and lifestyle changes play in cardiac health, can help dogs live longer.

Heart disease is commonly associated with humans, but it affects our dogs too. In fact, nearly eight million dogs in the US have heart disease — that’s one out of every ten canines. Recent research also indicates that up to 75% of dogs aged seven and older will develop some form of heart disease. These statistics are alarming, but advances in veterinary medicine and laboratory testing are helping veterinarians detect heart disease earlier. We have also gained valuable insights into the intimate relationship between a dog’s genetics, lifestyle, exercise levels, and diet, and the multifactorial role these factors play in the risk for heart disease. In addition, we have learned that specific foods, supplements, and lifestyle changes can help lower your dog’s heart disease risk.


Heart disease in dogs can be congenital or acquired:

  • Congenital heart disease has a genetic link, is present at birth, and may be exacerbated by age, injury, and/or diet.
  • Acquired heart disease occurs with age because of diet and/or disease.

The two most common forms of heart disease in dogs are dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and mitral valve insufficiency (MVI).

1. Dilated cardiomyopathy

In DCM, the cardiac muscle surrounding the heart becomes thin and weak. This means the heart muscle cannot contract properly, and circulation is impaired, ultimately resulting in congestive heart failure. Signs such as a heart murmur, coughing, difficulty breathing, weight loss, and/or fainting may or may not be present.

DCM may be genetic or acquired. It is especially common in large breeds, like Great Danes. Dobermans and boxers also have a strong genetic link.

Keep in mind: An echocardiogram is the gold standard for a definitive diagnosis of DCM.

Conventional treatment options consist of various medications to stabilize the heart rate and rhythm; diuretics to eliminate fluid from the lungs; and low-sodium diets.

Survival ranges from two to 12 months; living six months post-diagnosis is standard, and beyond one year is excellent.

2. Mitral valve insufficiency

MVI is by far the most common heart issue affecting dogs. Recent stats indicate that nearly 90% of dogs over age 13 will develop some form of mitral valve disease.

Keep in mind: Unlike cardiomyopathy, MVI is a slowly progressive disease, so treatment and prognosis vary depending on the specific parameters of each case.

In MVI, the fibers of the mitral valve thicken and degenerate. The valve can no longer close correctly, which impairs blood flow and circulation. Unlike cardiomyopathy, mitral valve disease usually occurs in small to mid-sized breeds, notably miniature and toy poodles, Dachshunds, Chihuahuas, Maltese, and Cavalier King Charles spaniels. Nearly 100% of Cavalier spaniels will develop MVI at some point in their lives.

Signs of MVI may include a heart murmur, getting tired easily, coughing (especially when waking up in the morning), difficulty breathing, weakness, appetite loss, and lethargy. Congestive heart failure may or may not develop.


If you notice any of the following signs in your dog, take her to the vet for a checkup.

  • Coughing for three or more days, especially in the morning
  • Difficulty breathing, excessive panting, noisy breathing, increased respiratory rate (40-60 breaths per minute)
  • Changes in your dog’s behavior: e.g. acting more withdrawn, tired or depressed
  • Poor appetite and weight loss

Routine diagnostics for heart disease include blood and urine tests, chest X-rays, and an EKG or an electrocardiograph, which detects electrical disturbances in the heart. Definitive diagnosis is confirmed with an echocardiograph which helps pinpoint the specific problem within the heart.

Treatment options for heart disease vary, depending on the specific type and severity of the disease. Options include Omega-3 fatty acid supplements, low-sodium diet, and diuretic medications to reduce fluid buildup in the lungs.


To help support your dog’s heart health, feed him an organic, fresh, vegetable-rich food that features the following:

High quality lean protein — the right protein is essential for keeping your dog’s heart healthy because it strengthens the heart muscle. Your dog’s diet should consist of at least 25% to 30% high quality, lean protein. White meats such as chicken, turkey, and pork, as well as fish, are excellent sources.

