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Can Dogs Get Heart Attacks?


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How well do you really understand what a heart attack is? While most people are familiar with the words 'heart attack', they may be a little fuzzy about the main reason they occur.

If you want to be strictly accurate, a heart attack is better described as a 'myocardial infarction,' but this doesn't have quite the same ring. However, 'myocardial' means muscle-of-the-heart wall, and 'infarction' means blockage of the blood supply. So what we have here is a switching off of the blood supply to the muscle of the heart, which means it can't pump properly. 

Of course, one of the main causes in people is a problem within the arteries to the heart. Much like a clogged drain, blood cannot flow freely. This leads to a vicious circle where blood clots are more likely to form, which in turn, block the drain some more.

But what about our pet pals?

Can Dogs Get Heart Attacks?


But a true heart attack (because of coronary artery disease) is very rare indeed. However, dogs can, rarely, suffer from heart attacks because of other health problems that interrupt blood flow to the heart.

Did My Dog Have a Heart Attack?

Heart disease is common in dogs, while heart attacks are rare. These are the signs of a heart attack:

  • Sudden collapse

  • Coma and loss of consciousness

  • Blue gums and membranes in the mouth

  • An irregular or racing heartbeat

  • Respiratory arrest

  • Death

Factors that predispose a dog to having a heart attack include:

  • A tumor of the heart: May compress the blood vessels

  • Nephrotic syndrome: This causes a loss of a protein that protects against excessive blood clots

  • Vasculitis: An inflammation of the blood vessels secondary to autoimmune disease

  • Parasitic disease: Such as heartworm, where larvae can clog the blood vessels

Diagnosis of each of these conditions requires blood tests and a heart scan. 

How Do I Treat My Dog's Heart Attack?

First, stay calm.

Check for a heartbeat and that the dog is breathing.

If the dog has stopped breathing, start artificial respiration.

If the dog's heart has stopped, start cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

At the same time ask a friend or passerby to phone the vet for emergency assistance.

Keep the dog warm and continue CPR until help arrives.

How Is a Heart Attack Similar in Dogs and Humans?

The worst case scenario is the same for both species: Death. This is a sudden onset condition for both species that requires emergency treatment if the patient is to stand a chance of recovery.

How Is a Heart Attack Different in Dogs and Humans?

While heart attacks are common in people, a true heart attack is rare in the canine. This is largely due to lifestyle factors, where people are more likely to overindulge and smoke, which promote coronary artery disease. 

Our fur friends are far more likely to suffer from heart disease, such as an enlarged heart or valvular disease, as a result of their genetics. The majority of these conditions will give the pet parents clues the dog has a problem, rather than their four-legger collapsing suddenly. 

Typical signs of heart disease include: 

  • Coughing, especially at night

  • Unwillingness to exercise

  • Shortness of breath

  • Reduced appetite

Case Study

A middle-aged German Shepherd collapses unexpectedly on a walk, and dies. Post-mortem reveals that the dog had a tumor, growing from the base of the heart. It had grown in such a way that it went from not causing any problems, to acutely blocking the blood supply to the heart muscle - hence the reason for the heart attack. Nothing could have been done to save the dog, who led a full and happy life right up to the end.

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