Dog Health & Care

Pulmonary Hypertension in Dogs and Humans

Pulmonary hypertension in dogs is a severe lung disease. Originally a human disease, the lung disease was found in dogs at a Michigan State University study. Other diseases found in dogs and humans are diabetes and cancer

“Our is the first to document the existence of pulmonary veno-occlusive disease, or PVOD, in dogs,” said Kurt Williams, the lead author of the study and an expert in respiratory pathology in MSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “PVOD is considered one of the most severe forms of pulmonary hypertension.”

pulmonary hypertension in dogs
Kurt Williams, an expert in respiratory pathology in MSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine, has discovered a rare, severe form of pulmonary hypertension in dogs. Photo: G.L. Kohuth of Michigan State University.

With the study published in the Veterinary Pathology Journal, there are few treatments that are effective for PVOD. The best choice so far is a lung transplant. Expert Kurt Williams says that there may be a possibility that there could be more cases of canine pulmonary hypertension than that of the human type. Further studies will help determine.

What is pulmonary hypertension in dogs?

Pulmonary hypertension in dogs (a higher than normal blood pressure within the lungs) was at one time pretty rare. However, it is now being diagnosed more and more with increasing frequency. Dogs are said to have a disease of their heart valves if they are able to develop pulmonary hypertension.

Pulmonary hypertension is a lung disease where abnormal blood vessels develop in dogs or humans. This makes it difficult for the heart to push blood through the body. It also makes it difficult for oxygen to reach the rest of the body. The lungs’ small veins become blocked, increasing pressure in the blood vessels. It eventually will cause heart failure. The most popular secondary condition is heartworms.

Without treatment, a dog diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension will die within days. With treatment (sildenafil ((Viagra)), they could survive for approximately three months. Humans with the same diagnosis can live up to two years. The reason for this difference in survival is that most dogs have such subtle changes in their health as they progress, by the time they see the vet they have little time left.

How to diagnosis pulmonary hypertension in dogs

Dogs who are thought to have canine pulmonary hypertension have the following symptoms:

  • Abnormal heart murmur and lung sounds
  • Blue tinge to the mucous membranes
  • Coughing
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Fainting
  • Faster rates of breathing
  • Fluid build-up in the abdomen
  • Loss of appetite
  • Respiratory distress

Most veterinarians diagnosis pulmonary hypertension in dogs with an echocardiogram or an ultrasound of the heart to look for underlying causes.  Of course, the primary reason is that heart disease is the leading cause of the lung disease. The affected dog will also require a full workup. This includes blood tests, tests for heartworms, a urinalysis, and chest x-rays. If the dog is being treated for heartworm, affected dogs will need to receive echo’s every six months.

The MSU study and its findings are important for human medicine because pulmonary hypertension in dogs will now serve as a model for human PVOD.

“It’s cases like this that help to remind us how important veterinary medicine is to medicine in general,” Kurt Williams said. “Our colleagues in the human medical community are becoming much more aware of the many diseases shared by our respective patients and how together we can learn from each other

For more information on dog diseases, read the Canine Disease Research Newsletter



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