Heart Disease in older dogs

574E8376B62CA41388B3C408F0AFF7C2Roxy suffers from ventricular premature contractions (VPC)

What Makes an Old Dog Slow Down?

Roxy is a gentle old Boxer. A true lady! She has been the joy of her owners Dirk and Ludmila’s family for over twelve and half years.

Normally she accompanies her family and other house dog, Jack on regular walks but over the last few months she has been noticeably slowing down. The hot weather, age, weight gain and even arthritis were thought to be possible causes. Unfortunately one afternoon, the true cause was discovered. Roxy collapsed, turned blue and lost control of her bowels. She tried to stand but fell over. Her owners feared the worst.

Roxy’s owners called Vet HQ to let us know they were on their way. This is a wise thing to do in any emergency situation because it means that we can prepare for the particular emergency at hand. We can ensure that a Vet and a Vet Nurse are available to immediately attend to your pet on arrival and the appropriate supportive drugs and intravenous fluids are at the ready.

3D013364F7A1A38D72CE776B7330BE18There are many causes for a dog to show reduced exercise tolerance, “slow down” and even collapse. These include:

  • Heat exhaustion – exercising in the heat of the day can increase the fatigue levels of any animal (or person). Exercise early in the morning or evening during summer.
  • Musculoskeletal disease: this includes muscle pain and joint problems such as arthritis. Being overweight can exacerbate these problems too. Electrolyte (salts) and blood sugar imbalances can also cause muscle weakness.
  • Heart disease and lung disease. The heart and lungs are the engine room of the body. We need to be able to pump oxygen rich blood from the lungs to the rest of the body. Anything that interferes with the efficiency of the heart’s ability to work as a pump or our ability to breath can cause a “slow down” effect.
  • Brain disease and other organ (e.g. liver, kidney) disease. Conditions that affect our level of alertness such as dementia, strokes, cancer can also cause weakness too.

Examination of Roxy showed that her heart was beating irregularly and inefficiently.

7EBE291648E856E4E33302F0C10B9B07The heart was not pumping the blood to the essential organs properly. Roxy’s intestinal tract tried to reduce its work load when it was suddenly starved of oxygen by purging itself of all its contents. The muscles could no longer work properly because of a lack of oxygen rich blood and the brain went into a “holding pattern”.

For Roxy, this meant that she collapsed. For Dirk and Ludmila, it meant an emergency dash to Vet HQ. Roxy had blood tests that confirmed that her electrolytes and blood glucose were all normal and not the cause of her collapse.

As the problem was localized to the heart, further tests of the heart were required to determine the type of heart disease present. An ultrasound of the heart was carried out. Our ultrasound machine is similar to those used to look at babies in pregnant women. It gives us a window into the chest to look at how the heart muscle and valves are working. Conditions such as cardiomyopathy, heart cancers and valvular disease can be easily detected with an ultrasound. Roxy was given the all clear. An ECG looks at the electrical activity of the heart and determines if the electrical signals through the heart are working normally. In order for the heart to work effectively as a pump, the contractions need to be coordinated between the top and bottom of the heart. The heart needs to relax in between beats so that the pump has a chance to fill up before the next beat occurs. In Roxy’s case this was NOT occurring. An abnormal pattern of contraction was occurring called a ventricular premature contraction (VPC). This is a serious and life threatening condition, as when multiple VPC occur in a row, the heart is no longer acting like a pump, but as an uncoordinated bag of jelly and fluid. The essential organs become starved of oxygen and collapse occurs. In some cases it can lead to sudden death.

The aim of her medication was to slow the heart, so that it wouldn’t exhaust itself and to change the electrical activity in the heart to achieve the action of a coordinated pump again. Unfortunately, Roxy’s heart condition is very serious, but we can ensure she has the best chance by monitoring her condition over the next few months.

The moral of the story is, if your old dog is slowing down, it may be because of any number of reasons. A check up can quickly help to determine the cause and treat it so that your furry friend can spend a much longer time going for strolls with the family.

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