The heart pumps vital oxygen throughout an animal's body so they can thrive. When the heart develops a disease, it can no longer function properly, impacting the operations of the entire body. Today, our Grand Prairie vets talk about 5 of the most common heart diseases in pets, including their symptoms and treatment options available.
Heart Disease In Animals
Located in the center of an animal's cardiovascular system, the heart constantly pumps oxygen to every cell in the body. Heart diseases are internal medicine conditions in cats, dogs, and other pets that interrupt the heart's normal functions, potentially compromising the pet's entire body.
Our Grand Prairie veterinary team has experience diagnosing and treating a range of internal medicine conditions in dogs and cats, including the common heart diseases detailed below. If your pet requires treatment beyond our capabilities, we will refer you to a qualified veterinary internist (veterinary internal medicine specialist) to ensure your pet gets the best possible treatment.
Signs & Symptoms of Heart Disease In Pets
As there are different types of heart diseases cats and dogs can develop, your pet's symptoms will depend on the type of heart disease they have. Common heart disease symptoms in cats and dogs include:
- Poor appetite
- Weight loss
- Dry cough
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Difficulty or discontinuing exercise
- Increased respiratory rate and effort
- Regularly elevated heart rate
- Sudden hind leg paralysis
If you notice your furry friend exhibiting any of these symptoms call your vet immediately or bring them to the nearest emergency animal hospital as quickly as possible.
Common Heart Disease In Cats & Dogs
Here are 5 of the most common heart disease seen in pets:
Congenital Heart Disease
Congenital heart diseases occur as the result of abnormal heart development. They are often present in puppies and kittens from birth. Vets often start the diagnostic process for this disease when they detect a heart murmur during a pet's routine exam.
In order to determine which congenital disease your cat or dog may have, your veterinarian will conduct an ultrasound of the heart. From there, they will develop the best treatment plan possible which could include minimally invasive surgery. In most cases, cats and dogs recover quickly from these surgeries and go on to live a happy, quality life.
Like humans, the hearts of cats and dogs have four chambers with two on each side. These chambers contain valves that open and close to regulate blood flow. Sometimes, as pets age, these heart valves can deteriorate to the point where they can't close properly. As a result, their blood won't be able to flow in the right direction. This condition is seen more often in dogs than in cats and the most common type of valvular degeneration in our canine companions is degenerative mitral valve disease.
As dogs get older, the mitral valve (the valve that separates the left atria from the left ventricle) thickens and gets weaker. This lets a small amount of blood flow backward through the valve every time the heartbeats. This is called mitral valve regurgitation. As mitral valve regurgitation increases, the heart can get progressively larger and puts the dog at a higher risk of congestive heart failure.
Most cases in dogs are mild, however, approximately 30% of cases in dogs are severe, and will have to be managed their entire life. Degenerative mitral valve disease is often diagnosed when veterinarians notice a murmur in the left side of the heart during a routine checkup. Once this condition is officially diagnosed, your veterinarian will develop a plan to manage the disease, which may require prescription medications.
This condition is seen more often in cats and develops when the left ventricular muscle becomes abnormally thick, decreasing the ventricle’s (lower chamber of the heart's) ability to relax and accept blood. When this happens, the heart's pressure increases and the heart can start dilating, resulting in sluggish blood flow and increasing your cat's risk of blood clots. When blood clots form in the heart, it can cause blockages in the back legs.
Sadly, this condition often goes undiagnosed because cats are skilled at hiding their pain and typically don't start showing symptoms until the blood clots start to prevent the blood from flowing to the back legs. This can put cats in even more pain and cause paralysis. Bringing your cat to the vet regularly for routine wellness exams gives your vet the chance to detect the earliest signs of heart diseases.
If your vet believes your kitty may have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, they will implement a cardiac workup to confirm their suspicion and determine if medications are required. While this form of heart disease can't be cured, when it is properly managed and spotted early enough, many cats go on to live fulfilling lives without developing blood clots.
Every beat your pet's heart takes is initiated and managed by electrical impulses that travel through their heart muscle. All of these impulses start at the top of the heart, and move through a conduction pathway, resulting in a coordinated heart contraction. When these electrical impulses don't initiate normally, follow the right pathway, or move through the entire conduction system, an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) can develop. Signs of arrhythmias in cats and dogs include lethargy, weakness, exercise intolerance, or/and collapse.
When you bring your cat or dog to the vet for a routine wellness checkup, your veterinarian will be able to detect an arrhythmia. If they believe your cat or dog may have an arrhythmia they will conduct an electrocardiogram (ECG) to assess the electrical activity of your pet's heart. In many cases, vets have patients wear a Holter monitor (a harness containing an ECG-recording device that records heart activity over 24 hours), so they can get a more complete understanding of the arrhythmia’s frequency and extent. Depending on your cat or dog's diagnosis their treatment could include oral antiarrhythmic drugs or pacemaker therapy.
Dilated Cardiomyopathy is a range of diseases seen in dogs, that weakens the heart muscles. In response to this, the dog's heart pumps out less blood every beat it takes, making the heart's walls stretch and chambers dilate or become larger, increasing the dog's risk of congestive heart failure. This condition is seen more often in large or giant dogs and Doberman Pinschers, Boxers, and, Great Danes are at the highest risk.
Sadly, this condition is progressive and can't be reversed. However, your vet might be able to slow the development of your pup's symptoms if the condition is diagnosed early enough, to help improve the quality of your canine companion's life.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.