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Update February 2012......Terry Heath (Holloville) has started fund raising via the Just Giving on  line charity donation page in hope to raise 11,000 to start research at the AHT into Bull Terrier & Miniature Bull Terrier Heart Disease, and hopefully have a DNA test to rid our breeds of this disease. Terry has already successfully raised the money over the past 7 months to start research into Kidney Disease (HN), with funds flooding in from all over Europe from pet owners, breeders, clubs & fanciers.  Please show your generosity and donate to this very important and very worthwhile cause. Just Giving is a safe & secure way of donating and money can be given by credit card or paypal, the money goes directly to the Animal Health Trust.

Link to the AHT Donation page for Bull Terrier Clinical Studies for Heart Disease (New page)

Link to the AHT Donation page for Bull Terrier Clinical Studies for Kidney Disease (Read only)




Bull Terriers suffer from various forms of Heart Disease, the two most common are mitral valve and the aorta, these are explained in more detail below.

Both these conditions are inherited, however there are tests available to ensure your dog is not suffering from these conditions.

 Very few breeders use these tests, why? I can not answer.

A vet can listen to your dogs heart but a slight murmur can easily be missed, your dog may be excited or stressed so the heart beat changes or it just can not be heard through a general stethoscope. Of course what starts as a small murmur can change very quickly to become a serious health risk to your dog.

I have tried to keep the information below simple where possible and added diagrams to help. In order to understand the heart disease suffered by the Bull Terrier it is important that you first understand how the heart works.

Please read on to find out more!


The heart explained

The heart acts as the bodies pump pushing blood around the body in order to keep the vital organs oxygenated.

The heart is divided into four chambers, two upper atria, which receive venous blood, and two lower ventricles which eject blood into arteries. The right ventricle pumps blood to the lungs, where the blood becomes oxygenated, the left ventricle pumps oxygenated blood to the entire body. The proper flow of blood within the heart is aided by two pairs of one-way valves placed in tissue between the atria (upper chambers) and ventricles (lower chambers).

These one-way valves are known as the atrioventricular (AV) valves. The AV valves located between the right atrium and right ventricle has three flaps and is therefore called the tricuspid valve. The AV valve located between the left atrium and left ventricle has two flaps and is thus called the bicuspid valve, or better known as the mitral valve.

Please see the diagram below as this will help you understand the above text.


Oxygen rich blood in the left atrium enters the left ventricle and is pumped into a very large, elastic artery - the aorta. The aorta ascends for a short distance, makes a U-turn, and then descends through the chest and abdominal cavities. Arterial branches from the aorta supplying oxygen rich blood to all the organ systems.

I am sure you can now imagine how serious it is if the mitral valve or aorta do not work properly in your Bull Terrier.


The common diseases affecting the Bull Terrier

The common heart conditions affecting the Bull Terrier are Mitral Valve Displasia - affecting the mitral valve and sub-aortic stenosis - affecting the aorta.

As explained above the mitral valve acts as a one way valve stopping the blood flowing backwards, when the mitral valve is damaged blood leaks back and thus causes the heart to work harder. This condition is known as mitral valve displaisia. The harder the heart works the lager it becomes, the worse the condition becomes the harder the heart works until eventually it can not cope and gives in, stopping completely.

A similar thing happens when the aorta is diseased, the aorta narrows at the point it leaves the heart thus the heart works harder to pump the blood through. This condition is known as sub-aortic stenosis. Again the harder the heart works the larger it becomes until eventually it can not cope and gives in.

The damage caused by both of these conditions is irreversible and will deteriate as your dog gets older. Medication can be given to slow down the disease and thus increase your dogs life however, your dog will require medication and vet trips for life and you may have to restrict exercise and play depending on the severity. The end result for both conditions is death, normally occurring before your Bull Terrier reaches double figures.

As both conditions cause the heart to beat irregularly the condition can be heard as a heart murmur.


What is the correct test?

Many vets are unable to detect a small murmur so the appropriate tests for these diseases will need to be carried out by a qualified Cardiologist. There are various ways to detect heart murmurs, either by auscultation (listening with a special stethoscope), if they are still uncertain they may well use a doppler ultrasound scan. The doppler scan looks inside the beating heart and is similar to a pregnancy scan in people. These test are non invasive and normally sedation is not required.

Heart murmurs are graded from 1 (very mild) to 6 (very serious). A certificate is issued showing either no murmur present or which grade murmur has been detected.

Young puppies can sometimes have an innocent murmur which disappears as they grow, it is therefore not recommended to test your bull terrier until they are at least 1 year old and yearly thereafter.

Your vet will refer you to your local Cardiologist.


Please click the picture above to see what the certificate should look like. Check name of dog & that it is less than 1 year since examination was carried out.




A healthy canine heart, the mitral valve



A diseased canine heart, the mitral valve




Symptoms of heart disease

Similar to kidney disease the symptoms can easily be missed or non showing. If your dog only has a slight murmur (grade 1 - 3) its likely that no signs will be shown and you will be completely unaware. Again the vet may not notice this and give the all clear when infact it is not. This is why the above tests are so important.

As the disease deteriates the signs tend to include:-

  • Coughing

  • Exercise intolerance

  • Fainting/black outs/collapsing

  • Weight loss/gain

  • Erratic/distressed breathing or general changes to breathing patterns

It is important to catch heart disease early so medication can be given at the earliest time possible. This will help reduce the degeneration of the heart thus helping your bully to live a longer, more comfortable life. If you are unaware of heart disease until the heart is seriously damaged medication will do little to help, once the damage is done it is irreversible.

Bullies have been known to die young and old due to heart disease, there is no age limit for the onset or final stages of the disease.


How is it inherited?

It is still uncertain how this disease is inherited, however is believed to be a recessive gene, this means whilst some dogs never actually develop a heart condition they carry the genes and pass these onto their puppies. If these dogs are then bred with another carrying the gene they can produce puppies who develop heart disease,  however more research is required into this theory.   If you breed from a Bull Terrier with a heart condition it is highly likely that some puppies will inherit the condition and in many cases worse than the parent. Bull Terriers with this condition should not be used in breeding programs until further research has been done.

Research is currently underway in another breed which also suffer with mitral valve disease to try and find the marker gene causing this disease, hopefully once this has been detected it will be much easier to find in the Bull Terrier and a simple DNA test will determine those dogs clear, carrying or having mitral valve disease. We will update this page as more information becomes available.


How common is it?

Some Bull Terrier Clubs ran heart screening at their shows, the results were astonishing. It became apparent that 25% - 40% of Bull Terriers (dependant on the area) screened had heart murmurs. This shows how serious heart disease is in this breed.

Please ask the breeder for the certificate from a Cardiologist showing the Sire and Dam of the puppies have been cleared of heart disease.

Your vet will refer you to your local Cardiologist.


 Author:- Debbie Wiles


If you would like any further information on heart conditions affecting the Bull Terrier please feel free to email us on contact button at top of page.







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