The heart is divided into four chambers; there are two atria (upper chambers of the heart) and two lower chambers known as ventricles. Each chamber of the heart has a valve which allow blood to flow one way only to prevent blood from flowing backwards. The valve which is between the left atrium and left ventricle is the mitral valve. When a dog has mitral valve disease the mitral valve essentially “wears out” and leaks.
Mitral valve disease is responsible for ¾ of all canine heart diseases. The main warning sign early in mitral valve disease may be as simple as a heart murmur. Mitral valve disease is also known as endocardiosis and chronic valvular disease.
Mitral valve disease is thought to be genetic and is mainly found in the following breeds:
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
The earliest symptom of mitral valve disease is often a heart murmur. As the disease progresses symptoms including coughing, intolerance of exercise, fainting and rapid breathing become more common.
Mitral valve disease is caused by genetics. The best way to prevent mitral valve disease is to limit prevent the breeding of dogs who experience problems with this disease.
A heart valve which is not functioning properly is often easily treated in humans; however, in dogs this is more difficult and not generally feasible. Treatment generally includes medication to reduce the amount of stress on the heart. Other medications may be given to control blood pressure and fluid retention.
- ACE Inhibitors: ACE inhibitors lower blood the blood pressure of your dog and reduce the resistance to blood flowing out of your dog’s heart. Drugs such as Enalapril and Benezepril have been proven effective and are found to extend your dog’s life.
- Diuretics: Diuretics stimulate the kidneys and remove excess fluid from your dog’s body. The most commonly used diuretics include Spironolactone and Furosemide.
- Digitalis: Digitalis regulates the release of hormones, slows your dog’s heart rate and strengthens the contraction of the heart. This is commonly used in veterinary medicine; however, this drug is found to have side effects so your dog must be closely monitored on this medication.
- Nitroglycerin: Nitroglycerin is provided to both humans and veterinary patients. Nitroglycerin has been shown to dilate veins leading to the heart. This assists in strengthened heart contractions and allows blood to move more freely. This is only effective for a short period of time; therefore, it is only to be used in crisis situations.
- Vasodilators: Vasodilators dilate the veins and arteries thus increasing blood flow. These are proven effective long-term.
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