Tachycardia (Rapid Heart Rate) In Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, And Treatments

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Tachycardia in dogs is, simply put, an abnormally rapid heart rate. A normal heart rate in dogs is determined mostly by size, with 70 to 120 beats per minute (bpm) being average for most dogs. Smaller dogs have higher heart rates than larger dogs. Tachycardia is usually characterized by heart rates greater than 140 bpm in large dogs, 160 bpm in medium sized dogs, 180 bpm in small dogs, or 220 bpm in puppies. There are three types of tachycardia in dogs: atrial tachycardia, ventricular tachycardia, and sinus tachycardia. These refer to the location in the heart where the abnormality or arrhythmia originates, and each has different causes and possible complications, including heart failure or death. Here is what you should know about symptoms, causes, and treatment for tachycardia in dogs.

Symptoms Of Tachycardia In Dogs

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Tachycardia can present no clinical symptoms in dogs, especially if there isn’t an underlying disease. Also, a variety of stresses and other factors can cause a dog’s heart rate to increase. Usually this increase fades with time, but when an increased heart rate persists, it is a problem and requires veterinary treatment. Here are some symptoms of tachycardia you may notice in dogs.

  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or feeling lightheaded
  • Confusion
  • Sudden weakness
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Chest pain from angina
  • Fainting or collapse
  • Fever
  • Blood clots
  • Heart attack

In some cases, the condition can lead to heart failure or death, sometimes very suddenly. This is especially a risk with ventricular tachycardia, which is why it is important to seek veterinary care.

Causes Of Tachycardia In Dogs

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The different types of tachycardia in dogs have different causes. Sinus tachycardia can occur in response to exercise, excitement, stress, pain, or diseases and other conditions. It can be a normal physiological response and is typically nothing to worry about.

Atrial tachycardia usually happens in response to heart disease or systemic disease. It is important that you ask your veterinarian to test for these conditions and treat them accordingly.

Ventricular tachycardia is the most serious, though it can be manageable with proper treatment. It can be caused by many factors, including the following.

  • Defect from birth
  • Heart disease
  • Anemia
  • Lung disease
  • Sepsis
  • Dehydration
  • Tumor
  • Myocarditis
  • Pancreatitis
  • Gastrointestinal disease
  • Drug overdose
  • Congestive heart failure

Dogs that are on thyroid medication, have other heart conditions, suffer from inflammation, or are pregnant are at greater risk for developing tachycardia.

Treatments For Tachycardia In Dogs

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Treatment for tachycardia often depends on whether there is an underlying condition causing the arrhythmia. If that is the case, your veterinarian will develop a treatment plan to address those issues.

The goal of tachycardia treatment in dogs is to correct the arrhythmia and return the heart rate to normal. In severe cases, this might require a defibrillator. Most of the time tachycardia will require medication, such as lidocaine and sotalol.

Another technique is the vagal maneuver, which involves ocular or carotid sinus pressure to stimulate the vagal nerve, which slows heart rate. Electrical cardioversion is another procedure that introduces an electric shock to the heart, restoring heart rate. This is used when medication and the vagal maneuver fail.

In more extreme cases where all else fails, a dog may need a pacemaker implanted that delivers an electrical shock after detecting abnormal heart rate. Open-heart surgery is also an option when others do not work.

Has your dog ever suffered from tachycardia? How did you treat it? Let us know in the comments below!