Tuesday, 02/21/2023

As the sun rises on a crisp autumn morning, a familiar pattern of paws echoes through the house as your beloved canine companion greets you with a wagging tail. But as time goes on, you start to notice subtle changes in their behavior – a reluctance to go for walks, a decrease in appetite, and a lethargic demeanor that seems to be taking hold. It’s a heart-wrenching experience for any pet owner to witness their furry friend’s health decline, and the most common cause of this is Chronic Degenerative Valve Disease (CDVD).

CDVD is a common heart condition that affects many of our four-legged friends, particularly as they age. As the valves in the heart wear down over time, the heart struggles to pump blood effectively, leading to a host of health issues significantly impacting a dog’s quality of life. But the good news is that early detection and treatment can make a world of difference, giving your pet a chance to continue living their best life.

In this blog post, we’ve taken a closer look at CDVD in dogs, exploring its causes, symptoms, and treatment options. 

Degenerative Mitral Valve Disease In Dogs

Degenerative mitral valve disease (DMVD) is a common canine cardiac disease, and approximately 30% of dogs over age 10 possess the characteristic left-sided systolic murmur of DMVD. This disease occurs when the mitral valve, which regulates blood flow between the heart’s two chambers, begins to wear down and malfunction.

As DMVD progresses, the mitral valve becomes thickened and distorted, and the valve flaps no longer close tightly, leading to blood leaking backward into the heart’s left atrium. This leads to an overload of pressure in the lungs and reduces the heart’s ability to effectively pump oxygenated blood to the body’s organs.

DMVD is most commonly seen in smaller dog breeds, like Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and Chihuahuas, but it can also affect larger breeds. DMVD is a progressive disease; once it begins, it will continue to worsen over time. This can lead to a host of symptoms, including coughing, fatigue, exercise intolerance, and, in severe cases, congestive heart failure.

Symptoms Of Degenerative Valve Disease In Dogs 

Degenerative Valve Disease (DVD) in dogs can present with a variety of symptoms, many of which are similar to those of other heart conditions. DVD can manifest differently in different dogs, and the severity of the symptoms can vary depending on the progression of the disease. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential to managing the symptoms of DVD and ensuring your pet’s overall health and well-being.

  • One of the most common symptoms of DVD is a cough that occurs at night or when your dog is resting. 
  • It happens because the valve damage in the heart causes blood to back up in the lungs, leading to inflammation and irritation that triggers coughing.
  • Additionally, dogs with DVDs may experience breathing difficulties, particularly during exercise or when they are excited. This can lead to rapid breathing, panting, or shortness of breath.
  • Other symptoms of DVD can include: fatigue, decreased appetite, weight loss, and exercise intolerance. Dogs with DVDs may appear less energetic than usual and less willing to engage in physical activity or play. 
  • The suffering pet also may experience sudden episodes of collapse as the heart’s ability to pump blood is compromised.

In general, this is seen more frequently in small breed dogs, with up to 75% showing evidence of CVD by seven years of age. Ensure to keep a close eye on your dog’s behavior and overall health, and seek veterinary care if you notice any of the above symptoms. DVD can progress quickly, particularly in smaller breeds, and early detection and treatment can significantly improve your dog’s quality of life. 

What Causes Mitral Valve Disease In Dogs?

The etiology of mitral valve disease in dogs is multifactorial, and a combination of genetic and environmental factors is likely to contribute to the development and progression of this condition. One of the main contributing factors is age, with the prevalence of mitral valve disease increasing with advancing age.

Genetic factors also are a cause of the development of mitral valve disease. It is particularly in certain breeds such as the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. 

Studies have identified several genes that may be involved in the pathogenesis of mitral valve disease, including genes encoding for extracellular matrix proteins and enzymes involved in remodeling the valve.

Environmental factors also are responsible for the development of the disease. Factors such as obesity, physical inactivity, and poor diet being implicated in its pathogenesis may contribute to the development of comorbidities such as hypertension and hyperlipidemia, which can further exacerbate the damage to the mitral valve.

How Do Vets Diagnose Mitral Valve Disease In Dogs?

The first step in diagnosing mitral valve disease is a thorough physical examination of the dog. During this examination, the veterinarian will listen to the dog’s heart using a stethoscope to detect abnormal sounds or murmurs indicative of mitral valve disease. They may also perform a general physical examination to look for signs of heart failure, such as coughing, rapid breathing, and exercise intolerance.

If the veterinarian suspects that the dog may have mitral valve disease, they may recommend additional diagnostic tests. The vet also suggests diagnostic tests like echocardiograms. An echocardiogram is an ultrasound test that provides detailed images of the heart, allowing the veterinarian to visualize the mitral valve and assess its function. This test can also help the veterinarian determine the severity of the disease and any associated cardiac abnormalities.

  • Other diagnostic tests used to diagnose mitral valve disease include electrocardiography (ECG) and chest radiographs. An ECG helps to track the heart’s electrical activity, which can be helpful in detecting arrhythmias and other cardiac abnormalities. 
  • Chest radiographs, or X-rays, can also provide insights into the size and shape of the heart and can help the veterinarian determine the presence of pulmonary congestion, a sign of heart failure.


