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Have a Heart

By Dr. Annette Richmond, DVM

Heart Health

Keeping our animals healthy is critical to longevity, and the heart is the most important organ of all. As in people, there are many forms of heart disease that can affect different parts of a dog’s heart. Some are congenital defects affecting them at birth, and other heart problems develop later in life. Certain dog breeds are predisposed to specific heart diseases, and understanding this correlation can allow the caretaker to discover problems early and help support the cardiac function of their beloved dog.

The most common heart defects found in dogs are valve dysfunction, dilated cardiomyopathy, stenosis (valve narrowing), and septal defects (abnormal openings between the heart chambers).  The diagnosis of a heart defect is based on one or more tests including a chest radiograph, an ECG, or an ultrasound (echocardiogram) performed by a cardiologist. If a severe defect is found when a dog is young, a corrective surgery may be performed by a specialist, and in some cases a puppy’s heart can improve by the time she is full-grown.
Dogs that have a mild case of a heart abnormality may exhibit no outward signs or perhaps very mild signs of the disease. A mild sign may include a low-grade murmur, but the animal may be able to run and play without any obvious problem. Murmurs are measured from 1 to 6. A murmur that is measured as a 1, is the most mild and may be difficult to detect with a stethoscope, as opposed to a 6 which is the most severe murmur. As the severity of the heart disease increases, there are more significant signs of disease, including coughing, lethargy, inability to exercise, temporary weakness or collapse, increased panting, or bluish color of the gums. Severe cases of heart disease may result in congestive heart failure or sudden death for the animal.

Identifying a heart abnormality early is crucial to ensuring proper care for an animal and allows the guardian to be aware of the disease progression. If a heart problem is identified in your dog, it is more important than ever to feed a healthful diet along with cardiovascular support supplements, ensure your dog exercises appropriately for his disorder, and keep him at a healthy weight.  Many dogs with mild to moderate levels of heart disease can lead full and long lives without any obvious problems.

Treatments for heart disease include mainstream medications, natural remedies and supplements, and acupuncture. Natural remedies for heart disorders include herbs (gingko, garlic, salvia, hawthorn berry extract), antioxidants (vitamin E and selenium), amino acids (carnitine and taurine), cellular enzymes (CoQ10), and essential fatty acids. These remedies can help decrease the blood pressure, which facilitates pumping the blood forward and can also improve the contractility of the heart.

If you have a breed that is predisposed to heart disease, a heart-healthy lifestyle and nutritional supplements can help keep your dog healthy as long as possible. It is also essential to have your dog examined at least every six months by your veterinarian. If any abnormality is detected on exam, then diagnostic tests or a referral to a cardiologist may be recommended.

Dr. Annette Richmond is a doctor of veterinary medicine, earning her degree from UC Davis in 1997. Dr. Richmond uses many natural remedies on a daily basis in her practice, including Chinese and western herbs, acupuncture, laser, dietary changes, nutraceutical supplements, essential oils and flower essences.. Natural Veterinary Therapy is located at 510 Lighthouse Avenue in downtown Pacific Grove and can be reached at 831-655-0501 or www.naturalveterinarytherapy.com.


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