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Posted on 01-13-2012

My boxer, and best buddy, named Tyler, developed heart disease when he was eight years old. We used to venture to various parks, enjoying the outdoors and occasionally go for a jog. As he aged I noticed he wasn't keeping up with me. He started to take breaks by laying down. I didn't think anything of it, and associated his signs with old age. The only abnormality found, which was on his annual blood work, was an elevated kidney value. Based on this the doctors diagnosed him with early kidney failure and prescribed a special diet. At the age of ten, I suddenly lost Tyler to, what I now know was, a fatal form of heart disease. Tyler_Pix_1.jpeg

Boxers and other breeds, such as, Doberman Pinschers, Great Danes, Saint Bernards, Newfoundslands, Cocker Spaniels, and Bulldogs, can be genetically predisposed to heart disease, known as dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).

What is dilated cardiomyopathy? It is a disease that affects the contraction of the heart muscles. The heart is made up of four chambers. These chambers (or chamber), may become enlarged (dilated) due to increased blood volume and pressure. The increased pressure is due to failure of one or more chambers of the heart, known as either right or left-sided heart failure. DCM may be inherited or form secondarily to other diseases, nutritional deficiencies, toxins, immune deficiencies, and infectious agents.

What signs should you look for? Your pet may have: muscle weakness, lethargy, difficulty breathing, no desire to exercise, a cough, loss of appetite, and/or decreased muscle mass. Boxers are known to develop Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricle Cardiomyopathy (ARVC), which is similar to ARVC in people. There are three different versions of Boxer ARVC. 1) an irregular fast heart beat known as a tachyarrhythmia 2) Sustained ventricular tachycardia which is an over-worked heart from a sustained fast heart beat containing ventricular premature complexes (VPCs), or 3) Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) and tachyarrhythmia. CHF is heart failure associated with excessive fluid in the heart's tissue causing an enlarged heart. Some signs of heart disease are visible, whereas other signs are not obvious and may only be diagnosed by our veterinarians at Eagle Animal Hospital or cardiologist.

Tyler_Pix_2_1.jpegDCM, CHF, or ARVC may be difficult to diagnose in the early stages of the disease. Consult with our veterinarians or cardiologist for early detection. Taking preventative measures by getting: blood work taken every six months, chest x-rays, an ECG (Electrocardiograph), and/or an ultrasound (Echocardiograph) of the heart, may help diagnose a heart condition. If diagnosed early, some dogs will respond to medications. On the other hand, when you start seeing the signs listed above, the disease may be in the later stages and your pet may not respond to medical treatment as well. After clinical signs develop, survival can be less than 6 months and your pet may have an increased risk of a fatal heart related event.

This article only describes some of the variations of this complex disease. Talking to our veterinarians and reading accredited veterinary literature may help in your understanding and care of your pet. As for my next boxer, I will have a better understanding and take preventative measures to make him or her as healthy as possible.

We serve Exton, Downingtown, Glenmoore and Chester Springs.

Written by Jennifer Styer, veterinary technician at Eagle Animal Hospital

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