Canine heart disease: Common risk factors, breeds & symptoms

October 21, 2023

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Sadly, heart disease is almost as common in dogs as it is in humans, especially as they age. It can be hard to detect in the early stages, so read our short article for answers to commonly asked questions about this condition.

Spotting Heart Disease at home

Common questions on Canine Disease

What types of heart diseases affect dogs?

  1. Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM): A condition where the heart muscle becomes weak and enlarged, reducing the hearts ability to pump the blood around the body.
  2. Mitral Valve Disease (MVD): A condition where the mitral valve of the heart degenerates, leading to leakage of blood and reduced heart efficiency.
  3. Aortic Stenosis (AS): A common congenital heart defect in large breed dogs, typically caused by a ridge or ring of fibrotic tissue condition in the sub-aortic region.
  4. Pericardial effusion: An acquired cardiovascular disease in dogs, where excessive fluid accumulates within the pericardial sac, affecting the heart’s ability to pump effectively.

Are certain breeds more likely to develop canine heart disease?

Just like in humans, genetics can play a significant role in the development of heart conditions in dogs. Some breeds are more prone to specific heart issues due to inherited traits and genetic factors. but not all dogs will go on to develop these conditions.

  • Breeds predisposed to DCM include Boxers, Cocker Spaniels, Doberman Pinschers, Great Danes, Irish Wolfhounds, Saint Bernards
  • Breeds predisposed to MVD include Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Chihuahuas, Dachshunds, Miniature Poodles, Pomeranians, Shih-Tzus, Small Terrier Breeds
  • Breeds commonly predisposed to AS include Boxers, Bullmastiffs, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Newfoundlands, Rottweilers
  • Breeds commonly predisposed to Pericardial Effusion include Afghan Hounds, Boxers, Boston Terriers, Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Salukis and Weimaraners

Although these breeds have a higher genetic predisposition certain heart conditions, it does not mean that every dog will develop heart disease.

Download our Heart Disease Symptoms Fact Sheet

Can other factors increase the risk of heart disease in dogs?

Genetic predisposition is not the only important predictor of heart disease. Environmental factors such as those listed below can also affect a dog’s heart health.



  • Older dogs are more at risk – typically 5-8 years of age for very large/giant dogs, 7-10 for medium-sized dogs, and 9-12 for small dogs.
  • Excess weight & obesity
  • Poor diet
  • Insufficient physical activity
  • Parasitic heartworms (these are not found in the UK but dogs travelling abroad, and adopted from overseas may carry this parasite.)
  • High blood pressure
  • Thyroid disease
  • Infections
  • Congenital heart defects
  • Toxins and medications
  • Cushing’s disease



Can you spot heart disease in dogs at home?

It’s important to note that some cases of heart disease may progress slowly and show mild signs, while others can become more severe and acute, leading to more pronounced symptoms. This is why monitoring and screening for heart disease is so important.

There are some symptoms of heart disease that you may notice at home. Have a read of our fact sheet to find out more Heart Disease in Dogs Symptoms

How will a vet test for heart disease?

If we suspect your dog may be suffering with heart disease, we will book them in for a consultation and perform a thorough examination, listening for any abnormal heart sounds (heart murmur) or rhythms. Further tests such as radiographs (X-rays) and echocardiography may then be recommended.

Early detection and appropriate management can improve the prognosis and quality of life for dogs with heart disease.

Book a heart health check-up for your dog today

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