My 10-year-old female Labrador Retriever has been healthy her entire life, but she recently starting having fainting spells when she encounters other dogs. She also has an occasional dry cough. I can’t determine if she is blacking out, having a panic attack or seizing, and each “episode” only lasts a few seconds. Are these signs symptomatic of a particular disease?
I am very sorry to hear that your Labrador is having difficulties. There are a few diseases that might explain her condition. Among the most likely would be either a heart condition or neurological condition.
The episodes you are describing could be a “syncopal collapse,” which is fainting due to the heart not being able to keep up with the body’s needs. This would explain the occasional cough as well as the difficulties that are occurring during times of excitement (such as when your dog encounters other dogs). A syncopal collapse may be caused by one of two diseases that I would be suspicious of in an older patient such as your Lab:
- Dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition where the heart muscle becomes weak and "flabby" over time. This condition makes it harder for the heart to keep up with the rest of the body.
- Pericardial effusion, a condition where fluid invades and accumulates in the membrane surrounding the heart.
Your veterinarian can perform a cardiac ultrasound to diagnose these diseases.
The episodes could also be neurological in nature, such as a seizure-like episode brought about by excitement. By nature, neurological diseases are more difficult to diagnose than heart conditions. In an older dog, seizures could be related to infection, immune system malfunction or in some cases cancer. Your veterinarian may wish to perform a MRI or CT scan to help diagnose a neurological condition.
Based on your description of your dog’s seizures and her cough, I suspect that she most likely has a heart condition. There are medications that can certainly help her and although you do not want to put her through a battery of testing, I would encourage you to consider a cardiac ultrasound and chest radiographs. Depending on what your veterinarian finds, treatment may be available to help improve her quality of life as well as extend the length of her life.
This question was answered by Dr. Robert J. Krapfl, director of Gentle Doctor Animal Hospital in Omaha, Nebraska.