Heart to Heart: Know the Signs of Degenerative Valve Disease (DVD) in Dogs

What Is Degenerative Valve Disease (DVD)?

Degenerative Valve Disease (DVD) refers to a noninfectious degeneration of the cardiac valves. In dogs and cats, the most commonly affected valve is the mitral valve (on the left side of the heart), followed by the tricuspid valve (on the right side of the heart).

For reasons doctors don’t completely understand, the mitral or tricuspid valve leaflets can become abnormally thickened. These, and other changes to the valves, impede an animal’s ability to form a tight seal between the atrium of the heart and the ventricle – in other words, they begin to leak. As a result, some of the blood in the ventricle flows back through the leaky valve instead of moving forward.

What Animals Are Affected by DVD?

Degenerative valve disease accounts for about 75% of cardiovascular disease in dogs. The disease is age and breed related, with older, small-breed dogs being more commonly affected. There is also a slight predisposition for the disease among male dogs.

Miniature Poodles, Cocker Spaniels, Miniature Schnauzers and Dachshunds are the most commonly affected breeds. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels tend to develop DVD earlier in life with a faster progression than the other small breeds. Terrier breeds are also commonly seen with DVD. Larger breeds are also affected by this disease, although much less often. Degenerative valve disease is uncommon in cats.

How Does DVD Affect My Dog?

The outcome of DVD in dogs depends on the severity of the condition; many dogs develop only mild and slowly progressive valvular lesions that have no effect on the animal’s quality of life. However, if the condition is severe, it can become fatal.

The clinical signs of congestive heart failure depend on which valve of the dog’s heart is affected. Symptoms of left-sided congestive heart failure due to DVD include coughing, shortness of breath and rapid breathing. The decrease in effective circulation of blood may also cause lethargy, exercise intolerance, lack of appetite or weight loss. Dogs with right-sided congestive heart failure tend to develop a grossly distended abdomen. This can cause some discomfort, especially when lying down, and can cause a shortness of breath, especially when sleeping or resting.

How is the Valve Disease Treated?

Treatment of DVD centers on eliminating signs of congestive heart failure. For left-sided congestive heart failure, your vet may prescribe medication. For right-sided congestive heart failure (fluid in the abdomen), repeated physical removal by your veterinarian is often the best option.

Is There Surgery to Correct DVD?

In human medicine, valve replacement or repair is a common surgical procedure. Unfortunately, bypass surgery is difficult to perform in small animals and can cost upwards of $40,000. If you wish to pursue a surgical solution to DVD, you should discuss it with your veterinarian.

What Should I Monitor at Home?

It is important that you monitor your pet’s overall attitude and any change in behavior. It may also be helpful for you to keep a record of your pet’s respiratory rate (number of breaths per minute) so you will notice increases or changes from normal breathing. Normal dogs usually have a breathing rate of one breath every two to three seconds (20-30 breaths per minute). If breathing rates are much higher than this, or you notice any of the following signs, you should contact your primary care veterinarian immediately:

  • Heavy, labored or rapid breathing
  • Increased coughing
  • Fainting spells
  • Restlessness
  • Anorexia (poor appetite)

To learn more about Degenerative Valve Disease, download the full version of this article.