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Top 5 Most Common Dog and Cat Breeds Affected by Heart Disease

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If your pet collapses or experiences respiratory distress, these are considered “RED” – or true emergencies – on our Fast Track Triage system. We advise you to seek immediate veterinary care. Please call ahead of your arrival so the veterinary team knows to expect you!


In human medicine, it’s important for patients to know their family’s health history to prevent and monitor for diseases and conditions. Similarly, knowing our pet’s breed and common health ailments linked to that breed is empowering for pet parents so they can understand the risk of disease, recognize early signs, and monitor for any changes. Unfortunately, as in humans, heart disease is very common in dogs and cats. Below is a list of five of the most common breeds affected by heart disease; if your pet is one of them, read to learn how you can be proactive about your pet’s heart health!

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#1: Cavalier King Charles Spaniel – Degenerative Valve Disease  

The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is affected by degenerative valve disease (DVD) more than any other dog breed. This disease is progressive and genetic, affecting mostly middle-aged to older animals and up to 90% of the breed affected by 10 years old. Valves within the heart becomes thickened and damaged, resulting in leakage of backwards blood flow. When the condition is severe, the heart becomes enlarged and congestive heart failure (fluid in the lungs or abdominal cavity) may develop. Many animals, however, can remain asymptomatic for multiple years. Other breeds commonly affected by DVD include the chihuahua, dachshund, miniature poodle, and many others.   

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#2 Doberman Pinscher – Dilated Cardiomyopathy 

Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) is an inherited heart disease common to Doberman Pinschers. Dogs with a genetic predisposition to DCM develop heart muscle weakening and enlargement, and sometimes heart failure. Affected dogs are also at high risk of dangerous electrical disturbances (abnormal heart rhythms) which may lead to sudden death. Other breeds predisposed to DCM include other large and giant breed dogs, in particular Great Danes and Irish Wolfhounds. Any at-risk animal should be considered for routine screening tests after 3 years of age.  

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#3 Boxer – Arrhythmogenic Cardiomyopathy 

Boxers are at increased risk of various types of heart disease, but especially so for Arrhythmogenic Cardiomyopathy (AC), also called Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy (ARVC) or “Boxer Cardiomyopathy.” Up to 40% of the Boxer population carries a known genetic mutation for AC, which results in scar tissue and fatty infiltration of the heart muscle. Together, these can cause dangerous arrhythmias and a risk of sudden death, as well as heart muscle weakening, enlargement, and failure. Boxers should be considered for screening tests after 3 years of age. Other heart diseases which affect Boxers include subaortic stenosis, pulmonic stenosis, valve disease, and heart tumors. English Bulldogs are another breed at risk of AC.  

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#4 Golden Retriever – Subaortic Stenosis, Nutritional Heart Disease, and Heart Tumors 

Multiple types of heart disease can affect Golden Retrievers. Subaortic stenosis (SAS) is a condition present at birth that causes an obstruction of blood leaving the heart. In severe cases, SAS leads to arrhythmias, collapse, heart failure, and sudden death. Golden Retrievers are also at increased risk of nutritional heart disease (due to certain grain-free/boutique diets and/or taurine deficiency), which causes heart muscle weakening and dilation (DCM). Finally, older Golden Retrievers are at increased risk of an aggressive type of heart tumor called Hemangiosarcoma.  

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#5 Maine Coon – Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy  

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is the most common heart disease in cats, and Maine Coons are at increased risk of this condition based on genetic predisposition. HCM causes heart muscle thickening and dysfunction, which can lead to heart failure, clot formation, arrhythmias, and sudden death. Ragdoll and Sphynx cats are also known to be at increased risk. Although the disease typically affects middle-aged to older cats, these high-risk breeds can be afflicted at a very young age. Some cats live many years without ever having clinical signs, while others can experience more rapid progression and a shortened lifespan.   

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Signs of heart disease in pets: 

  • Fast or labored breathing 
  • Coughing 
  • Collapse / fainting 
  • Exercise intolerance 

Steps you can take to detect heart disease in your pet: 

Heart disease in pets is often silent, with clinical signs occurring only late in the disease process. Average survival time after the onset of clinical signs from heart failure is only months to a year. Early detection may delay this progression. Seeing your pet’s primary care veterinarian on a regular basis is the most important step you can take to prevent heart failure. Detection of a heart murmur or abnormal rhythm should be investigated with chest x-rays and bloodwork.  

If your veterinarian recommends further testing, consulting with a veterinary cardiologist will be essential. A cardiologist will typically recommend an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart), blood pressure, electrocardiogram (recording of the heart’s electrical activity), and possibly other advanced tests. In some dogs, especially Dobermans and Boxers, a more thorough screening for arrhythmias (called a Holter study) may be performed. Genetic tests are also available for certain breeds, but these results do not always correlate with the presence or absence of disease. 

Learn more about Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota’s Cardiology Service here 

More Reading: 

Rima Kharbush, DVM, DACVIM (Cardiology), Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota, Twin Cities veterinary cardiologist, Minnesota veterinary cardiologist

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