The American Staffordshire Terrier is not among the unhealthiest of breeds, but it does unfortunately suffer from some serious genetic conditions; some of these conditions were not recognized to affect the breed in a serious manner until recently. For example, more and more reports have been coming in of American Staffordshire Terriers (also called Amstaffs) suffering from a variety of problems classified under heart disease, specifically congenital heart disease. Congenital heart disease, or CHD, is a heart condition that is present when the pup is born; it is different from Acquired Heart disease, which is a heart condition that develops later in a dog's life. CHD is rare, but it can result in serious heart failure.
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Heart failure is essentially the condition in which the heart is unable to meet the body's need for blood because it is impeded from pumping normally. This problem in pumping means that there may be a backup of blood in any number of organs, including the lungs or even the heart itself. There may be constriction of blood vessels and all too often, there is a rise in blood pressure. Because of this pressure on the blood in the vessels, fluid often leaks out and accumulates in tissues, cavities and organs; the lungs can become congested, for example, as can the liver. The signs of heart failure may be difficult to notice, especially at the onset. Dogs that are not too active or that cough after exercising or when excited may be experiencing the early signs of heart failure; subsequently, they may begin to breathe rapidly, they may lose weight, they may faint and their abdomen may swell. At times, congenital heart disease may cause turbulence in the flow of blood through the heart and your veterinarian may be able to detect turbulence noises with a stethoscope.
As mentioned, there are a variety of conditions that can be considered congenital heart disease. One of these is Patent Ductus Arteriosus, in which a small blood vessel connecting two major arteries does not close after birth. This small blood vessel has a very important function during fetal development; it bypasses the lungs that are not yet functional and therefore not yet capable of supplying oxygen to the blood. When it stays open after birth, though, it interferes with normal blood circulation. There is also the condition called Pulmonic Stenosis, in which blood from the right side of the heart is not able to properly flow to the lungs. Aortic Stenosis is probably the most common canine congenital heart defect and occurs when blood from the left side of the heart cannot properly flow to the rest of the body.
The Hole in the Heart condition, medically referred to as Ventricular Septal Defect, occurs when a passage between the two pumping chambers of the heart fails to close after birth. Unfortunately, there are a number of other congenital defects that affect Amstaffs and that may lead to a dog's untimely death. If you suspect any heart problems in your dog, you should immediately bring him to the vet; you should be aware of the fact, though, that many dogs often die without having displayed any signs of heart problems. Regular checkups for your Amstaff are highly recommended.
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