Heart Disease in Dogs: Causes, Treatment, and What It Costs

Three Minutes
Nov 21, 2022

Did you know that heart disease is almost as common in dogs as it is in humans? An estimated 7.8 million dogs have heart disease —  approximately 10 percent of our nation’s dog population.3

According to MetLife claims data, the average amount claimed for heart disease in pets was around $270, though heart disease in uninsured dogs could cost pet parents thousands of dollars per year, by some accounts. To help you understand the risks of canine heart disease, here’s an overview of what to watch out for and how dog insurance coverage can help manage the cost of preventing and treating heart disease in dogs.

What Is Heart Disease in Dogs?

Simply put, heart disease is when the heart isn’t pumping as well as it should to meet the needs of a dog’s body.

However, that’s where the simplicity ends, as canine heart disease is a complex health issue.4 “There are a number of different types of canine heart disease,” says veterinarian and medical writer Catherine Barnette, DVM. “Some are congenital, meaning they're present at birth,” such as subaortic or pulmonic stenosis, a defect that obstructs blood flow from and within the heart.5,6

“Other heart diseases are acquired during the course of a dog's life,” says Barnette. This includes mitral valve disease (also known as “leaky valve disease”).7 This is another condition that causes abnormal blood flow in the heart. But this very common disease typically develops later in life.

Heart disease and heart failure in dogs

It’s important to note that heart disease and heart failure8 are not the same. A heart disease diagnosis means that your dog’s heart is able to pump blood, but not as well as it should. The effects of the condition can range from tolerable to severe.  

“Heart failure refers to an inability to pump adequate blood throughout the body,” Barnette explains. “This tends to occur in cases of severe or longstanding heart disease.”

Not all cases of heart disease lead to heart failure, Barnette notes. However, in many cases, the sooner heart disease is detected and diagnosed in dogs, the better the outcome for your pet.

What Causes Heart Disease in Dogs?

Just as acquired heart disease can be caused by various factors in humans, the same holds true for our pets. Similarly, some of those causes can be overcome through health and lifestyle changes, and some cannot.

“Some breeds are more likely to develop heart disease than others, due to genetic factors,” says Barnette. For example, small breed dogs, such as cavalier King Charles spaniels, Chihuahuas, and pomeranians, are prone to develop leaky valve disease as seniors.

“Diet can also play a role in the development of heart disease,” says Barnette. “Dilated cardiomyopathy, in particular, can be associated with dietary influences.”

According to Barnette, four main factors influence the likelihood of heart disease developing in dogs:

  • Age: Middle-aged and senior dogs are more at risk.
  • Breed: Some breeds are genetically predisposed to certain heart conditions.
  • Nutrition: Insufficient or poor nutrition increases the risk of acquired heart disease.
  • Infections: Some infections, such as heartworm, can weaken the heart and increase the likelihood of heart disease.

Symptoms of Heart Disease in Dogs

Signs of heart disease in dogs can vary widely. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the warning signs, so you can recognize if heart disease could be a problem for your pet.

According to Barnette, early signs of heart disease in dogs include:

  • Coughing (for three or more days and especially at night)
  • Rapid or labored breathing
  • Increased respiratory rate (40 – 60 breaths per minute)
  • Weakness
  • Exercise intolerance and lethargy
  • Tiring easily
  • Pacing before bedtime
  • Changes in behavior (if the dog is withdrawn, tired or depressed)

If the heart disease has progressed, symptoms may include:

  • Presence of fluid in the abdomen or a swollen belly (ascites)
  • Fainting due to blocked blood flow to the brain
  • Change in color of the tongue or gums (bluish gray)
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss

If your dog is experiencing any of the early symptoms of heart disease, a visit to the veterinarian is recommended for proper testing, assessment, and diagnosis. If you notice signs that indicate the disease may have progressed and you can’t see your vet right away, you may want to take your dog to a pet ER or urgent care for evaluation.

“A veterinarian will begin with a thorough physical exam, listening carefully to the heart and lungs,” Barnette says. “Next, they may recommend radiographs (X-rays) to look for evidence of heart failure or an echocardiogram to better characterize what's happening inside the heart.”

