Heart Disease

The District Vet

February is for hearts and love. Happy Valentine’s Day! So let’s chat about that muscle which never stops loving your pet, its heart.

Like your heart a dog or cat’s pumps blood containing oxygen and nutrients to nearly every cell in the body. The heart is an efficient pump, but when it is diseased or stressed fluid may build up in the chest, abdomen, or both, causing heart failure or disturbances in the normal electrical rhythm of the muscle. Heart disease in pets has many similarities to human cardiac problems, but there are also differences.

Like any physical problem, it is important to recognize when your pet may be having heart problems. Dogs and cats do not develop atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) as people and do not have classic heart attacks, but they do show other signs. Although they do not grab their chest in pain, dogs may display clinical signs including decreased ability to exercise, tiring easily, coughing, breathing difficulties, distended abdomen, lack of appetite, or simply acting “old.” Cats show similar signs but can be even more subtle. They may include restlessness and an inability to appear rested or comfortable, hiding, and open-mouth breathing. Sadly, in both dogs and cats sudden death is a possibility.

Certain factors may increase your pet’s susceptibility of developing heart disease. These include a few similar to humans: being overweight, eating a poor diet, age, and genetics and familial predilection. This is particularly true in certain breeds of dog including boxer, Boston terrier, Cavalier King Charles spaniel, and cocker spaniel and in Maine coon, Persian, ragdoll, and Siamese cats.

The single most important step you can take to protect your pet’s heart is to schedule regular physical exams with your veterinarian. They will listen to the heart, check for normal heart sounds and rhythm, evaluate for risk factors, discuss potential problems, and monitor overall health. Many heart problems can be medically managed.

Dogs and cats can also develop heartworm disease, a condition where spaghetti-like worms live within the right side of the heart. The worms are transmitted via bites from infected mosquitoes. Heartworm is most common in dogs but can also occur in cats. Prevention is easy and involves giving your dog or cat a monthly preventive, in a chewable or topical form. Heartworm disease may lead to severe cardiac compromise and even death. Giving your pet a monthly preventive is the easiest thing you can do to decrease your pet’s risk of developing the deadly disease.

Obesity is another factor strongly correlated with heart disease. Love your pet via feeding a high-quality diet and getting him or her adequate exercise. Many problems can be helped simply with diet and exercise.

The good news for pets with heart problems is that there are many effective treatments that extend time and quality of life. Many medications used in human medicine were pioneered in the veterinary world and are proven to be safe and effective. In more serious cases of heart disease a veterinary cardiologist may even be consulted. With proper care, diet, activity levels, and medications, many pets with heart disease may lead a happy and active life.

Remember that love from your heart this February and every day should extend to your pet’s heart, too.

Dan Teich, DVM, is at District Veterinary Hospital, 3748 10th St. NE, www.districtvet.com and desk@districtvet.com.