Dogs have almost always been a part of my life. My family never went too long in between dogs, and I now have two of them. Nyla, who is about 10 years old, is a miniature Italian greyhound. I got her when I was in seventh grade as an emotional support animal to help with my anxiety. She isn’t trained to be one, so she’s lacking any kind of official certification, but she helps anyway.
Jazzy is a shih tzu mix. We don’t know what he’s mixed with, but he’s a small dog at six pounds, and he’s also around 10 years old. I found him while volunteering at a shelter during highschool. My mom was reluctant to get him due to his age, but I managed to convince her by reminding her that old dogs need homes too.
Jazzy has cataracts, so he tends to walk into walls and doors occasionally, and the glass door in our home is his biggest enemy. When his water bowl is empty, he finds an empty water bottle and drops it at my feet. If there are no bottles to be found, he will stand and bark at the bathtub until someone fulfills his request.
He is the pure definition of a lap dog. When I’m sitting at my desk to do work, he would bark at me until I put something on the ground for him to lay on, so I had to buy him a dog bed to put next to my chair. Any time I’m on my bed, or he thinks I am, he’ll bark at me until I put him up there too. He gets upset if he can’t be in the same room as me, and has never seemed to mind wearing clothes, unlike Nyla.
Although they’re around the same age, Nyla has much more energy than Jazzy. While Nyla is chasing squirrels or rabbits in our backyard, Jazzy prefers to nap in the shade of the open garage. He tends to cough after drinking water, which we attributed to him drinking too quickly.
Approximately a month ago, my dogs were due for their routine shots and heartworm medication. While there, they also got some bloodwork done for a standard checkup. After returning Nyla to me, they kept Jazzy inside while they informed me of the news.
Jazzy has an enlarged heart, as well as fluid around his heart.
I talked to the vet over the phone, muting myself so I could cry while he spoke, and then pulling myself together just long enough to reply when needed. I couldn’t even be in the same room as Jazzy as they gave me the news due to COVID-19. Nyla sat in my passenger seat and tried to lick my arm as my world fell apart.
As it turns out, I was being a little dramatic. Jazzy isn’t pawing at death’s door. It would be more accurate to say that he’s very slowly wandering over to it, which was probably true anyway, given his age.
Jazzy’s diagnosis came with a large vet bill and even larger lifestyle changes. Now, he isn’t allowed to have any sodium at all, which means no more slipping him a small piece of a chicken nugget every so often. He’s eating new, prescription dog food, and he has to take two pills twice daily.
Nyla, if you’re wondering, is healthy as can be, despite her being five pounds overweight.
All of the things that I attributed to his older age — the coughing, the lack of energy — are all symptoms of heart disease in dogs. That wasn’t something I knew, yet I felt like an awful owner for not recognizing it and bringing him in sooner.
So, for the sake of you and your dogs, here are some common symptoms of heart disease.
According to Pet Health Network, symptoms include “... fatigue, reduced willingness to walk or exercise, difficulty breathing, loss of appetite, weight loss, a distended abdomen, trouble sleeping or coughing.” (A distended abdomen is when the dog’s abdomen grows larger.)
Early heart disease is asymptomatic, which means that there won’t be any signs until it progresses to a more fatal stage. Dogs should get yearly checkups to ensure that their heart is still doing well. Heart disease in dogs also can’t be prevented with things like a certain diet or exercise. Pet Health Network says the only heart disease that can be prevented is heartworms, which is why early diagnosis is so important.
There is no cure for it. Surgery would be ineffective, expensive and too risky. Even if there was something that could be done with a surgery, Jazzy’s old age and small weight would put him at too high of a risk of not waking back up due to the anesthesia. The best we can do is keep up his lifestyle changes and take him to the vet every month for checkups.