Atrial Fibrillation in Dogs

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Just like humans, a dog's heart is divided into four chambers. The top two are the atria and the bottom two are the ventricles. Each pair is separated by valves that allow the blood to flow smoothly between the parts of the heart. However, this requires everything to be working in perfect synchronization. When this natural rhythm in the upper chambers of the heart is disturbed it is called either atrial fibrillation or atrial flutter.

Atrial flutter is the precursor to atrial fibrillation, in which the heart begins to beat chaotically. This condition can occur whether or not your dog has any type of underlying heart disease. Your vet can see this clearly on an ECG (echocardiogram), which is used to measure the electrical activity of your dog's heart.

Symptoms of Atrial Fibrillation in Your Dog

Like many other medical conditions in dogs, atrial fibrillation can display a variety of symptoms including, but not limited to: a racing heart, intolerance to exercise, coughing, general weakness, difficulty breathing, rapid breathing, and lethargy. In rare cases, it can lead to a loss of consciousness.

There are also many causes or atrial fibrillation, including chronic heart diseases that involves the valves, heart muscle disease, enlargement of the heart, neoplasia, congenital heart disease, digitoxin toxicity, and a range of unknown causes.

Diagnosing Atrial Fibrillation in Dogs

In many cases, your vet may be able to detect atrial fibrillation during a routine examination as he listens to your dog's heart even if he is not displaying any symptoms of this problem. The sound of a heart in atrial fibrillation has often been described as similar to that of a "sneaker in a dryer" and can be heard distinctly using a stethoscope.

The best way to confirm atrial fibrillation is via an ECG, but your vet may not want to order one until he has listened to your pup's heart first and talked to you about any other symptoms you may have seen. The vet may also order x-rays and/or Doppler imaging to help him determine the type and extent of any type of underlying heart disease.

Treatment of Atrial Fibrillation in Dogs

The first step in treating your dog once he has been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation is to determine how bad it is and what the cause of it is. If your dog's heart is beating too quickly, your vet may recommend treating him with medications to slow it down. If there are no obvious underlying conditions, the best course of action is to stabilize his heart rhythm.

In the event the condition is determined to be chronic, meaning it has been going on for at least four months, it may be necessary to use electrical shock therapy to stabilize the rhythm.  At the same time, if cardiac disease is determined to be some form of cardiac disease, the vet will direct his treatment towards caring for the underlying problem and then taking care of stabilizing your pup's heart rhythm.

What Comes Next?

Once your furry friend's heart rhythm has been stabilized and you take him home, it is up to you to take care of him and make sure this doesn't happen again. You will need to follow the dietary guidelines given to you by your vet, make sure he gets any medications the vet gave him and gets plenty of rest and exercise. You will need to keep a close eye on your dog's health and contact your vet immediately if you notice anything out of the ordinary.

If your dog has been diagnosed with a severe coronary disease, caring for him is going to take a lot of hard work and commitment on your part. This includes keeping a journal that lists all events and staying in constant contact with your vet and letting him know immediately if you notice any problems in your dog's behavior or health. With the right care and management, your dog should be able to live a long and fulfilling life.