Signs of heart disease to look out for in your dog

Spotting some of the tell-tale signs of heart disease in your dog can speed up diagnosis and enable your vet to help them enjoy a longer active life. Vet, Robin Hargreaves, describes what to look for

Reduced tolerance to exercise 

Your dog may no longer be able to walk or run as far as they used to be able to. Dogs with heart disease will frequently stop to rest unexpectedly on walks, and may refuse to keep going as usual. Warmer weather makes this much more obvious, so you may be more likley to spot a problem in the summer.

Shortness of breath

The way that we can check this is by counting how many breaths per minute a dog takes when relaxed and resting. In dogs with heart disease, as the condition progresses, the number of breaths taken in that minute will gradually increase. We would usually expect between 15-30 breaths per minute – so, if the number is higher than this, or there is a change to what is normal for your dog, have them checked by your vet.


Coughing is often a sign that a dog has a heart problem. Usually, this will be a soft, non-productive cough, and it is likely to be worse in the evenings. Retention of fluid in the lungs or heart enlargement is the reason for the cough, which often accompanies heart failure. When an enlarged heart is beating hard, it can actually bump the trachea (windpipe), causing some dogs to cough.


Dogs suffering heart failure can faint if they suddenly become excited or overexert themselves. While recovery can be fast - the faint takes the load off the heart - it is essential that any dog that appears to have fainted is seen by their vet.

Swollen abdomen

Fluid retention is often a feature of heart failure. As mentioned above, fluid in the lungs can be caused when the left side of the heart is failing. If the right side of the heart is failing, fluid can also accumulate in the abdomen, giving a bloated appearance. 


“The good news with heart disease in pets is that our ability to treat it has improved enormously in recent years. However, the response to treatment does depend on an accurate diagnosis, and sadly, some conditions do deteriorate much faster than others.

“The best management of the condition can rely on an accurate diagnosis, which will often require a specialist investigation by a veterinary cardiologist. Treatment will be lifelong for as long as it is effective and may involve multiple medications.

“Many of our patients with some of the more common conditions can now enjoy many extra months of an active and happy life, thanks to the right diagnosis and good heart medication. Always seek veterinary advice as soon as possible if your pet shows any of the symptoms above or you are worried in any way."

If you have a Kennel Club Pet Insurance policy, you can access the free Pet Health Helpline, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The veterinary-trained team will advise on any concerns or queries that you may have over your pet’s health – much like the NHS 111 service for people. Call free on 03333 32 19 47.