Dogs who are suffering from heart disease may not necessarily show these symptoms, though. That’s why annual check-ups play such an important role in screening for heart disease, so you can proceed with treatment before things get too severe.

Heart Disease in Dogs Treatment

Unfortunately, there is no cure for heart disease. However, there are a number of things your veterinarian may recommend to help improve your dog’s heart function in spite of it.

These could include everything from prescription diets to medications that help regulate your dog’s heartbeat or reduce the build-up of fluid in the lungs. In extreme cases, surgery may be necessary to implant a cardiac pacemaker. Such treatments could make your dog more comfortable or prolong their life, though it depends on the severity and stage of your dog’s heart disease.

Dog Heart Disease Diagnosis and Treatment Costs

The cost of diagnosing and treating heart disease in dogs can quickly add up. Though prices vary according to your dog’s diagnosis, where you live, healthcare providers, and the specific treatment plan, here are some rough estimates of what you could face:

  • Bloodwork and x-rays to diagnose and monitor condition: $500 – $1,000 per year
  • Prescription dog food: $85 for a 17-pound bag
  • Heartworm treatment: $500 – $1,000
  • Hospitalization/stabilization: $1,000 – $3,000
  • Monthly medications: $50 – $150 per month
  • Canine open heart surgery: $10,000+

How To Prevent Heart Disease in Dogs

While there’s no way to prevent some congenital forms of heart disease in dogs, there are some steps you can take to increase your dog’s chances of enjoying a long, healthy life, despite any cardiac risk factors.

  • To boost your dog’s heart health, vets recommend feeding them a balanced, heart-healthy diet featuring foods rich in amino acids and omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Make sure your dog gets at least an hour of exercise per day and maintains a healthy weight to help reduce cardiac risk factors. However – if your dog is high-risk, your veterinarian may recommend moderation to ensure you’re not overtaxing your dog’s heart function.
  • Visit your veterinarian regularly to maintain your dog’s overall health and wellness, which can play a big part in prevention. Routine checkups can also help with the early detection of heart disease, so you can obtain the proper treatment before it’s too late.

How Insurance Works with Heart Disease in Dogs

A dog insurance policy could help cover everything from diagnostic tests to monthly prescription medications. Obtaining coverage before your pet develops a heart issue is key, so you’re not limited by preexisting condition exclusions.

Though a pet insurance plan may not cover all the costs associated with heart disease, it can help make essential (and costly) treatments much more affordable. Get a quote today, and free up to spend more time caring for your pet instead of worrying about how you’re going to pay for it.

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Nothing in this article should be construed as financial, legal, or veterinary advice. Please consult your own advisors for questions relating to your and your pet’s specific circumstances.

1 Pet Insurance offered by MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 485 Madison Avenue, NY, NY 10022, and Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886, in those states where MetGen’s policies are available. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is the policy administrator authorized by IAIC and MetGen to offer and administer pet insurance policies. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC was previously known as PetFirst Healthcare, LLC and in some states continues to operate under that name pending approval of its application for a name change. The entity may operate under an alternate, assumed, and/or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions as approved, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota), MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois), and such other alternate, assumed, or fictitious names approved by certain jurisdictions.

2 Provided all terms of the policy are met. Application is subject to underwriting review and approval. Like most insurance policies, insurance policies issued by IAIC and MetGen contain certain deductibles, co-insurance, exclusions, exceptions, reductions, limitations, and terms for keeping them in force. For costs, complete details of coverage and exclusions, and a listing of approved states, please contact MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC.

3 “Dogs and Heart Disease: An Overview,” Pet Health Network

4 “Pet Ownership and the Risk of Arterial Hypertension and Cardiovascular Disease,” Springer Link

5 ”Aortic/Subaortic Stenosis,” Cornell University

6 ”Pulmonic Stenosis in Dogs,” Cornell University

7 ”’Leaky Valve Disease’ of Older Dogs,” Cornell University

8 ”Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs,” Today’s Veterinary Practice

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