To shed light on the core stages of  Chronic Degenerative Valve Disease in Dogs, we have devised the sign in an infographic for a crisp visual representation. Let’s have a look:

Navigating the Stages Of Degenerative Valve Disease In Dogs

Degenerative Valve Disease (DVD) is a common cardiac condition in dogs that affects the heart’s ability to pump blood efficiently. Early diagnosis and treatment can help slow the progression of the disease and improve the quality of life for dogs with DVD. Here are the stages of DVD in dogs: 
# Stage 1: Early DVD
Increased blood flow to the heart results in thicker heart walls, leading to stronger contractions.
Mild symptoms may be present, including coughing or exercise intolerance.
# Stage 2: Progression of the Disease
Heart valves become stiff, leading to blood regurgitation in the chest and abdomen.
Symptoms may include fatigue, decreased appetite, and weight loss.
# Stage 3: Advanced 
The heart becomes enlarged, increasing the risk of heart failure. 
Symptoms  include shortness of breath, coughing, fatigue, and reduced appetite.
#Stage 4: Severe 
Significant blood regurgitation and fluid buildup, the heart can no longer pump blood effectively.  
Life-threatening symptoms may include heart failure, collapse, fainting, and severe breathing difficulties.

Treatment Of Degenerative Valve Disease In Dogs

The treatment of this condition involves a multimodal approach that may include medical therapy, dietary management, and, in some cases, surgery.

Medical therapy is typically the first line of treatment for dogs with degenerative valve disease. The goals of medical therapy are to reduce the workload on the heart, manage clinical signs of heart failure, and slow the progression of the disease. The main types of medications used in the treatment of degenerative valve disease include:

DiureticsThese medications help reduce fluid buildup in the lungs and other tissues, which is a common sign of heart failure. Examples of diuretics commonly used in dogs with degenerative valve disease include furosemide, spironolactone, and torsemide.
ACE inhibitorsThese medications help reduce the workload on the heart by relaxing blood vessels and lowering blood pressure. They can also help slow the progression of the disease. Examples of ACE inhibitors used in dogs with degenerative valve disease include enalapril, benazepril, and ramipril.
Positive inotropesThese medications help increase the strength of the heart’s contractions, which can improve cardiac function and reduce clinical signs of heart failure. Examples of positive inotropes used in dogs with degenerative valve disease include pimobendan and digoxin.
Antiarrhythmic agentsThese medications help control abnormal heart rhythms, which can be a complication of degenerative valve disease. Examples of antiarrhythmic agents used in dogs with degenerative valve disease include sotalol and amiodarone.

In addition to medical therapy, dietary management can also play an essential role in treating degenerative valve disease in dogs. A low-sodium diet can help reduce fluid buildup and lower blood pressure while providing optimal nutrition for dogs with heart disease. In specific cases, surgery may be necessary to treat degenerative valve disease, particularly in cases of severe regurgitation or refractory heart failure. 


Chronic degenerative valve disease requires vigilance and care, and while it can be concerning for pet owners, it is essential to remember that effective treatment options are available. By working closely with their veterinarians, pet owners can develop an in-depth treatment plan that incorporates medical therapy, dietary management, and in some cases, surgery to help manage the clinical signs of heart failure, slow the progression of the disease, and improve the overall quality of life for their furry companions. 

Disclaimer: The content on the site is for educational purposes only, and it does not provide medical advice. The shared information must not be treated as a substitute for or alternative for medical practitioner advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Regarding any concerns about your pet’s health, seeking veterinary guidance is of utmost necessity. Each pet has specific health, fitness & nutrition needs. Do not disregard, avoid or delay pet health-related advice from veterinarians based on reading the information provided on this site.


What is the standard lifespan of a dog with a leaky heart valve?

The typical lifespan of a dog with a leaky heart valve varies depending on various factors, such as the dog’s breed, age, overall health, and the severity of the condition. However, with appropriate treatment, some dogs can live for several years after being diagnosed with a leaky heart valve. It’s crucial for pet owners to work closely with their veterinarians to develop a comprehensive treatment plan that can help manage the condition and improve their furry friend’s quality of life.

In what situations might it be appropriate to consider euthanasia for a dog with heart disease?

Deciding to euthanize a beloved pet with heart disease is a complex and emotional experience for any pet owner. It is crucial to consider factors such as the dog’s quality of life, overall health, and level of pain and suffering. In some cases, euthanasia may be the most humane and compassionate choice to end a pet’s suffering, but the decision should always be made in consultation with a trusted veterinarian and with the pet’s well-being as the top priority.

Which dog breeds are more susceptible to developing mitral valve disease?

Mitral valve disease can affect many dog breeds, but it is most commonly seen in smaller canine breeds, like the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Chihuahua, Miniature Pinscher, Miniature Poodle, and Dachshund.

Is the prevalence of heartworms higher in specific regions of the United States?

Yes, the prevalence of heartworms is higher in certain regions of the United States, particularly in warm and humid areas where mosquitoes are prevalent. The American Heartworm Society has identified the Mississippi River Valley, the Gulf Coast, and areas of the southeastern United States as high-risk areas for heartworm infection in dogs.

At what age do dogs typically develop mitral valve disease?

Mitral valve disease is a progressive condition that can develop in dogs at any age, but it is most commonly diagnosed in dogs over the age of five. However, certain dog breeds, such as the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, may develop mitral valve disease at a younger age. Regular veterinary check-ups and diagnostic testing can help detect the disease early and allow for effective treatment to be implemented.



Alex Schechter

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