Hardening and Blockage of the Arteries in Dogs

By PetMD Editorial on Jun. 10, 2009

Atherosclerosis in Dogs

Atherosclerosis is a condition in which lipids (the oily substance that is part of the cell structure), fatty materials, such as cholesterol, and calcium collect along the walls of the arteries (blood vessels that carry oxygen-enriched blood). This buildup is referred to as plaque, and over time results in loss of elasticity, and a narrowing of the lumen (the inner space) of the affected arteries. Over time the deposited fatty material thickens, hardens, and ultimately blocks the arteries, or, it may rupture, causing blood clots to form and travel to other parts of the body. Clots in the arteries of the legs may result in trouble with walking. Generally this condition is uncommon in dogs but has been reported in certain breeds, including the Doberman pinscher, poodle, miniature schnauzer, and Labrador.

Risk factors for this disease include age, dogs older than nine years old are at higher risk, and gender. In this case, the male dogs are at higher risk for developing atherosclerosis. The presence of diabetes also plays an important role in the development of atherosclerosis.

Symptoms and Types

Following are some of the symptoms related to atherosclerosis in dogs:

  • Poor appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Difficult breathing
  • Fainting
  • Generalized weakness
  • Diarrhea
  • Blindness
  • Circling
  • Disorientation
  • Difficulty with walking – may be concurrent with pain in legs
  • Heart attack


You will need to provide a thorough history of your dog's health leading up to the onset of symptoms. Your veterinarian will conduct a blood profile, including a chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, and a urinalysis. For the diagnosis of atherosclerosis other more specific tests may be required depending upon the underlying cause of atherosclerosis. Radiography and ultrasound imaging are also very useful diagnostic tools that can be used to evaluate the heart, liver and other organs. Electrocardiography (ECG) can be used to assess the structure and functional parameters of the heart.


After careful investigations, the underlying cause of the atherosclerosis will be determined by your veterinarian. It is important to treat both the atherosclerosis and the underlying cause for a better outcome. High cholesterol levels play an important role in the development of atherosclerosis, so your dog may need cholesterol-lowering drugs. Similarly if your dog is diabetic, its condition must be managed and treated to avoid further complications. Treatment for atherosclerosis is highly individualistic and varies considerably in different patients.

Living and Management

Atherosclerosis is uncommon in dogs but when it does occur it poses a great threat to the health of your pet. A high level of commitment will be required from you in the long-term treatment of your dog. Exercising your dog regularly, managing its diet and special meal preparations, following a weight loss program if your dog is overweight, dispensing medication at the prescribed times, and visits to your veterinarian for follow-ups and progress checks will require time and commitment on your side.

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