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Heart attack in dogs: Causes and how to respond

Author: Rémi

In humans, the term heart attack refers to any sudden interruption of blood supply to the heart due to the obstruction of a coronary artery, known as a myocardial infarction.

In dogs, this is extremely rare. However, there are other heart diseases, such as cardiomyopathy, which cause heart attacks in dogs.

Can your dog have a heart attack? How to react if your dog has a cardiac arrest?

Can my dog have a heart attack?

In dogs, a heart attack, as defined in humans, is extremely rare or even non-existent. In fact, in our canine friends, a bypass system is created as soon as a coronary vessel gets blocked, which allows blood to continue to circulate, thus preventing the occurrence of a heart attack.

However, there are heart diseases in dogs which can cause the heart to stop.

So we often talk about cardiac arrest in dogs.

Cardiac arrest in dogs: what are we talking about?

Cardiac arrest in dogs is not a disease but rather a syndrome or set of symptoms that are occur as a result of various illnesses. In dogs, cardiac arrest is a sudden stop in heart and respiratory functions, often resulting in the collapse of your pet.

The vital prognosis depends mainly on the promptness of treatment. Indeed, without care within a few minutes after the heart stops, the dog may die.

Causes of cardiac arrest in dogs

In the majority of cases, cardiac arrest in dogs is of idiopathic origin, i.e. of unknown origin. However, some of the most common causes of heart attacks in dogs include:

Cardiorespiratory arrest

It is characterized by the absence of pulse and respiratory movements in the dog. The dog collapses suddenly and remains on the ground. This cardiac problem in dogs is usually caused by an arrhythmia (abnormal contraction, high or low heart rate or a decrease in blood flow to the heart).

This syndrome can have different origins including: bacterial, viral or foreign body infections, drowning or intoxication.

It is necessary to react urgently because brain damage can occur after 3 minutes without treatment, and death of the dog after 7 minutes.

Cardiac syncope

Characterized by a sudden and brutal fall of your pet. It usually lasts a few seconds, then the dog recovers normally.

However, it can evolve to cardiorespiratory arrest causing cardiac arrest. A variety of heart conditions can cause your dog to experience cardiac syncope and prompt management is necessary.

Genetic predisposition

Some breeds are more prone to heart problems causing cardiac arrest. These include large breeds that have a hereditary predisposition to develop cardiomyopathy, especially Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC), it is common in pedigree dogs like the Boxer, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel or the Doberman.

Acute pulmonary edema (APE)

Usually caused by heart failure in dogs, APE is a syndrome that can lead to death if not managed promptly.

Breathing difficulties in the form of seizures and coughing are the main clinical manifestations. Faced with these symptoms, it is important to take your dog urgently to the veterinarian.

Symptoms of a heart attack in dogs

The main symptoms of a heart attack in dogs are:

  • Cough;
  • Breathlessness accentuated by effort;
  • Fatigue and unwillingness to walk;
  • Syncope;
  • Convulsions in some cases.

It’s important to know that the majority of dogs show few or no symptoms of an impending crisis. It is therefore difficult to anticipate.

However, the above signs can help you decide to bring your dog to the vet. It is during a visit that the veterinarian will detect heart problems by listening to the dog’s heart.

How should I react if my dog has a cardiac emergency?

You should know that a heart attack or cardiac arrest is a veterinary emergency. It is imperative that you take your dog to the vet if he has a heart attack.

If the dog is still conscious, it is strongly advised not to give him food or water as he may choke. Notify the veterinary emergency services of your arrival, as this may save your dog time.

If your dog is unconscious and you are not trained in resuscitation techniques, do not perform CPR, you may make the situation worse. Cover the dog with a blanket and take him to a veterinary emergency room.

In any case, if you suspect the slightest symptom of an arrest or heart attack, see your veterinarian urgently, because every minute you save is a minute that can save your pet.

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