As we come to the end of this course on Mitral Valve Disease (MMVD) in dogs, we hope you are now feeling more informed and understand how you can help your pet with their condition. Your vet should be your first point of contact regarding your dog’s health or any financial concerns about the cost of care, but this resource is always available for you to flick back through as well. Before we conclude, we will go over some of the key points again to ensure you feel confident in what you have learned.
The pump-like action of the heart forces blood around the body. However, sometimes the flow through the heart is disrupted due to a leaky one-way valve, a hole in the heart, a narrowing of an artery or vein, or anaemia. When this happens the blood becomes turbulent, leading to abnormal ‘whooshing’ sounds known as heart murmurs. The loudness and type of murmur can tell us a lot, but not the exact cause, so your dog will need further investigations.
MVD is a degenerative condition that affects the mitral valve in the heart. This valve becomes progressively thickened and irregular so that it no longer forms a tight seal when it closes. This leads to some of your dog’s blood travelling the wrong way on its journey through the heart. This ‘regurgitation’ can cause issues over time. The blood becomes backed up, putting abnormal pressure on the heart and causing leakage of fluid into the lungs.
This process is known as congestive heart failure and can cause your dog to develop breathing issues, exercise intolerance, a reduced appetite, weight loss and even collapse.
An examination of your pet will usually reveal a heart murmur, but your vet will need to run some tests to confirm the cause of this murmur before making a definitive diagnosis. They will usually suggest an echocardiogram (ultrasound scan of the heart) and chest X-rays. Blood tests are also required as a general health screen, particularly if your dog needs to go on long-term medication for their heart.
There is no cure for MVD and sadly this condition will continue to worsen over time. However, the good news is that there are medications that can help slow this progression and reduce the clinical signs associated with heart failure. Your dog will need to be on this medication for the rest of their life which will mean regular trips to the vet for monitoring and dosage adjustments, as required. Diet and weight management is also helpful in some cases.
As this condition cannot be cured, the disease will progress into congestive heart failure at some point, over a period of months to years.
It all depends on when in the timeline of the disease your pet is first diagnosed. A routine physical examination may pick up a murmur early on in the disease for some dogs, whereas other pets may not present to the vet until they are already in heart failure (with a cough, breathing issues or collapse). This means the prognosis for each dog is variable. Some elderly dogs can succumb to other diseases first, unrelated to their heart. Appropriate veterinary care and treatment will help to increase your dog’s longevity.
An MVD diagnosis can be especially scary if you have financial concerns, as your dog is likely to need regular check-ups and medication for the rest of their life. Pimobendan (Vetmedin) is the first medication your dog will usually start – this costs £1-5 per day, depending on your dog’s size. As your dog’s condition progresses, other medications will need to be added, increasing the cost. Check-ups can also be costly.
Firstly, talk to your vet at the earliest opportunity. They can help keep costs down so you have more money for treatment. For example, although all the diagnostic tests listed are useful in their own way and should all be done if money is no object, your vet might be able to prescribe treatment for your dog with fewer tests if costs are a concern. Similarly, although your vet might recommend a check-up and blood tests every 3 months, they might be able to reduce the blood test frequency to every 6 months, depending on your pet’s condition. The sooner you make your financial concerns known to your vet, the quicker they can help find a way to keep your costs to a minimum.
If you have pet insurance, they will usually cover MVD diagnosis and medications, as long as your insurance was in place before a heart murmur was noted and you haven’t reached a money or time limit. Check your insurance documents for any exclusions, and call them if you need them to explain anything.
Well done for completing this course, we hope it has proved helpful. As a committed pet owner, you should now be in the best possible place to care for your dog and successfully manage their heart disease. Don’t forget we also have courses on many other health conditions available to you too, should you need them. We wish you and your dog all the very best.
Lastly, we’d love for you to give us any feedback (good and bad!) on our ‘Mitral Valve Disease’ course. Have you got questions that weren’t answered? Do you want to request an addition? If you have tips or advice for other families going through this health condition, you can leave them here too. Our vets will review them for safety and periodically add them to the course.
Please note this form should not be used to submit questions related to individual pets or ask for medical advice – you should contact your own vet for that.