Monitoring Heart Disease

Once a pet has been diagnosed with heart disease, regular monitoring is important to allow timely intervention to prevent a crisis.  There are several considerations for monitoring and possible therapy to help manage this condition successfully

Stages of heart disease

There are four stages of heart disease-A, B (B1 and B2), C and D. Stage B signifies a heart murmur is present but there are no clinical signs of disease. The heart may or may not be enlarged. Many dogs will remain in this stage for 2-3 years. Regular monthly monitoring of the resting respiratory rate and chest x-rays every 6-12 months will help with early intervention if heart failure is developing.

Signs of heart failure

Unfortunately, there is a percentage of dogs that will go on to develop heart failure which will impact quality of life, increase the likelihood of sudden death and require medications and lifestyle changes to allow them a comfortable and acceptable life.  Early warning signs of heart disease include coughing, changes in breathing (labored or rapid breathing), shortness of breath, lack of energy, tiring easily, exercise intolerance, fainting (which can be confused with seizures), restlessness at night, change in appetite and sensitivity to heat or cold.

Treatment and monitoring of heart failure

Once your dog has signs of heart failure-we are in Stage C. There are three very important drugs that are used to treat this stage

If patients are responding to the medications, a progress evaluation exam and follow-up labwork will be done within 1-2 weeks to evaluate how the kidneys and other organs are tolerating the medication. Medications will be adjusted to control clinical signs as well as avoid serious side effects.

Monitoring Resting Respiratory Rate

Pet owners can best monitor for development of heart failure by assessing changes in the dog’s resting or sleeping respiratory rate (SRR) that is the earliest sign of congestive heart failure.

Establish a baseline. Document how many breaths your dog takes in a minute while sleeping. Normal is <30 breaths/minute. Count the number of times your pet’s chest moves in and out (in and out together counts as one breath) over a period of 1 minute on a clock or watch.

Monitor weekly once there is evidence of heart enlargement on the chest x-ray.  If the SRR goes above 30 breaths per minute or >20% increase from baseline, your pet should be evaluated.