A couple of days ago (my apologies, I was a little under the weather,) in the third installment of an article series on syncope, seizures, stroke and heart attack in dogs, I talked about strokes in dogs and how they compare to syncope and seizures.
If you missed this article, you can find it here.
If you missed the first installment of the article series, you will want to read that first, you can find it here.
If you missed the second installment of the article series, you will want to read that as well, you can find it here.
Today we are going to talk about heart attack in dogs and what you need to know.
How Do Syncope, Seizures, and Stroke Compare to a Heart Attack?
What is a Heart Attack?
As with people, a heart attack in dogs occurs when the flow of blood to the heart is obstructed. This obstruction can have a number of causes, but frequently it is the result of a blood clot.
Heart attacks in dogs are rarely seen. When they do occur, the prognosis of the individual dog depends on a number of factors including the root cause.
What Causes a Heart Attack?
Some of the health concerns that have been linked to heart attack in dogs include:
- Tumors located around the heart or the vasculature of the heart
- Damage to the kidneys that alters the ability to clot blood
- Bacterial infection
- Any illness that leads to inflammation and consequent narrowing of blood vessels
- Atherosclerosis or coronary artery disease (this is exceptionally rare in dogs)
These diseases and illnesses will not always contribute to heart attack, but they can be risk factors.
What Happens During a Heart Attack?
Just like a stroke, there are generally no warning signs that a heart attack is about to take place.
Most often the first sign that pet parents have that their dog is having a heart attack is collapse.
Some signs that a dog is having or has experienced a cardiac event include:
- Increased body temperature (normal body temperature is around 102 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Panting or difficulty breathing
- Increased heart rate (more than 140BPM for small breeds, over 100BPM for larger breeds)
- Confusion or disorientation
- Tilting of the head
- Rigidity of the body
If you notice any of these signs in your dog, you should head to your veterinarian or emergency vet clinic right away or in the case of the heart stopping, you should begin CPR (if you aren’t already certified, get certified and do it in person rather than online!)
You should also note that these symptoms are not always indicative of a heart attack, they can also be caused by other health concerns that still need to be addressed by your veterinarian.
What Should You Do When Your Dog Experiences a Heart Attack?
The first thing you need to do if you suspect that your dog has suffered a heart attack is to stay calm! This is going to be next to impossible to do, but know that the calmer you are, the calmer your dog will be.
This is going to be next to impossible to do, but know that the calmer you are, the calmer your dog will be.
If you are FULLY TRAINED AND CERTIFIED and if the situation requires it, begin CPR.
If you are not certified in CPR, try to wrap your dog in a blanket or towel to help calm them down. If you don’t have anything handy to wrap your dog, skip this step.
Keep others away from your dog and do not attempt to give them any sustenance since they are at risk for choking – if you’d just had a heart attack, you wouldn’t want to eat or drink, would you?
Now, if your dog has not collapsed, place your hand on the left side of your dog’s chest and try to get an idea of your dog’s heart rate.
If your dog has collapsed, don’t waste time, get them to your vet NOW.
What Will Your Vet Do When Your Dog Has Had A Heart Attack?
Once you get to your vet, your vet’s efforts will be centered on stabilizing your dog as well as determining whether or not they actually experienced a heart attack.
Be prepared to tell your vet exactly what happened before and during your dog’s event as well as anything else that you might think is important to your dog’s episode.
There are multiple tests that your vet can perform depending on the presentation of your dog at the clinic. These tests include:
- Electrocardiography – This creates a picture of the electrical rhythm of your dog’s heart.
- Echocardiography – This assesses overall heart function in terms of structure by looking for abnormalities in terms of fluid or tumors.
- Chest X-ray – This will determine any enlargement of the heart, any fluid around the heart, or any visible masses on or around the heart.
- CBC – A complete blood panel will look for any signs of infection or contributing causes to your dog’s heart attack.
- Urinalysis – Kidney function and metabolic function both reveal possible causes of heart attack.
- Biochemistry – Kidney and liver function can be assessed to determine possible contributing factors to heart attack.
- Thyroid Testing – This can reveal any thyroid conditions that can contribute to heart attack.
The aim of treatment is to identify the cause of your dog’s heart attack and to treat it directly to prevent future occurrences. The method of treatment will vary depending upon what it is that caused your dog’s cardiac event.