Heart Arrhythmia in Canines


"Canine heart arrhythmia has multiple causes including illness, hormones, electrolyte imbalance or can be of unknown cause such as a short circuit in the heart. Treatment options include many of the heart medications developed for humans and natural supplements."


There are many kinds and causes of heart arrhythmia in dogs. The heart is controlled by an electrical system made up of circuits much like the electrical system in your home. If the electrical system has a short circuit or if the electrical current is blocked, your dog's heartbeat can change in unexpected ways and at unpredictable times. If the heart is not beating normally it is called an irregular heartbeat. Many times your Veterinarian will not be able to determine the cause of canine irregular heart arrhythmia.

There are also several physiological problems that may cause temporary heart arrhythmia. Once the root source is treated, the arrhythmia should be cured. Triggers of heart arrhythmia canine include, fever, pain, lung disease, gastrointestinal system disease, and hormonal or electrolyte imbalance.

Bradycardia (Slow Heartbeat) in Dogs

A common form of canine heart arrhythmia is called Bradycardia, or a slower than normal heartbeat. A slower heartbeat means there is a slower blood flow that reduces the amount of oxygen in your dog's body. With less oxygen your dog will act tired. The weakness will increase as the condition worsens. Less oxygen also affects the brain causing your dog to act dizzy or sometimes confused. The reduced levels of oxygen could also lead to fainting and collapse.

This condition is diagnosed if a large dog's heartbeat at rest is below 60 beats per minute and in a small dog the heartbeat is less than 80 beats per minute. This disease is sometimes attributed to and misdiagnosed as a dog getting older instead of an issue with their heartbeat.

Tachycardia (Racing Heartbeat) In Dogs

This condition is usually detected by your Veterinarian during a normal check-up as your dog may not show any symptoms. In more severe cases your dog could also appear weak and lethargic. If the heartbeat remains high for a long period of time, your dog could suffer from heart tissue damage and heart failure due to fluid build-up in the lungs.

Diagnosis of Canine Heart Arrhythmia

In addition to listening to your dog's heart rate, your veterinarian will probably do an electrocardiogram to measure the electric patterns in the heart.

Since the frequency and time of day that your dog experiences heart arrhythmia are unpredictable, your veterinarian may have your dog wear a device that records its heartbeat. Similar to a human heart monitor, your dog will wear the device for a 24 hour period. The veterinarian will then be able to study the pattern of arrhythmia.

For example in a minor case, the arrhythmia may only last for short periods of time vs. a more severe case where the pattern lasts the entire period. Your doctor will also determine what percentage of time your dog has the arrhythmia. Cases where the heart eventually regulates itself are less severe than those where the arrhythmia lasts a long period of time.

Treating Canine Heart Arrhythmia

Your veterinarian will use one or more drugs designed to regulate the heart muscle and the amount of liquid that may build up around the heart. Drug choices include beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, digoxin, or atropine.

There is a new treatment for canine heart arrhythmia called Electrophysiology Study and Radio frequency Catheter Ablation. This can be a cure for heartbeat problems and is a surgical procedure. Dogs that have the procedure done can often go off other heart medicines.

Another expensive approach is the use of a canine pacemaker. This treatment can cost more than $1000 and works by creating a spark which stimulates a normal heartbeat.

Natural Supplements for Canine Heart Problems

Heart supplements have been used for hundreds of years in humans to complement prescription medicine. These same herbs have shown similar positive effects on canine heart health. While they may not directly address Arrhythmia, these supplements could be of help.

  • Crateagus oxycantha (Hawthorn): Hawthorn dilates blood vessels, increasing the heart's energy supply and improving its pumping ability. It does this by blocking the action of a blood constricting enzyme called ACE (angiotensin-converting enzyme). The anti-oxidant properties of hawthorn protect against damage caused by plaque build-up in the coronary arteries.
  • Arnica montana (D3): Effective for the treatment of senile heart, angina, or coronary artery disease as well as for internal healing after surgery.
  • Kalium Phosphate (C6) (Kali. phos.): Tissue salt that with regular use can help to alleviate heart palpitations, irregular heart beat, high blood pressure and dizziness and promote healthy blood flow to the brain. It is also associated with relief of anxiety and emotional tension associated with heart conditions.
  • Calcium fluoride (C6) (Calc. flour.): A second biochemic tissue salt which improves strength, flexibility and elasticity of all body tissue, including the veins and arteries of the circulatory system.

A good source for more information on heart supplements is PetAlive Heart and Circulation Tonic.

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