Healthy Heart, Healthy Start &ndash

Rachel Phelps will never forget the urgent call she got from her veterinarian shortly after she dropped off her beloved Westie, named Preston, for minor surgery to remove a lump.

“The vet was like, ‘Something happened. We put him under anesthesia, and suddenly his heartbeat plummeted,’” Rachel says. “I was in total shock. I felt like I couldn’t breathe.”

The medical team immediately brought Preston out of anesthesia, but his heart rate remained low. Rachel and her husband raced Preston from their veterinarian’s office to an animal emergency hospital for round-the-clock care. But after a couple of days, Preston’s heart was still only beating at half the rate it was supposed to. “We were so worried,” Rachel says.

So, the couple drove Preston from their home in Kentucky to the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital. That’s where board-certified cardiologist Ryan Fries took over Preston’s care, and Rachel soon learned her dog was one of the millions in the United States to be diagnosed with heart disease.

Board-certified cardiologist Dr. Ryan Fries at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital, pictured here on the job, took over Preston’s care and diagnosed Preston with heart disease, specifically sick sinus syndrome. ©The Animal Medical Center of NYC

Heart issues in dogs

Heart disease is a general term for any issue that impairs the organ from pumping blood through a dog’s body the way it should. “You’re just saying there’s a disease of the heart,” Dr. Fries says. “There’s a whole lot of things that fall under that category.” Congenital heart problems, defects dogs are born with, are rarer than acquired issues, which dogs develop as they get older. “Dogs often have changes to their hearts, especially as they age,” Dr. Fries says.

As a dog matures, size might matter, too. Smaller pooches are more likely to develop leaky valves. Larger dogs are more prone to dilated cardiomyopathy, a disease that weakens the heart muscle. Both conditions affect the organ’s ability to work correctly and can result in congestive heart failure.

Certain breeds are also at greater risk of heart disorders. Dr. Fries found Preston’s sinus node, the area of the heart that regulates the rate it beats, wasn’t working properly. It’s called sick sinus syndrome and is common in Westies, like Preston, Boxers, Dachshunds, Miniature Schnauzers and Cocker Spaniels. Often, dogs show no indications of the ailment. “But once put under the stress of anesthesia, it really manifests,” Dr. Fries says. “We do see that sometimes; the first real signs of this problem occur during a sedative or an anesthetic event.”

Another common issue is a heart murmur. Veterinarians can often hear the abnormal sound using a stethoscope. “A heart murmur per se is not a disease itself, but rather an indicator that heart disease may be present and signals the need to consider follow-up testing,” says board-certified cardiologist Philip Fox from The Animal Medical Center in New York City. “It is important to realize that many animals have soft heart murmurs and live normal life spans.

Preston’s humans, Rachel and Brad Phelps, were shocked when they found out Preston’s heart rate had plummeted during anesthesia during surgery to remove a lump. They had to take him to an animal emergency hospital for round-the-clock care. ©Rachel Phelps

Your dog’s heart health

Since most heart maladies develop as dogs age, there are some critical steps you can take to keep your pooch’s ticker ticking.

Test your dog for heartworm each year and keep them on prevention. “Heartworm disease has been documented in all 50 states. It is important, now more than ever, to give heartworm prevention on a year-round basis, even in colder climates where mosquitoes are inactive in winter,” says board-certified cardiologist Michelle Rose from the Animal Emergency and Referral Center of Minnesota.

If your dog isn’t on preventives, and a mosquito carrying worm larvae bites your dog, foot-long heartworms can grow by the hundreds in your dog’s heart and lungs. (Yup, downright disgusting!) The worms can cause severe damage and, if left untreated, even death.

Be sure your dog eats a complete and balanced diet suitable for their breed, age and medical needs. In 2018, when the FDA launched its investigation into certain pet food ingredients and possible links to heart disease, researchers focused on nutrition and its impact on a dog’s heart health. “Diet is extremely important. It’s huge,” Dr. Fox says. “Talk to your veterinarian about what foods they would recommend.”

Make sure your dog gets sufficient exercise and is not overweight. “It is also important, just like in humans, to keep dogs in good body condition, as excessive weight places additional strain on the heart,” Dr. Rose says.

One of the most critical things you can do is make sure your dog gets annual checkups. “Heart disease in dogs can often be detected during visits to the veterinarian that include a thorough medical history and detailed physical examination,” Dr. Fox says. “If a heart murmur, abnormal heart or lung sounds, or heart rate irregularity are detected, particularly if associated with symptoms, your veterinarian can consider a number of diagnostic tests.”

