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Treatment of Cardiovascular Disease in Dogs

By Davin Borde, DVM, DACVIM, Staff Cardiologist, Veterinary Heart Institute ; Clay A. Calvert, DVM, DACVIM, Professor, Department of Small Animal Medicine and Surgery, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georgia ; Benjamin J. Darien, DVM, MS, DACVIM, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin ; Jorge Guerrero, DVM, PhD, DEVPC (Ret), Adjunct Professor of Parasitology, Department of Pathobiology, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania ; Michelle Wall, DVM, DACVIM

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Treatment of cardiovascular disease should be specific for the type of disease. Some defects can be repaired or corrected with surgery, while other conditions can be managed with medical therapy using one or a combination of drugs. In dogs with congestive heart failure, a low-sodium diet may be recommended to help eliminate excess fluid in the body.

In general, the goals of treatment are to minimize damage to the heart muscle, control the accumulation of fluids in the lungs, improve circulation, regulate the heart rate and rhythm, ensure that there is enough oxygen in the blood, and minimize the risk of blood clot formation. In heartworm disease, the mature heartworms and larvae should be killed.

Common Types of Drugs for Cardiovascular Disease

There are many medications that a veterinarian can prescribe for dogs with cardiovascular disease. The type of disease will determine the type of medication prescribed. Medications must be given exactly as prescribed; otherwise, they may not be effective and may even cause serious complications and harm.

One commonly used medication for heart problems is a diuretic. Diuretics are medicines that increase urine output. These medicines are important and effective means for removing fluids that accumulate in dogs with heart problems. The use of a diuretic can be life saving over the short run.

Some drugs, such as digitalis glycosides and digoxin, increase the force of heart muscle contraction, slow the heart rate, and allow blood pressure receptors to work better. They are often used to treat heart failure. Drugs called ACE inhibitors are also used in heart failure in dogs. They can reduce blood pressure, improve cardiac output, and reduce mitral regurgitation (see Heart Failure in Dogs : Drugs).

Other types of drugs can strengthen respiratory muscles and improve breathing. Some medications are prescribed to control arrhythmias, slow or speed heart rate, and prevent blood clots. In other cases, medications are provided to kill heartworms or other parasites in the cardiovascular system.

As with any disorder, your veterinarian will evaluate your pet and provide medication appropriate for its condition. It is the responsibility of the pet owner to follow through and provide their pet with the correct dose of medicine on the schedule prescribed by the veterinarian.

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Also see professional content regarding treatment of cardiovascular disease.