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Heart (Aortic) Blood Clot in Dogs

Aortic Thromboembolism in Dogs

Aortic thromboembolism, also known as saddle thrombus, is a prevalent heart condition in dogs. It occurs when a blood clot becomes dislodged within the aorta, leading to the disruption of blood flow to tissues served by that portion of the aorta. The aorta, being the largest artery in the body, is responsible for distributing oxygenated blood to various parts of the body, including the legs, kidneys, intestines, and brain. Hence, complications stemming from issues in the aorta can pose significant risks. Compared to cats, aortic thromboembolism is less common in dogs.

Symptoms and Types

  • Vomiting
  • Paralysis
  • Pain, particularly in the legs
  • Abnormalities in gait and/or lameness
  • Difficulty breathing, such as tachypnea
  • Unusual barking or anxious behavior
  • Bluish or pale nail beds and foot pads
  • Hypothermia


Causes of aortic thromboembolism include:

  • Various forms of cardiomyopathy (such as dilated, hypertrophic, etc.)
  • Bloodstream infections (e.g., septicemia)
  • Hyperadrenocorticism (in dogs)
  • Protein-losing nephropathy (in dogs)
  • Sepsis (in dogs)


Diagnosing aortic thromboembolism in your dog involves providing the veterinarian with a detailed history of your dog’s health, including when the symptoms began and their nature. The vet will then conduct a thorough physical examination, along with a urinalysis and biochemistry profile. These tests may reveal elevated levels of creatine kinase, indicating muscle damage, as well as increased levels of aspartate aminotransferase and alanine aminotransferase, suggesting muscle and liver damage, respectively.

Stressed dogs might exhibit high blood glucose levels, while mild elevations in blood urea nitrogen and creatinine could be present due to reduced cardiac output and potential kidney involvement from a blood clot. Electrolyte imbalances, low calcium and sodium levels, and high phosphate and potassium levels may also be observed in some cases.

Chest X-rays typically show an enlarged heart and fluid accumulation in the lungs and pleural cavity. Occasionally, X-rays may reveal lung tumors. Abdominal ultrasounds assist in locating the blood clot, while echocardiography confirms heart enlargement, a common feature in aortic thromboembolism.


Treatment for aortic thromboembolism typically involves immediate and intensive care, often requiring hospitalization to prevent potential heart failure. Hospitalization is vital for minimizing stress and managing pain effectively. Dogs experiencing respiratory distress may need oxygen therapy to alleviate rapid breathing and ensure adequate oxygen levels in the blood.

Thrombolytic medications are crucial for dissolving blood clots. In cases where conventional treatment fails, surgical removal of the clot may be necessary. Additionally, veterinarians administer pain relievers to alleviate the severe pain associated with this condition.

Living and Management

Managing aortic thromboembolism in dogs entails recognizing the challenging prognosis associated with this condition. Despite treatment, clot reoccurrence remains a risk, potentially obstructing the aorta again. Delayed restoration of blood supply to the legs may lead to permanent muscular abnormalities in the affected limb.

During recovery, it’s crucial to restrict the dog’s movement and provide a stress-free environment, away from other pets and active children. Managing severe pain is essential, as affected dogs may struggle with urination due to discomfort. Gentle pressure on the bladder may aid urination. Additionally, dietary adjustments may be necessary to entice the dog to eat, as loss of appetite can lead to further complications. Consulting your veterinarian for dietary recommendations is advisable.

Regular monitoring for bleeding, a possible side effect of treatment medications, is necessary. If bleeding occurs, prompt veterinary attention is essential.

Frequent checkups and laboratory tests are essential to assess treatment progress. If the dog fails to respond to treatment, euthanasia may be recommended due to the severity of complications.

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