Some dogs may never need a cardiologist’s care, medication or surgery for a heart issue. But if they do need treatment, there are many available that can stop and delay the progression of heart disease. That’s why early detection is so important. “We can keep some dogs asymptomatic and feeling good for years,” Dr. Fries says. “There are some interventions we can do that can fix them. It depends on the disease.”

You can clearly see Preston’s new pacemaker in this radiograph. ©University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital

Preston gets a pacemaker

Dr. Fries considered Preston an excellent candidate to receive a pacemaker to regulate his heartbeat. “We use them for dogs just like people. It’s the same equipment,” he says.

Rachel is so thankful high-tech help is available for dogs with heart rate issues. The device will give Preston a new “leash” on life. “This pacemaker will allow Preston to enjoy his car rides to the pet store, play fetch with his favorite ball, try to chase squirrels at the park that he will never be able to catch and lay on the couch snuggling with us during movie nights,” she says. “But most importantly, hopefully, it will give us many more years to spend with Preston.

Signs of Heart Disease

©Lisa J Godfrey /

Dr. Fox says to call your vet if you see these signs of heart disease in your dog:


❤ Decreased appetite

❤ New cough

❤ Difficulty breathing

❤ Fatigue

❤ Collapse

❤ Weight loss

❤ Swollen abdomen

High Blood Pressure in Dogs

Did you know dogs get high blood pressure, too? Your veterinarian can use a blood pressure cuff to perform a reading just like when you go to the doctor’s office.

High blood pressure is usually caused by kidney disease, endocrine issues, diabetes and, potentially, obesity. “The heart’s job is to pump blood through all of the vessels. If a dog has high blood pressure, the heart has to work harder to overcome that,” Dr. Fries says. “Whenever we see high blood pressure, we want to manage that because it can cause detrimental changes to the heart over time. It can also exacerbate heart diseases we are trying to manage.”

Signs of hypertension include seizures, severe eye problems, circling, confusion, bloody urine and nose bleeds.

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8 Telltale Signs Puppers Is Too Plump &ndash

Ugh — who wants to read more about weight loss, keeping weight off, what to eat, what not to eat? As painful as it is to you, it’s even more painful for pooches who carry unnecessary extra pounds. The following indicators mean it’s time to turn your pup from fat and frumpy to phat and fabulous.

Someone asks when your dog will deliver her puppies

Ouch! If your dog could understand language and conversation on that level, he (or she) would dig a deep, deep hole and crawl in it of shame. With a bone. Covered in meat. Whether male or female, if your dog looks ready to pop, it’s beyond time to finesse the feeding and exercise regimen. However, just as you would do for yourself, schedule a vet visit prior to reducing calories and increasing movement to ensure weight loss happens safely.

Exercise? I thought you said “extra fries.

Hopefully you’re not feeding your dog french fries — or overdoing any treating. Falling into the habit of equating treating with love is one you must break for your doggo’s long-term health. Love is love. Treats are calories. Treats, used for training, positive reinforcement and once-in-a-while indulgences, may not necessarily be associated with an increased risk of obesity as long as they comprise less than 10% of total caloric intake.

Illustrations: ©Annette Webb |

Your dog doesn’t need a floatie in the pool

If your boy floats like a buoy in water, that may indicate he’s due for a diet. Swimming is a great way for anyone, including dogs, to shed pounds and get fit. However, not all dogs love water or are natural swimmers. Ease your pup into the shallows with patience if he’s not a hydrophile, secure a doggie life vest and always keep an eye on him. Same goes for dogs who make leaps and bounds for the pool or the waves.

There’s no Santa audition today!

Roly-poly and extra jolly is a must in any Santa — but not your dog (except the jolly part). Extra fat around your dog’s abdomen, hips and neck are telltale signs that he would look great in a St. Nick suit. Once extra fat weighs down his abdomen, hips and neck, he probably is obese, putting him at higher risk of developing many health issues, including diabetes, arthritis, cancer and more. Now is the time to hitch your furry Santa to the sleigh for some exercise, so to speak.

Ribs? What ribs?

Place your hands along the sides of your pet’s chest. If you can’t feel his ribs, it’s diet and exercise time. If your dog is in ideal body condition, you can feel his ribs but not see them. Your dog’s stomach should tuck upward toward his tail from his chest — it should never be level with it and definitely not below. Potbellied pig is not the look you’re going for!

