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Love is in the air during the month of February, and many dog owners find their “true love” in a canine companion, warming their laps and their hearts. To help keep those hearts happy and healthy, dogs and humans alike benefit from a daily walk or play time in the yard. However, there are many factors that can affect heart health.

Heart Health Can Start with Genetics

Over the years, reputable breeders have continued tracking the heart health of their dogs over generations to help minimize congenital abnormalities in future litters. Many AKC breed parent clubs have recommended echocardiograms (non-invasive ultrasound of the heart), specifically for canines in breeding programs.

Whippet breeder Gail Boyd, a board member of the American Whippet Club (AWC), explains: “Every Whippet, prior to breeding, should have breed-specific health testing performed. For Whippets, that includes CAER (eyes) clearance, BAER (hearing) testing, and Advanced Cardiac Clearance by a board-certified veterinary cardiologist. The AWC’s Whippet Health Foundation recommends a minimum of testing every two years (cardiac), although select breeders test dogs annually, especially between 5 to 9 years of age. Armed with the knowledge of the initial onset of cardiac changes allow breeders an opportunity to make wise choices in their breeding program.”

Large and giant breeds, like the Doberman Pinschers or Great Danes, can have higher rates of heart disease. There are, however, several smaller breeds that are closely watched as well, such as the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Dachshund, and Miniature Poodle. Regardless of the breed, each parent club publishes health test recommendations for breeders.

Veterinary Cardiologists

Often, cardiac issues are diagnosed early by a veterinarian and then are referred to a veterinarian cardiac specialist, who has advanced training in the heart and circulatory systems. A cardiac specialist uses diagnostic tools, such as an echocardiogram, electrocardiogram (ECG), or radiographs.

Cardiac issues include, but are not limited to:

  • Congenital abnormalities of the heart (present at birth).
  • Age-related degenerative heart disease, such as mitral value disease. This is the most common degenerative heart disease (75% of canine heart disease).
  • Heart muscle disease (dilated cardiomyopathy and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy).
  • Congestive heart failure.

To find a veterinarian cardiac specialist in your area, search:

Diet and Exercise

Like people, it’s important for our canine friends have a balanced, nutritional diet. Table scraps are tasty for Fido but aren’t the healthiest for dogs. Human food often has excessive sodium, fats, or other ingredients that are harmful to them. Ask your veterinarian for the best diet plan to maintain healthy weight, blood pressure and heart for your dogs.

Keeping your dog active is a great way to keep weight in check, a healthy heart, and a strong body. Veterinarian Dr. Alise Baer of Carolina Ranch Animal Hospital says: “It’s important to keep your dog fit and at a healthy weight. It’s also important to feed a balanced diet, give them healthy exercise based on their abilities and weight, while also monitoring humidity and heat.”

A dog’s exercise regimen can change over time to fit with a senior lifestyle. A five-mile hike for a 3-year old dog may later in life be replaced with a half-mile walk and a gentle swim. Annual veterinarian check-ups are recommended to keep track of your dog’s heart and what type of exercise is best.

Dental Health Is Connected to Heart Health

Keeping your dog’s teeth and gums healthy can help prevent heart disease. The bacteria found in mouths of dogs is often the same as bacteria that causes endocarditis (inflammation/infection of the heart’s interior). Providing dental chews, regular teeth brushing (using toothpaste that’s safe for dogs), dental wipes, and dental water additives can assist in managing bacteria and plaque. Schedule regular vet visits to examine teeth and for dental cleanings.

Heartworm Prevention

Dogs can easily avoid heartworms, a potentially deadly parasite transmitted by mosquitos, by taking a preventative year-round. Individuals with much colder climates sometimes skip a month or two of heartworm preventatives in the winter, assuming that when the mosquitos are not present, the heartworm threat doesn’t exist. However, heartworm prevention medicine kills parasites picked up from the previous month or two (opposite of flea and tick preventatives). It is recommended that heartworm prevention is provided year-round to ensure a heartworm-free dog.
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