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Chronic Valvular Heart Disease in Dogs

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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Valvular heart disease (VHD) is a condition characterized by degeneration and thickening of the heart valves. Valvular heart disease is very common and represents the most important of adult canine heart diseases.

Valvular heart disease is a progressive disease that is common in older dogs. Commonly affected dogs include poodles, Yorkshire terriers, schnauzers, cocker spaniels and small mixed-breeds. Some breeds, such as Cavalier King Charles spaniels, can be affected early in life.

VHD can affect a dog causing valve malfunction, which can lead to heart enlargement or heart failure with accumulation of fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema) or the abdomen (ascites).

What to Watch For

  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Fainting

    Diagnosis

    Veterinary care should include diagnostic tests and subsequent treatment recommendations. Diagnostic tests are needed to recognize VHD, and exclude other diseases, including:

  • Complete medical history and physical examination including auscultation (listening with a stethoscope).

  • Chest X-rays

  • An electrocardiogram (EKG), which is a record of the heart's electrical action

  • An echocardiogram (ultrasound) can confirm the diagnosis

    Treatment

    Treatments for VHD may include one or more of the following:

  • Diuretics such as furosemide (Lasix)

  • Angiotensin inhibitors such as enalapril (Enacard) or benazepril

  • Positive inotropic drugs (increase contractions of cardiac muscles) such as digoxin (lanoxin)

  • Sodium (salt) restricted diet

    NOTE: Treatment or therapy is not consistently prescribed for mildly-affected dogs.

    Home Care and Prevention

    Administer any prescribed medications and observe your pet's general activity level, appetite and interest. Watch your dog for labored breathing, cough or intolerance. If possible, learn to take a respiratory (breathing) rate when your dog is resting (ask your vet about this).

    VHD is often a progressive disease and cannot be prevented. Regular veterinary examinations that include examination of the heart with a stethoscope can identify it in its earliest stages.

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