Heart Disease in Dogs: Tricuspid Valve Disease

The tricuspid valve separates the right ventricle from the right atrium. Click here to learn aboutHeart Disease in Dogs: Tricuspid Valve Disease normal heart functioning of the dog.

The same process that causes mitral valve disease  also causes the degeneration, thickening and eventually inability to tightly seal the tricuspid valve when it is closed. This leads to regurgitation (leakage) back through the valve. Tricuspid valve commonly becomes diseased later in the course of the disease and usually less severely than the mitral valve.

Certain breeds of dogs (most commonly labrador retrievers) are occasionally born with tricuspid valve dysplasia. Acquired tricuspid valve disease however occurs later in life and is a degenerative process.

Clinical Signs of Tricuspid Valve Disease in the Dog

The tricuspid valve may become so thickened and irregular that it allows progressively a larger and larger amount of blood to regurgitate back into the right atrium. This eventually creates increased pressure in the right atrium. Up stream from the right atrium are the great veins that bring blood back from the entire body. The clinical sign of tricuspid valve disease in the dog is an accumulation of watery fluid in the abdomen called ascites. If your pet has this severity of tricuspid valve disease it is then called right heart failure.

Dogs with right heart failure from acquired tricuspid valve disease can show signs of weakness, lethargy, decreased appetite, and sometimes gastrointestinal upset. Your pet may act restless and uncomfortable from distension of the abdomen when the ascites causes the abdomen to be severely distended.

Diagnosis of Tricuspid Valve Disease in the Dog

Your veterinarian will listen to your pet’s heart with a stethoscope  (auscultation) and may hear a murmur on the right side of the chest that is suggestive of a leaking tricuspid valve. This finding alone does not diagnose tricuspid valve disease in the dog as the much more common mitral valve regurgitation can produce a murmur that radiates from the left to the right side of the chest.

Chest X Rays (radiographs) may show that your pet may have an enlarged right heart and occasional fluid accumulation in the chest cavity between the lungs and the chest wall (thoracic effusion).

Definitive diagnosis of Tricuspid valve disease in the dog requires an ultrasound test of the heart called an echocardiogram. Here is a video of tricuspid valve regurgitation in the dog.

Treatment of Tricuspid Valve Disease in the Dog

Treatment of Tricuspid valve disease in your pet is only necessary when fluid begins to accumulate in the chest or abdomen. Typically however mitral valve disease is much more severe and requires treatment prior to the time your pet develops right heart failure from tricuspid valve disease.

Medications used to treat left heart failure from mitral valve disease are used to treat your pet with right heart failure from tricuspid valve disease. However, removal of fluid with diuretics and other medications is often resistant to treatment even with high levels of medications.

Removal of fluid from the chest with a needle (thoracocentesis) or from the abdomen (abdominocentesis) can be very effective in decreasing the clinical signs of right heart failure in your pet. Though this may sound painful to your pet it is often accomplished with very minimal discomfort. Drainage of fluid from these cavities can be repeated frequently extending your pet’s comfortable life for as long as possible.

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Dr Roger Johnson

Roger K. Johnson, DVM, Diplomate ACVIM (internal medicine) is a board- certified veterinary internal medicine specialist. His professional interests include cardiology as well as using advanced diagnostics to help his patients. His particular favorites include echocardiography, abdominal ultrasonography, and endoscopy.

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