Can dogs have heart attacks? What about other heart conditions?
We all want our pups to live forever, but the fact is, they suffer from many of the same conditions that humans do.
Heart attacks are among these. Whether you think you’ve seen your best friend experience a dog heart attack, or are just curious about canine health, here’s what you need to know.
By knowing more about these types of problems, we can help our dogs get the best health care possible.
So let’s talk about the heart. Can dogs have heart attacks?
What causes heart attacks, and how can you care for a dog that has had a heart attack?
Dogs and Heart Attacks
So exactly what is a heart attack? And can dogs have heart attacks?
A heart attack, or myocardial infarction, happens when the blood that brings oxygen and nutrients to the heart is cut off or reduced.
A blood clot forms in coronary arteries when they become narrow or blocked.
When the heart can’t access what it needs, it may get damaged or experience a premature death inside the myocardium, the heart’s muscular wall.
But in dogs, this exact type of heart problem is relatively rare. That’s due to their natural resistance to atherosclerosis – when fat, cholesterol, and other substances build up plaque within the arteries that can cause the clots.
Atherosclerosis is what mainly causes heart attacks in people.
Dogs are more likely to suffer from pancreatitis as a result of fat blockage, not a heart attack.
Can dogs have heart attacks?
Can dogs have heart attacks? Yes, dogs experience myocardial infarctions.
In fact, the dog has served as a useful research model for heart attack studies. Studies have been done on dogs to shed light into diagnosing and treating heart attacks.
Dogs can experience heart disease, congestive heart failure, and other heart health problems, too. In fact, these are more likely than heart attacks when it comes to canine medical issues.
But dogs that have been diagnosed with heart issues do see an increased risk of heart attacks. So if your dog has a heart condition, be vigilant.
Also, heart attacks look different in dogs than in people, and your dog can’t tell you if he’s feeling pain.
So know what to look for!
Dog Heart Attack Symptoms
What happens when a dog has a heart attack? In dogs, heart failure is a relatively slow process.
You may see the following signs of heart attack in dogs:
- Breathing difficulties
- Reduced stamina
- Excessive Panting
- High Heart Rate
- Loss of Appetite
- Swollen Belly or Abdomen
- Discolored/blue gums
- Weight Loss
- Muscle Wasting
- Hind limb lameness or paralysis
- Stretching/Craning of the neck
Basically, your dog will have pain in the center of his chest, which may spread to the forelimbs.
If you see these signs of a dog having a heart attack, and if your dog seems depressed, see a veterinarian immediately.
Should you see severe pain, collapse, and paralysis, it’s an emergency.
What Causes Heart Attacks in Dogs?
Usually heart attacks in dogs have an underlying medical cause.
They still may have atherosclerosis, discussed above.
Or they could have hypothyroidism, where the thyroid isn’t making enough of a hormone that creates fuel for the body.
Your dog might also have a bacterial infection or tumors that block blood flow.
Blood vessel inflammation from infection or disease (vasculitis) or nephrotic syndrome (kidney damage preventing blood clot formation) are additional causes of heart attacks in dogs.
Dogs may also suffer from coronary artery disease, but this is rare. Diabetes can be a culprit as well.
Have your dog screened for heart disease at his annual vet appointment. Early treatment of heart issues may make a big difference in prognosis.
Can A Dog Have A Heart Attack From Anxiety?
In humans, anxiety does seem to make heart conditions worse. It raises your risk for heart problems.
Research from 2010 shows that psychological health in dogs is positively linked to lifespan.
The study shows that there is a link between anxiety and canine health.
So, it is possible that dog heart problems get worse with anxiety.
Can dogs have heart attacks from anxiety? Can dogs have heart attacks from fear? Well, anxiety and fear can be factors, but it’s unlikely to be the main cause.
Dog Heart Attack Diagnosis
Your vet will do a physical examination to look for signs. These include an irregular heart rate or pulse, respiratory distress, jaundice, dehydration, and swelling (peripheral edema).
The vet may do diagnostic tests as well, such as electrocardiography, echocardiography, radiography, urinalysis, x-rays, or biochemical tests.
Dogs can have other conditions that look like heart attacks, like seizures.
Different heart issues will cause different symptoms. The treatments will differ as well.
Dog Heart Attack Treatment
Your dog may require resuscitation and hospitalization after a heart attack.
Treatment will probably involve medication. Which one depends on the underlying cause.
Your vet may prescribe a medicine that will restore blood flow and remove any blockages. Or, surgery may be required for this.
Antibiotics may help mitigate any damage to the heart from infection or inflammation.
You may have to change your dog’s diet and offer supportive care and monitoring at home.
If your dog has a heart condition, you may have to treat that for the rest of his life. This is not curable.
But you can improve and prolong your pup’s life, with help from your vet.
Can Dogs Have Heart Attacks? – A Summary
The answer to “Can dogs have heart attacks?” is “Yes, but it’s relatively rare.”
Still, when it comes to sudden death in dogs, studies show that the cardiovascular system is most likely at fault.
Heart attacks in dogs are rare, but they can happen. Usually, they are the result of an underlying medical issue.
The most important thing is to get him or her to a vet immediately for treatment!
References and Further Reading
- Billman, G. E. (2006). A comprehensive review and analysis of 25 years of data from an in vivo canine model of sudden cardiac death: Implications for future anti-arrhythmic drug development. Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 111(3).
- Boersma, E. et al (1996). Early thrombolytic treatment in acute myocardial infarction: reappraisal of the golden hour. The Lancet, 348(9030).
- Drehys, S. et al (1998). Myocardial infarction in dogs and cats: 37 cases (1985-1994). Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 213(10).
- Dreschel, N. A. (2010). The effects of fear and anxiety on health and lifespan in pet dogs. Applied Animal Behavior, 125(3-4).
- Koyanagi, S. et al (1982). Increased size of myocardial infarction in dogs with chronic hypertension and left ventricular hypertrophy. American Heart Association Journals: Circulation Research, 50(1).
- Pflugflder, P. W. et al (1985). Early detection of canine myocardial infarction by magnetic resonance imaging in vivo. Circulation, 1985(71).
- Wigle, B (2012). Diagnostic Profiles: Sudden Death in Dogs. Purdue University.
- Ward, E. VCA Hospitals. Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs.
- Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine, Cardiac Diseases and Conditions.
- Harvard Medical School (2012). Can anxiety cause a heart attack? Harvard Health Publishing.
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website