Is My Dog At Risk of Heart Disease?

I own a six year old Bull Dog bitch. Recently her energy levels seemed to have dropped and she seems to have trouble mounting the stairs and getting on to the sofa. She is out of breath more often than she used to be and is always panting when she walks about.
I know Bull Dogs are prone to heart disease, but my Vet has said that this is a breed trait and that there is nothing out of the ordinary about an older Bull Dog panting a lot. Is there anything I can do to help improve the condition of her heart, through diet, exercise and so on?
Many thanks
Shelly Beauchamp, Buckinghamshire.

Steve Ness replies:

Bulldogs are one of many canine breeds at high risk to acquire heart disease.  Heart disease is any disease affecting the function and/or structure of the heart.  The most common types of heart disease include valvular disease and cardiomyopathy.  Valvular disease, or disease of the heart valves, is primarily a disease of small breed dogs whereas cardiomyopathy, or disease of the heart muscle, is primarily a disease of large breed dogs.  It is very important to detect heart disease early in order to prevent or delay the onset of heart failure. 

Unrecognised and untreated heart disease most often leads to heart failure.  The distinction between heart disease and heart failure is that in heart disease the heart is still able to effectively pump blood and nutrients to the end organs.  In heart failure, the pumping action of the heart is diminished leading to a diminished ability of the heart to supply life-sustaining blood and nutrients to the end organs.  The most common signs of heart disease include cough, lethargy, difficulty breathing and increased panting. 

Also the incidence of heart disease increases with age.  Unfortunately some dogs with underlying heart disease and even heart failure may display no signs at all therefore compounding the difficulty of recognizing the disease at an early stage.  Heart disease and heart failure are best diagnosed with a thorough veterinary exam to include auscultation, or listening to the dog's heart with a stethoscope.  Echocardiography performed by a cardiologist is the universal gold standard in diagnosing heart disease when a cardiac problem is suspected.  Within the past year a blood test has been made available to dogs which can assist the veterinarian in detecting heart disease earlier.  In Europe the blood test is known as "Vetsign Canine CardioSCREEN" and in the U.S. is called "Canine CardioCare". 

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The test measures levels of a cardiac hormone known as NT-proBNP.  NT-proBNP stands for N-terminal pro brain natriuretic peptide.  This hormone is elevated in the setting of heart disease and may be present even before the affected dog begins to display signs of heart disease.  The blood test when used in conjunction with a veterinary exam will help to identify more dogs at an earlier stage in the disease process that need to be referred to a cardiologist for a diagnostic work-up.  To date there are 4 published clinical studies outlining the clinical utility of a blood based BNP test in dogs. 

These studies can be accessed by visiting Like any canine disease, the earlier the disease can be detected the better the outcome for the animal.  In summary, I would recommend ruling out heart disease as a cause of your 6 year old bull dog's shortness of breath.  As the dog's owner you clearly know what is normal and abnormal behaviour and activity for your dog. 

Steve Ness is a Physician at the Veterinary Diagnostics Institute (VDxI) in American. His area of expertise is Veterinary diagnostic tests (assays),  canine heart disease and heart failure. He trained as a human physician for 8 years prior to entering the veterinary market. Steve went on to Co-found Veterinary Diagnostics Institute (VDxI), a specialty veterinary reference laboratory.  VDxI brings to the veterinary market diagnostic tests which are considered the standard of care on the human side. 

This article comes from the K9 Magazine Animal Advisory Panel – if you'd like access to one of K9 Magazine health and behaviour experts, click here.

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Jasmine Kleine

Jasmine Kleine

Jasmine Kleine is the the online editor at She is an experienced dog owner and professional writer who lives with her two beloved dogs, Mabel and Charlie.


  1. continued strain put on the heart and lungs due to being a brachycephalic. Most bulldogs have hypoplastic tracheas. It’s so sad. Weight loss would definitely help. The response from her vet annoys me. So it’s “normal” for a bulldog. Actually it’s abnormal for a dog. Send the dog to a specialist. Probably has elongated soft palate, stenotic nares etc etc. 6 is not “old”. Or does her vet think elongated soft palate and stenotic nares are “normal”? One of my vets said Olive’s nares were “normal for a pug”. Sure he wouldn’t have said that if she was a labrador.

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