Our pets have our whole hearts, so it makes sense that we should pay attention to this vitally important organ. Like people, pets can experience a variety of heart problems. Here are 10 important facts that the Animal Emergency Hospital and Urgent Care team wants all pet owners to know about cardiac-related diseases in pets.
#1: Dogs can develop many different types of heart disease
When we think of heart disease in people, we usually think of heart attacks due to clogged arteries. This type of heart disease is not typical in our four-legged friends, however, chiefly due to diet differences, but other types of cardiac disease are common. From degenerative valve disease, to dilated cardiomyopathy, to arrhythmias and congenital conditions, pets can suffer a whole host of heart-related issues.
#2: Cats can get heart disease, too
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is the most common heart condition of cats. This disease is characterized by an enlargement of the heart muscle as it works harder to pump blood throughout the body. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy can be associated with thyroid disease, and is inherited in some breeds, such as the Maine coon cat.
#3: Early detection is important for treatment
As with many health conditions, an early diagnosis can mean prompt treatment, and therefore a better prognosis for your pet. Help ensure your pets receive the care they need with routine annual examinations and wellness care—and don’t ignore abnormal signs.
#4: Signs of heart disease in pets can vary
Classic signs of heart disease in pets may include exercise intolerance, increased respiratory rate, coughing, abdominal distension, or fainting (i.e., syncope). But, other, non-specific signs could also signify a heart condition. Look for signs like a decreased appetite, weight loss, rear limb weakness, or certain behavior changes. Curiously, some pets with heart conditions show no clinical signs and, unfortunately, the first sign may be sudden death.
#5: Your pet may need a referral to a veterinary cardiologist
Your primary or emergency veterinarian should be your first stop if you notice any abnormal signs in your pet. On physical examination, heart disease may be evident during chest auscultation or pulse palpation. Your veterinarian may then recommend additional tests, such as chest X-rays, blood pressure measurement, or an electrocardiogram (ECG). If your veterinarian suspects a heart problem, they may refer you to a board-certified veterinary cardiologist, because further evaluation is almost always warranted.
#6: Your pet’s diet may play a role in heart disease
The jury is still out on whether boutique and grain-free dog foods cause a certain type of heart condition in dogs known as dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). While more research is needed to support or refute this claim, stick to well-researched, reputable pet food brands until we know more.
#7: Some breeds may be more prone to heart conditions
If you are a fan of the Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Maine coon cat, Newfoundland dog, or Doberman pinscher, you should be aware of certain congenital and common heart conditions in these breeds. Other dog breeds that may be more susceptible to particular cardiac problems include the golden retriever, boxer, and Great Dane.
#8: Some heart conditions in pets can be prevented
Heartworm disease is a parasitic condition spread by mosquitoes. When infection occurs, pets develop worm infestations that lodge in the heart and lungs, resulting in a variety of clinical signs and, if left untreated, can lead to death. Fortunately, heartworm disease is entirely preventable with monthly, chewable medication or long-lasting injectable medication. Year-round heartworm prevention is recommended for all pets, both indoor and outdoor.
#9: Many heart conditions can successfully be treated
While some veterinary heart problems may be difficult to treat, many others can be managed with a combination of medications, exercise, nutritional guidance, and monitoring. Thanks to modern technology, our pets can now undergo procedures such as Holter monitoring and pacemaker placement for certain conditions.
#10: You play the biggest role in your pet’s heart health
You may not know it, but your pet’s heart depends on you to stay healthy. Of course, some heart conditions are not preventable or predictable, but a heart-healthy diet, daily exercise, preventive medications, and regular veterinary wellness appointments can minimize your pet’s risk for many heart-related problems.
If you have further questions or concerns regarding heart disease and pets, contact the Animal Emergency Hospital and Urgent Care veterinary team.