Illustrations: ©Annette Webb |

Watching your dog ascend stairs is painful

Don’t let your doggo struggle unnecessarily. Help close what the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention calls the “fat pet gap,” or, in other words, your failure to notice or acknowledge your companion packing on pounds over time, by building in regular exercise for your pup — something you both enjoy to help ensure long-term follow-through.

Your dog is a perfect oval

Oval is beautiful if you’re talking watermelon or gemstones, but not your dog. If she is shaped like an oval rather than fit-and-sassy hourglass, she’s Rubenesque, to put it kindly. Get a “high-level view” by standing above your pet and looking down at her. She should have somewhat of an hourglass shape, with a taper at the waist, which is between the abdomen and the hips. If there is little or no taper, she is probably overweight.

Your dog looks at his food dish then looks at you like “What … that’s it?!”

Obviously, what you feed your dog matters, but portion sizes matter as well. Studies show that dogs who eat a set of small meals per day (rather than one large feast) are less likely to be overweight or obese. Helpful hint: Use a measuring cup to ensure you are not overfeeding, and don’t free feed.

Help! My Dog Has Parvo &ndash

New puppies can be a fun addition to the family, bringing laughter and excitement. But along with a new puppy comes significant responsibility, including veterinary care. The most important basic medical care to provide for pups is vaccinations. This is because, despite widespread vaccination, diseases such as distemper and parvovirus are still present in the dog population.

What is parvovirus?

Parvovirus  — a highly contagious virus — is spread by other dogs via the oral-fecal route. The virus is present in the feces and can spread to other dogs. It’s important to keep unvaccinated puppies and dogs isolated from other dogs (avoid dog parks, pet stores and boarding situations) until they’ve received their shots. Parvovirus can contaminate everything in the environment and transmit it — hands, clothes, collars, leashes, bowls, surfaces, shoes and even dogs’ feet and hair. Discuss cleaning and disinfenction with your veterinarian if your dog has been infected.

If your dog does contract the illness, the signs can start slowly with a loss of appetite and lethargy or occur quickly and include lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting and profuse bloody diarrhea. Illness is rapid in onset and can lead to death if not treated. Treatment is aimed at rehydration, controlling vomiting, restoring appetite and preventing death from secondary bacterial infection.

Signs of Parvovirus in Dogs

✔ loss of appetite

✔ vomiting

✔ bloating and

abdominal pain

✔ fever

✔ bloody diarrhea

✔ low body temperature

If you suspect parvovirus, do not delay in seeking diagnosis and treatment. There is no effective at-home treatment. Myths about home treatments abound on the internet, and many of them pose significant risk to your dog or are downright toxic. Seek veterinary care as soon as possible.

Diagnosis is usually quick and straightforward. It involves a fecal test to confirm the diagnosis and bloodwork will also be conducted. Parvovirus attacks both the intestinal lining and the bone marrow. As a result, systemic infection (sepsis) is the cause of the signs.

Parvo patients must be kept in isolation and monitored constantly to ensure that they are improving. They typically need 24-hour care.

Treatment options

Depending on the bloodwork results, your vet will usually recommend hospitalization for IV fluids, IV antibiotics and close monitoring. This can be quite costly due to the intensive nature of the care. Parvo patients must be kept in isolation and monitored constantly to ensure that they are improving. Genuinely, they need 24-hour care.

If inpatient treatment isn’t an option due to finances or availability in your area, there are many outpatient protocols that also have a fair outcome. These include some combination of nausea control (usually Cerenia or Reglan), subcutaneous fluid administration and oral or injectable antibiotics such as Convenia, a long-acting antibiotic injection.

©Karno Muji Saputa | Getty Images

Prognosis is generally good with aggressive treatment and still fair even with outpatient therapy. Once infected, immunity is lifelong. This doesn’t mean that your puppy doesn’t need routine vaccinations, however, as they protect against other diseases such as canine distemper virus and rabies.

The good news is that parvovirus is almost 100% preventable with routine vaccinations. If you’ve just purchased an expensive puppy, it may be tempting to buy the vaccines and administer them yourself. This isn’t an uncommon scenario. However, this isn’t a good idea for several reasons. When having your dog vaccinated, see your veterinarian. They will give vaccines that are safe, properly stored and administered and guaranteed by the manufacturer.