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Degenerative Valve Disease in Dogs

Dogs suffering from severe cardiovascular issues may be experiencing heart issues. Here, our Nashua veterinarians discuss the signs and symptoms of chronic degenerative mitral valve disease and how it affects dogs.

What is degenerative valve disease in dogs? 

Degenerative valve disease (sometimes called a leaky heart valve) is a serious condition that can cause a dog's blood to leak during heart muscle contractions. It can lead to further issues such as heart murmurs and severely impact your dog's long-term health. So what is degenerative mitral valve disease in dogs? This is the name given to degenerative valve disease primarily affecting the mitral valve. The mitral valve is defined as 'the valve between the left atrium and the left ventricle of the heart, consisting of two tapered cusps.'

While this can affect any dog, those older than eight years old are more susceptible to this highly prevalent disease. Small dog breeds, such as Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Chihuahuas, Cocker spaniels, dachshunds, miniature schnauzers, 

What causes valve disease in dogs?

In a healthy dog, the valves close when the heart contracts, preventing blood from 'backing up' or regurgitating back into the atrium. A leaky valve can cause many other issues, including fluid accumulation in the lungs, an enlarged atrium, and damage to the heart's structures. 

The exact cause of this is currently unknown; however, an inherited or genetic component is suspected in breeds such as those listed above.

What are the symptoms of degenerative valve disease in dogs? 

Because many young dogs will exhibit very few symptoms, or so few that the most doting owner may mistake it for the inevitable slowing down that comes with aging. However, there are a few common signs of valve disease in dogs to watch for: 

  • Coughing 
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Increased respiratory rate 
  • Trouble breathing
  • Weakness
  • Collapse 

Since symptoms of a leaky heart valve in dogs can sometimes be vague, it's important to contact your veterinarian and book a physical exam if you see any of these or other concerning signs of health issues in your dog. 

How is degenerative valve disease diagnosed? 

This condition can only be diagnosed by a veterinarian or veterinary specialist. Your veterinarian may refer you to our board-certified veterinary cardiologist for diagnosis and treatment. A veterinary cardiologist can check for any heart murmurs, which are often one of the first clues your dog may have this disease. Recommended diagnostic tests may include: 

  • Radiography: X-rays can reveal more information about your dog's internal condition, including whether fluid is present in the lungs. 
  • Echocardiography: This diagnostic tool can help us better understand the structure of the heart and valves, and how they function. 
  • NT-proBNP: This blood test can reveal whether your dog's heart is failing, especially if there is a large amount of 'regurgitated' blood. 

Your dog may require further testing to check how its internal systems are working. Your veterinary cardiologist will then know which medications to prescribe to treat the condition. 

How is degenerative valve disease in dogs treated? 

There are a large number of drugs that can be used to address degenerative valve disease in your pooch, meaning that it's critical for the type and dosage of medications must be carefully calculated for each unique case.

Because this is a progressive disease, your dog's condition will require different medications at different times. The following are some of the medications that are most frequently used to treat this illness in dogs:

  • Diuretics (e.g. furosemide)
  • Vasodilators (e.g. enalapril, benazepril, pimobendan)
  • Positive inotropes (e.g. pimobendan, digoxin)

Depending on your dog's case, they may be prescribed other drugs to deal with health issues like high pressure in the vessels of the lungs. Sadly, there is no known cure for this disease at this time, and the medications are palliative to ensure your dog's comfort and extend their life as much as possible. 

What is the life expectancy for dogs with degenerative valve disease?

Your dog's prognosis will depend on how far the disease has progressed by the time it's diagnosed. Some dogs with symptoms of degenerative valve disease may only live a few months. However, if the condition is detected early on, others may live for many years. A veterinarian's diagnosis can identify the presence and stage of valve disease, and allow for the proper course of treatment for your dog. Chronic degenerative valve disease in dogs requires vigilant care to ensure that your dog has the best quality of life possible.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Has your dog been diagnosed with or experiencing symptoms of a heart condition? Ask your primary care vet for a referral to our veterinary cardiology department at Nashua. We can diagnose and treat many complex cardiovascular conditions.

Welcoming Referrals and Emergency Walk-Ins

Animal Medical Center of New England welcomes emergency walk-ins and appointments when your pet needs us most. Our team of specialists is also accepting referrals from primary care veterinarians - fill out a referral form to get started.


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