Keep in mind: Ensure fresh water is available to your dog 24/7 (distilled or reverse osmosis is preferred).

Low sodium levels — Excess salt is never a plus, especially if your dog is at risk for cardiac issues. Even if your pooch shows no signs of heart issues, it’s best to keep her on a diet that provides less than 100 mg of sodium daily.


A wide range of supplements can help support your dog’s heart health.

Omega-3 fatty acids: These are an essential part of an all-around heart-healthy diet. They reduce inflammation and protect against abnormal heart rhythms. In one study of dogs with heart disease, survival rates improved with Omega-3 supplements. Natural sources include cod liver oil, sardines, and salmon, or you can use supplements.

CoQ10: This naturally-occurring coenzyme is plentiful in young dogs, but declines with age. Maintaining proper CoQ10 levels helps protect your dog’s heart muscle. CoQ10 supplements come in two forms: ubiquinone and ubiquinol. Ubiquinol is a reduced form of CoQ10 and is easiest for your dog’s body to utilize. Maintenance dosages range from 50 mg daily for small dogs up to 35 pounds; 100 mg daily for medium dogs of 36 to 70 pounds; and 100 mg twice a day for large dogs.

Taurine: Supplementing your dog’s diet with the amino acid taurine helps maintain normal cardiac function regardless of whether or not a heart issue is present. Without adequate levels of taurine, canine heart disease is a risk; breeds such as the Portuguese water dog and golden retriever are more prone to a deficiency. Taurine is present in cooked lamb and raw beef liver, and is also available as a supplement.

Taurine deficiency has been a major factor in the recent FDA investigation of grain-free dog foods, and dogs (especially golden retrievers) dying of dilated cardiomyopathy. The jury is still out as to the exact connection, but current recommendations center around avoiding dog foods in which the top ten ingredients include peas, chickpeas, lentils, potatoes, and sweet potatoes.

Antioxidant vitamins A, C, E and B-vitamin complex, as well as magnesium, are helpful.


Keeping your canine at a healthy weight is important for good health and even more vital for heart issues. Portion control is essential, and that means no free feeding. Feed your dog two to three balanced meals each day.

Keep in mind: Regular exercise decreases the risk of canine heart disease. Walk your dog at least 20 minutes, twice a day, five days a week. Swimming is another great exercise that promotes cardiovascular health.

Pacemaker surgery for dogs

Pacemaker surgery is an effective treatment for electrical disturbances in the heart that are unresponsive to medical management. These dogs faint, have a slow heart rate, and get tired easily with exercise.

The pacemaker is inserted surgically through the jugular vein and placed down into the heart. The wires are attached to a pulse generator situated under the skin of the neck.

The pacemaker is effective for the lifetime of the dog, and post-operative care is minimal. Because the pacemaker’s generator is located in the dog’s neck, a harness should be used as opposed to a collar.

Homeopathic remedies for canine heart disease

When using homeopathy, be sure to work with a veterinarian who is knowledgeable in this modality.

  1. Crataegus oxycantha 3x (Hawthorn berry) is helpful for heart weakness and heart murmurs. Give one pellet on the tongue once daily for 30 days; withhold food for ten minutes before and after treatment. This remedy must be used with caution in certain hypertrophic forms of cardiomyopathy.
  2. Digitalis purpurea 6x (foxglove) may be helpful when the heartbeat is irregular. Give one tablet for fainting or episodes of distressed breathing that occur after exercise.

While a diagnosis of heart disease is something no dog parent wants to hear, there are ways to help support your canine companion’s cardiac heart health and improve her quality of life and longevity. A correct and early diagnosis is important, so take your dog to your integrative or holistic vet as soon as possible if you notice any signs or symptoms. Once you’ve received a diagnosis, you can work with the vet to develop a treatment plan that includes dietary and lifestyle changes, along with any supplements or medication your dog might need.

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The post “Does Your Dog Have Heart Disease?” by Carol Osborne, DVM was published on 01/20/2024 by