Signs & Symptoms of a Heart Condition in Dogs

by Victoria Lee Blackstone
    Depression and isolation are common signs of a possible heart condition.

    Depression and isolation are common signs of a possible heart condition.

    Janie Airey/Lifesize/Getty Images

    In dogs, the most common causes of heart disease include improper valve closure and ineffective pumping. While both of these heart conditions can lead to congestive heart failure, early detection and treatment of heart conditions can help prolong and improve the quality of your dog’s life. In some dogs the signs of a heart condition may be subtle and are often passed off as normal signs of aging, so learning what to look for is important.

    Murmurs and Arrhythmias

    Heart murmurs are an extra or unusual sound heard by your veterinarian when he listens to your dog’s heart. Murmurs can be a sign of heart valve problems. Arrhythmias are rapid or irregular heartbeats and often indicate problems with the effective pumping of blood by the heart.

    Respiratory Problems

    Respiratory symptoms of a heart condition may include shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, coughing and wheezing. You may notice these symptoms increase after exercise or strenuous activity. Breathing difficulty may disrupt your dog’s normal sleeping patterns, resulting in increased fatigue.

    Behavioral Changes

    Some changes in behavior may indicate a heart condition as well. Your once active and loving dog may seem reluctant to exercise, play or even go out for a short walk. He may pass on a cuddling session with you and prefer to be alone. He may isolate himself from other animals and people, appearing depressed.

    Dietary Changes

    While your dog used to eat up his bowl of food, you may notice now that his appetite has disappeared. He may refuse treats and bones. You may notice extreme weight loss. One the other hand, you may notice abdominal swelling. This can occur due to increased pressure in the veins that drain into the abdominal cavity. This increases fluid retention in the abdomen.


    Because many of these signs can also be seen with normal aging, it is important to check with your veterinarian to rule out any heart problems. Specific breeds are predisposed to heart conditions and require closer monitoring. Higher risks for heart valve malfunctioning appear in Boston terriers, Cavalier King Charles spaniels, Chihuahuas, fox terriers, miniature pinschers, poodles, Pekingese, Pomeranians and whippets. Ineffective pumping risks are more common in Doberman pinschers, Great Danes, Afghan hounds, boxers, cocker spaniels, Dalmatians, Irish wolfhounds, Newfoundlands, Saint Bernards and Scottish deerhounds.

    Photo Credits

    • Janie Airey/Lifesize/Getty Images

    About the Author

    Victoria Lee Blackstone is a horticulturist who propagates heirloom and native plants for her nursery. She has authored research-based scientific/technical papers, plant care sheets and magazine and newspaper articles. Blackstone studied botany and microbiology at Clemson University and is a former University of Georgia Extension Master Gardener Coordinator.

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