Just like humans, it is quite common for pets to suffer from heart disease. In this post, the vets at Stine Veterinary Hospital share some of the common causes, symptoms, and treatment options for pets with heart disease.
Heart Disease in Pets
The heart is an incredibly important organ and any disease that affects the heart is likely to have negative effects on other organs as well. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to detect heart disease until it has reached a later, more severe stage, but there are some symptoms pet owners should be aware of. It is also important to note that some breeds are more prone to heart disease than others. You should always research breed-specific problems before purchasing a pet to be sure you are prepared to handle any potential complications with your pet's health.
Types of Heart Disease
There are several different types of heart disease that affect pets. Here are some of the most common:
Valvular Disease - Valvular disease affects the valves of the heart. The valves are little flaps of tissue that act as doors between the chambers of the heart and prevent blood from flowing backward. When a pet is suffering from valvular disease, the valves don't function as they should and cause problems with blood flow through the body. For dogs, degenerative valvular disease is common in older and smaller breeds such as Chihuahuas and King Charles Cavelier Spaniels.
Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy - This disease is also referred to as Boxer cardiomyopathy because it happens almost exclusively in boxers. This disease the heart to beat abnormally fast due to a change in the muscle in the right ventricle of the heart. This irregular heartbeat makes the heart unable to properly pump blood through the body.
Heartworm Disease - Heartworms are spread through mosquitos. Once inside your pet, heartworm larvae grow and develop into worms that live and reproduce in the heart and lungs, causing severe discomfort and eventually organ failure in your pet. Heartworm disease is preventable through widely available heartworm preventive medication.
Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) - In pets with DCM, the heart loses its ability to effectively pump blood through the body. This is a very common disease and may go undetected for quite some time. DCM is common in older large breeds of dog such as Great Danes, Irish Wolfhounds, and Dobermans.
Myocarditis - Myocarditis is a cardiac disease in pets caused by the swelling of the heart muscle. Often, there are no symptoms with myocarditis until it gets severe enough to cause heart failure.
Congenital Abnormalities - Congenital abnormalities are defects in the heart that a pet is born with. There are many different types of congenital abnormalities and cats with heart disease are most commonly affected by this type of heart disease.
Heart Failure in Pets
Heart failure is not a disease itself but rather the effect of a heart disease that has gone untreated, or that is not able to be treated. Heart failure occurs when blood is no longer able to be adequately pumped throughout the body by the heart.
Symptoms of Heart Disease
Heart disease can be difficult to detect until it has reached a later stage. One key way to catch heart disease early is to bring your pet for regular routine exams By doing so, your internal medicine vet may be able to catch early signs of heart disease that even the most diligent pet owner may miss. Some common symptoms of heart disease are:
- Shortness of breath
- Distended or bloated abdomen
- Pale or blue gums
Treatment of Heart Disease in Pets
Treating heart disease in pets depends on the underlying cause of the disease. Heart disease can be caused by a number of things including birth defects, heartworm infection, other bacteria or viral infections, toxins, mineral deficiencies, and tumors. Once heart disease is diagnosed, a treatment plan specific to the type of heart disease your pet has will be discussed.
Many types of heart disease require life-long monitoring with frequent diagnostic testing and medications. Some heart diseases, such as congenital defects, can be diagnosed by our internal medicine vets and corrected by surgery.
Preventing Heart Disease in Pets
Sometimes there is nothing you can do to prevent heart disease. However, your internal medicine veterinarian can have suggestions to help you minimize the possibility.
Some things you can control are:
- Buying from a reputable breeder who is testing the pets they are breeding for genetic heart conditions
- Avoiding breeds prone to heart disease
- Keeping your pet on preventive heartworm medication
- Feeding your pet quality pet food—you can discuss with your vet the best diet for your particular pet
- Avoiding exposure to toxins and contaminated areas
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.