Understanding the Signs of Heart Disease in Pets
For humans, heart disease is the leading cause of death. We’re told to eat more kale, practice yoga, and reduce stress in order to minimize the risk of cardiac arrest or stroke. Cats and dogs, on the other hand, can share a similar diagnosis—but their symptoms are not easily managed or prevented in the same ways. From congenital heart defects to cardiomyopathy, it’s important to learn about heart disease in pets so we can help early on.
During your pet’s routine wellness exam, we listen to his or her heart with a stethoscope. To be sure, this is one of the best tools we have to identify heart problems. If we hear a heart murmur or suspect the valves aren’t functioning properly, we use digital diagnostics such as x-rays, EKG, or an echocardiogram to verify heart disease in pets.
Heart disease in pets isn’t always caught early on, which is another great reason to maintain your pet’s annual or biannual wellness exam. If you do notice any of the following symptoms, we ask that you alert us right away:
- Rapid or difficulty breathing, especially if unaccompanied by exertion
- Bloated stomach
- Loss of appetite
- Decreased energy or stamina
- Lethargy or depression
- A blue tinge to the gums or tongue
- Weight loss
There are several known types of heart disease in pets. The most common ones include:
- Congenital heart defects—Some pets are born with heart abnormalities that decrease the ability to function. Medical or surgical intervention can help.
- Mitral valve disease—The most common type of canine heart disease, the mitral valve breaks down causing a serious leak.
- Cardiomyopathy—Referring to the disease of the heart muscle, a weakened, dilated, or thickened heart wall can cause serious arrhythmias. Boxers, for example, are known to experience an irregular heartbeat that may develop into congestive heart failure. Similarly, breeds like the Doberman Pinscher are susceptible to dilated cardiomyopathy (when the heart dilates and is thin-walled).
- Arrhythmia—This is characterized by either fast or slowed down heart rhythms.
- Heartworm—Mosquitoes are to blame for the spread of parasitic worms that, over time, take up residence in a pet’s heart and lungs. Learn more about heartworm disease here.
- Pericardial effusion—The heart sac, or pericardium, fills up with fluid.
Heart Disease in Pets
Because the heart’s primary function is to pump oxygen-rich blood throughout the body, it’s imperative to seek early and aggressive medical intervention. Left alone, heart disease in pets can result in the failure of the circulatory system and major organs.
Treatment depends on the species, breed, age, and underlying cause. We can either prescribe life sustaining medications or surgery to help.
Prevention of heart disease in pets is important, but it isn’t always the answer. Careful attention is needed for pets with congenital heart disease, and it’s always smart to reduce your pet’s risks by:
- Maintaining year round heartworm preventives
- Keeping weight down
- Offering regular exercise
- Brushing your pet’s teeth (dental care is extremely important!)
As always, please give us a call if we can be of assistance to you or your pet.