Bulldog Heart Conditions



In the heart, blood flows from the right ventricle through the pulmonic valve into the pulmonary artery and to the lungs. With pulmonic stenosis, there is partial obstruction of normal blood flow, most commonly due to a malformation of the pulmonic valve (“pulmonic valve dysplasia”). However, the abnormality may be immediately above or below the valve as well. The effect of this partial obstruction is to force the heart to work harder to pump blood to the lungs. The extent to which a bulldog will be affected depends on the degree of narrowing (stenosis) of the valve area. With severe stenosis the bulldog will likely develop congestive heart failure due to the increased workload of the heart.


Tetralogy of Fallot

Tetralogy of Fallot is a relatively uncommon but serious combination of defects that are the result of abnormal development in the embryo during the formation of the heart and great blood vessels. As the name implies, Tetralogy of Fallot consists of 4 defects. These are pulmonic stenosis, ventricular septal defect, overriding aorta and right ventricular hypertrophy secondary to the pulmonic stenosis. Evidence suggests that these defects are the result of varying degrees of abnormality in a single developmental process – the growth and fusion of the conotruncal septum. It is possible that pulmonic stenosis or a ventricular septal defect, both of which occur independently, may be less severe manifestations of the same genetic defect. In pulmonic stenosis, there is partial obstruction of blood flow from the right side of the heart through the pulmonic valve. Because of the obstruction, the right side of the heart has to work harder to pump blood to the lungs. This causes an increase in the mass of the heart muscle, or right ventricular hypertrophy, one of the hallmarks of this disorder.

A ventricular septal defect is a defect or hole in the muscular wall of the heart (the septum) that separates the right and left ventricles. In an overriding aorta, rather than the aorta being attached to the left ventricle, it is between the left and right ventricles. This allows some of the blood from the right ventricle, which is not oxygenated, to be pumped out to the body. With right ventricular hypertrophy, the right ventricle thickens because the heart has to pump harder than it should to move blood through the narrowed pulmonary valve. The result of the defects that make up the Tetralogy of Fallot is that poorly oxygenated blood is delivered to the body. This causes general cyanosis or a grey tone to tissues that would normally be pink. Tetralogy of Fallot is the most common cyanotic heart defect.


Aortic stenosis

In aortic stenosis, there is a partial obstruction to the flow of blood as it leaves the left ventricle through the aorta. The obstruction ranges from small nodules to a fibrous band, most commonly just below the aortic valve (“subvalvular aortic stenosis”). Due to the obstruction, the heart must work harder to pump out an adequate blood volume. Clinical signs and long-term outcome depend on the degree of narrowing, or stenosis.


Mitral valve disease

The heart consists of 4 chambers – 2 atria and 2 ventricles. The atrioventricular (AV) valves ensure that the blood flows from the atria to the ventricles when the heart beats. A defect in the mitral valve (the left atrioventricular valve) causes backflow of blood into the left atrium, or mitral regurgitation. Less commonly, a narrowing or stenosis of the valve can be identified. Because of the leaky valve, the heart is less efficient at pumping blood to the body. Mitral valve insufficiency is the most common acquired cardiac disease in older bulldogs, affecting over one third of bulldogs greater than 10 years of age. In some breeds however, mitral insufficiency develops at a much younger age, due to an inherited predisposition for this disorder. In some breeds, abnormal development (dysplasia) of the valve has been identified in the embryo.


Patent ductus arteriosus (PDA)

The ductus arteriosus is a blood vessel that connects the two main arteries of the body – the aorta and the pulmonary artery. This blood vessel is normal in the fetus, but shortly after birth, it should close. When the ductus arteriosus remains open or patent after birth, this abnormal communication between the aorta and pulmonary artery passes extra volumes of blood into the lungs. The condition is typically identified in puppies during a routine veterinary visit for vaccinations. Continual blood flow through the PDA into the lungs produces a continuous (machinery) heart murmur.


Ventricular septal defect (VSD)

A ventricular septal defect is a hole (or defect) in the muscular wall of the heart (the septum) that separates the right and left ventricles. Before birth, the heart starts out as a single tube, which gradually differentiates into 4 chambers during embryological development. Abnormalities can arise at several steps in the process, resulting in defects in the muscular walls that normally separate the heart into the right and left atria, and the right and left ventricles. The result is abnormal blood flow in the heart with varying effects in the bulldog, depending on the size and location of the defect.


Heart Murmur

Detection of a heart murmur by a veterinarian is not an uncommon occurrence. Many murmurs are functional and benign. Some are indicative of underlying heart defects of diseases. Functional murmurs may be due to high blood volume and turbulence in bulldog puppies, infection or fever, or even excitement. If the murmur is loud, accompanied by vibration, abnormal breathing/color or fainting, or abnormal pulses it should be investigated further. Young bulldogs are primarily at increased risk of two significant heart defects, Pulmonic Stenosis and Ventral Septal Defect, although others may occur. Older bulldogs may be at risk of developing cardiac enlargement, cardiac myopathies and congestive heat failure. Because of the propensity of the breed to have murmurs caused by congenital defect, bulldog puppies should be screened during routine vet visits and any murmur definitively


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