Holiday shopping is in full gear and some people are planning on a puppy to join their family or that of a loved one as an extra special holiday gift and celebration this year.

What most people don’t realize is that their new holiday puppy may have one of several common heart conditions.  Puppy owners should consider having their new pet screened for a heart murmur which could indicate that a PDA (patent ductus arteriosus), Subaortic Stenosis (SAS), Pulmonic Stenosis (PS) or a VSD (ventricular septal defect) are present.  Of course there are less common congenital heart defects that could be detected as well, but these are the most common conditions found in puppies.

PDAs are common in many breeds (such as Newfoundland, Miniature Poodle, English Springer Spaniel, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, and German Shepherd).  This defect can be devastating if left undetected. Thankfully, its correctable with non-invasive techniques.

SAS is another common congenital heart condition in dogs and when severe, carries a heartbreaking diagnosis.  Karen Sanderson, DVM, MS, Diplomate ACVIM (Cardiology) says it’s a complex genetic problem most often seen in German Shepherds, Boxers, Newfoundlands, Rottweilers, and Golden Retrievers.  It’s an inherited heart condition that causes the heart to develop abnormally. As the puppy grows, its heart works harder due to narrowing of the walls within. Eventually, when the disease is severe, the heart begins to fail.  Dogs that are mildly or moderately affected have a good prognosis.

Pulmonary Stenosis (PS) is a defect of the pulmonic valve where it opens incompletely when the heart beats.  This disease is seen commonly in small breed dogs but also occasionally in Boxers and Samoyeds.  When severe, non-invasive catheterization is recommended to alleviate the stenosis.  The prognosis is typically excellent if the defect is mild or treated.

Finally, VSDs are commonly seen but are typically quite small and do not cause any problems.  A VSD is a hole in the septum (the wall that divides the right ventricle from the left ventricle in the heart).

If purchase or receive a puppy this holiday season, Dr. Sanderson recommends that you bring it it in for an exam to see if it has any of these heart conditions. A veterinary cardiologist can listen for a heart murmur, which can be one of the signs of a heart defect. If a puppy still has a murmur at the age of 6 months, a more serious condition may be present.  A specialist can distinguish between a murmur that sounds like a PDA, SAS, PS or VSD versus other common heart defects that may be present.

If a murmur is heard, Dr. Sanderson says that there are tests that a veterinary cardiologist may perform to evaluate your puppy, including:

  • Ultrasound/Echocardiography
  • X-ray
  • EKG

Treatment choices vary but can include medications, surgery or a balloon can be inserted into the heart; similar to what is done with people and angioplasties. Like any other serious condition, early detection is important and can have a significant impact on your puppy’s health and prognosis.

Finally, the most important reason it’s critical for you to be aware of SAS and take action with your new puppy is that most dogs with the condition do not live more than three years without some kind of treatment.  For more information on Dr. Sanderson and veterinary cardiology, go to