It can be a worrying time when your dog is diagnosed with heart disease. Naturally, many people compare heart disease in dogs to heart disease in humans. Whilst some of the symptoms can be similar, there are a few key differences in the way that dogs are affected by heart disease.
- Although heart attacks in dogs are extremely rare, it is possible for them to occur.
- A heart attack in dogs happens when the coronary arteries become blocked or leak, leading to a lack of blood flow to the heart muscle.
- Causes of a heart attack in dogs include vasculitis, hypothyroidism, nephrotic syndrome, bacterial infection, and tumors of the heart or its vessels.
One question that we as vets get asked a lot is whether or not dogs can have heart attacks. Let’s take a closer look at this specific condition and find out.
Can dogs have a heart attack?
Yes, dogs can have a heart attack despite being rare. This happens when the coronary arteries become blocked or leak, leading to a lack of blood flow to the heart muscle.
The type and severity of symptoms will depend on the size of the portion of the heart muscle affected. If you suspect your dog is experiencing a heart attack, it's crucial to seek immediate veterinary care.
Dog heart attack symptoms
Most of us are familiar with the symptoms of a heart attack in humans. Signs of a heart attack in people often include chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, and feeling sick, amongst others. A dog suffering a heart attack will often experience similar symptoms.
Here's a list of symptoms a dog may experience when having a heart attack:
Heart failure in dogs can cause vomiting due to the body's response to the physical stress. If your dog experiences vomiting, it is important to keep them hydrated and take them to the vet immediately for proper diagnosis.
Dogs experiencing a heart attack may exhibit excessive panting or difficulty breathing. Panting is a sign that your dog is trying to increase oxygen intake to meet their body's needs, and is a sign of severe physical distress.
Increased heart rate
An increased heart rate is a common sign of heart attack in dogs. You may be able to feel your dog's heart racing or hear it beating faster than usual. This symptom can be accompanied by other symptoms such as panting or vomiting.
A fever is a sign that the body is fighting an infection or inflammation. If your dog has a fever in combination with other symptoms of a heart attack, it is important to seek veterinary care immediately.
Pain in front legs
Dogs with a heart attack may exhibit pain in their front legs due to the increased workload on the heart. This pain may manifest as limping, reluctance to move, or whining when walking or standing.
Due to the strain on the heart, dogs with a heart attack may have difficulty standing or walking. This symptom is a sign that your dog needs immediate medical attention.
Dogs experiencing a heart attack may exhibit confusion or disorientation. This may manifest as difficulty recognizing familiar people or surroundings, or sudden changes in behavior.
In severe cases, dogs may become immobile or unable to move due to the physical stress of a heart attack. This symptom is a medical emergency and requires immediate attention.
Seizures may occur as a result of the body's response to the physical stress of a heart attack. Dogs with seizures need immediate veterinary care to address the underlying cause and prevent further complications.
Dogs with a heart attack may become lethargic or unusually tired. This is a sign that the body is under physical stress and requires medical attention.
Dogs experiencing a heart attack may exhibit signs of anxiety such as restlessness, pacing, or whining. It is important to stay calm and provide reassurance to your dog while seeking veterinary care.
Sudden death in dogs can be a symptom of a heart attack. It occurs when the heart's ability to pump blood is severely compromised, leading to sudden collapse and ultimately death. This can happen with no warning signs, making it crucial to keep an eye on your dog's heart health and have regular checkups with a veterinarian.
Because heart attacks are so very rare in dogs, most of the time if your dog experiences any of these symptoms, it will be due to a different health condition, sometimes even unrelated to the heart.
Causes of heart attacks in dogs
Certain health conditions can make the development of a blood clot more likely. These include:
- Vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels supplying the heart)
- Nephrotic syndrome (a rare complication of kidney disease)
- Bacterial infection
- Tumors of the heart or its vessels
It is important to remember that even if your dog suffers from one of these diseases, a heart attack is still extremely unlikely.
How is a heart attack in dogs diagnosed?
Usually, your veterinarian will perform several different tests before they diagnose a heart attack, usually to rule out other causes of your dog’s symptoms or underlying conditions that may have brought on the symptoms. These will often include blood tests, x-rays, an electrocardiogram, and an echocardiogram.
An echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) can provide a lot of information about the heart’s condition and measurements can be taken to assess blood flow through the heart, as well as the heart’s pumping ability. Sometimes, a blood clot within a vessel can be seen on echocardiography.
Dog heart attack treatment
When a dog experiences a heart attack, treatment often requires medication. If only a small portion of the heart muscle is affected, blood thinners may be given to dissolve the blood clot and restore blood supply to the heart. These medications may need to be given for the rest of the dog's life to prevent the formation of future blood clots.
Although it is possible for dogs to have heart attacks, in reality, they are extremely rare. Most heart disease in dogs is due to congestive heart failure which usually has a slow and progressive onset.
CHF can’t be cured but it can often be successfully managed for months to years with medication. Although sudden death is more likely in a dog with congestive heart failure, it is still uncommon and is rarely due to a heart attack.
Frequently Asked Questions
How common are heart attacks in dogs?
Heart attacks in dogs are extremely rare. Sudden death from heart disease is possible but uncommon and a heart attack is rarely to blame.
What is the prognosis after a dog has a heart attack?
This will usually depend on the severity and extent of the heart attack. Some dogs may die suddenly. For dogs that survive, your veterinarian will probably suggest regular monitoring as well as adaptations to your dog’s lifestyle.
How do I minimize the risk of heart disease in my dog?
The best thing you can do for your dog is to ensure he has a healthy lifestyle with enough exercise and a good quality diet. Maintaining a healthy weight can help to reduce the risk of your dog developing heart disease, as well as reducing the risk of many other serious health conditions.
Why do some people believe dogs can have heart attacks?
Firstly, although a heart attack in dogs is extremely rare, it isn't impossible, so some dogs do die from heart attacks. More commonly, the belief that a dog has had a heart attack comes from dogs with other heart diseases exhibiting similar symptoms to that which you might expect from a heart attack.
Some dogs with heart disease that results in an arrhythmia (an irregular heart rhythm) are occasionally faint. This is called a syncopal episode and although it can be dangerous in other ways, there is no permanent damage to the heart itself.