Aortic Stenosis in Dogs

Aortic stenosis is a condition that can significantly impact a dog’s health. It is more common in certain breeds, and it is known to be a congenital disease, which means that some dogs are simply more likely to be born with it.

In today’s article, we’re looking at what aortic stenosis is, what its symptoms are, how it is diagnosed, and if it can be treated.

What is aortic stenosis?

As its name suggests, this condition involves a modification of the aorta, the main blood vessel that goes right into a dog’s heart.

Stenosis is a word that effectively means ‘narrowing,’ and in this case, it means that the diameter of the orifice through which the blood flows from the aorta into the left ventricle is not large enough.

This means that the heart is not getting the right amount of blood and begins to malfunction in general. At first, the muscles of the left ventricle, in particular, will overwork in an attempt to regulate cardiac activity. However, this leads to changes in the muscle walls to the point that the tissue can become damaged.

Aortic stenosis can have three primary forms. Valvular aortic stenosis is a classic phenomenon that happens right inside the orifice.

The narrowing can, however, affect the superior or inferior areas of the valve, and in that case, the dog either has supravalvular aortic stenosis or subaortic stenosis, with the second being more commonly diagnosed in our canine friends.

Which breeds are more likely to suffer from aortic stenosis?

Studies performed over a period of several decades have revealed that the following dog breeds have a higher risk of being born with this heart condition:

  • Great Dane
  • Samoyed
  • German Shepherd
  • Bull Terrier
  • Boxer
  • Rottweiler
  • Golden Retriever
  • Newfoundland
  • German Shorthaired Pointers

That doesn’t necessarily mean that all of the dogs categorized as being members of the formerly mentioned breeds will be born with this health issue. However, irresponsible breeding has gradually led to this situation, so this is a risk that needs to be addressed as best as possible.

What symptoms does canine aortic stenosis cause?

Aortic stenosis causes very classic symptoms of heart issues in dogs. As such, some of the clinical signs that pet owners might notice even in the first few months of their puppy’s life would be a low resistance to exercise, sluggishness, as well as poor growth in general.

Some dogs develop a cough as the condition progresses and affects the cardiac muscles more and more.

Unfortunately, what makes this disease quite difficult to treat is the fact that some dogs simply don’t show any signs until the point where therapies might not provide them with any benefit.

Other dogs might simply engage in exercise and die all of a sudden and without any apparent cause.

How is aortic stenosis in dogs diagnosed?

On a positive note, all veterinarians perform a set of basic diagnostic methods whenever they see a dog in their practice. That type of exam usually involves examining the respiratory rate and the cardiac rate of all patients and performing a range of other tests.

Aortic stenosis causes a heart murmur, and there are also effort tests that your vet can recommend or perform and that can reveal complications like difficult breathing.

More often than not, vets simply listen to your dog’s heart using a stethoscope and can tell that something is wrong. And while establishing a precise diagnosis of whatever is wrong with your pet’s heart in this way is not effective, it can lead to them performing tests like an electrocardiogram, chest radiographs, or cardiac ultrasonography (echocardiogram).

Can aortic stenosis be treated?

The treatment of this heart condition actually depends on its progression and your dog’s general health status. Very mild forms might only involve the administration of several medications every now and then.

Moderate to severe forms of canine aortic stenosis are more challenging to treat. While long-term drugs for the health issue do exist, they definitely have to be given to dogs on a strict schedule. This is the only way to ensure that the heart muscles don’t become damaged due to overcompensation.

Depending on your dog’s age and general health, an operation might be a suitable solution, too. Unfortunately, it is not commonly performed in all practices as it requires veterinary pathologists with experience and education in cardiac surgery.

The operation can involve one of two methods – open surgical correction or balloon valvuloplasty, depending on whatever the veterinary specialist finds is more suitable for the patient.

The downside is that none of these two procedures have a high success rate. Balloon valvuloplasty might not offer long-term benefits, especially not to all dogs, whereas with open surgical correction, there’s always the risk of the dog developing an infection or other complications.

Unless the animal hospital is equipped with the proper devices and works with excellent veterinary cardiac pathologists, the operation might simply not be recommended.

Furthermore, the surgery itself is quite expensive, sometimes up to several thousands of dollars. By contrast, medical management is more affordable, but you will have to ensure that your dog gets an echocardiogram somewhat regularly, once every 2-3 months. The ultrasound itself costs $600 or more.

Final thoughts

Aortic stenosis is a congenital heart issue that tends to affect some breeds more than others. Using dogs that were born with this condition for reproduction purposes is highly unethical.

If you are interested in adopting or buying a puppy breed of any that we’ve noted above, we urge you to ask the breeder to provide certificates of health for the pup’s parents. You can also get in touch with the veterinarian that has issued the certificates to make sure that your dog doesn’t end up having this condition.

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