Breeds at Risk for Heart Problems

Knowing what health issues your dog is susceptible to gives you the chance to catch a malady early when you have ample time to modify it. When the issue concerns the heart, you can slow down the disease before it progresses to heart failure. Heightened awareness and knowing what to look for gives your dog a better quality of life, increased quantity of life, and minimizes the need for additional medication. While these diseases can’t be cured, they can be managed and slowed.

In general, small dogs are more prone to problems with the heart valves, and large dogs most commonly develop problems with the heart muscle. But the following list has the specific breeds most prone to heart disease. If you own or plan to adopt one of these breeds, you need to watch for symptoms they

may exhibit that are common to heart disease. You should also take your dog for regular veterinary checkups, so a medical professional can also watch for clinical signs of changes in the heart.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels

The incidence of degenerative mitral valve disease (DMVD) occurs more frequently in this breed than any other. Fifty percent of Cavaliers develop a heart murmur, indicating onset of the disease, by age 5, and nearly 100 percent by age 10. With DMVD, a leaky mitral valve causes blood to go backward into the left atrium of the heart. (Usually this valve closes when the heart contracts and the blood moves forward into the body.)

Because the condition is inherited, we can’t do much to prevent it. Schedule regular checkups so that your veterinarian can monitor for any sign of a heart murmur. That way, the condition can be addressed before it becomes problematic. If your veterinarian detects a heart murmur, he or she will need to run some tests to determine what should be done to delay the onset of heart failure. Early symptoms of congestive heart failure include decreased exercise tolerance, labored breathing, and coughing. If you notice any of these, see your veterinarian right away.


Dachshunds also often develop a leaky mitral heart valve. This usually appears in this breed between 8 and 10 years of age. Regular annual veterinary checkups should reveal this condition early. DMVD can be controlled by medication. It also helps to keep the dog’s weight down so the heart doesn’t have to work harder than normal.

Miniature and Toy Poodles

Degenerative mitral valve disease usually develops in middle age in these smaller breeds. We see an even higher incidence in the elderly population. The valve on the left side of the heart becomes structurally thickened and leaky, which allows the blood flow backward, causing a heart enlargement.

This backwards flow and heart enlargement triggers heart failure with lung congestion and coughing. Catching it early is the key so the disease can be treated with medications, a sodium-restricted diet, and fish oil supplements.

Doberman Pinschers

Dobermans are at risk for dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a disease of the heart muscle that causes the left ventricle to enlarge and cease functioning correctly. Cardiac arrhythmias may develop that can be life threatening. As the disease progresses, an affected dog may faint, lose weight, exhibit shortness of breath, cough, or retain fluid that causes his belly to distend. DCM occurs more frequently in male Dobermans.

If you know your Doberman’s family history and it includes incidences of DCM, tell your veterinarian so he or she can watch for symptoms, especially a heart murmur or abnormal heart rhythm. Annual screening via electrocardiogram, Holter monitor or echocardiogram should also be considered in all Dobermans, especially those with a family history of DCM.


Boxers are susceptible to arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC). ARVC is a genetic heart disease that results from fatty cells being deposited in the right ventricle muscle crowding out the normal cells. This can result in ventricular arrhythmias (a life-threatening heart rhythm abnormality. Affected dogs may display bad heart arrhythmias which affects their exercise ability and often results in fainting and, sadly, even sudden death.

Golden Retrievers

The most common congenital heart disease seen in Goldens is aortic stenosis. The aortic valve doesn’t form properly during gestation, and when the dog is born, the valve is too narrow. That makes the heart work harder and the heart muscle thickens.

The narrowing of the valve can be mild, moderate, or severe. Most common in larger breeds, aortic stenosis may be apparent at birth if it’s in the moderate or severe stage. Milder cases usually appear in the dog’s first year. Ask your veterinarian to listen for a heart murmur if you have a Golden puppy.

Miniature Schnauzers

Another heart condition, sick sinus syndrome (SSS), affects this breed’s adult females the most. West Highland White Terriers and Cocker Spaniels are also prone to SSS. The dog’s natural pacemaker doesn’t work and that causes fainting episodes.

Other symptoms of SSS include lethargy, exercise intolerance, irregular heartbeats (either fast or slow), or no visible symptoms at all, especially if the dog is already a couch potato. Sometimes this can be controlled with medication, but dogs who suffer from this condition may need to have an artificial pacemaker implanted.