Pet hearts are very similar to human hearts; they both have four main valves: a mitral valve, tricuspid valve, pulmonic valve, and aortic valve. The mitral valve, located between the heart left atrium and left ventricle is a pet’s most fragile valve and is usually the first to fail. In dogs, this failure occurs slowly and causes the pet to exhibit tell-tale symptoms that could trigger a pet-owner to realize something is wrong. However, heart disease in cats progresses much more rapidly and involves failure of the entire heart, which makes a pet owner’s detection of it much less likely.
At the onset of heart disease, a pet’s circulatory system starts to fail. With that failure, the kidneys, liver, and other vital internal organs are flooded with stationary blood and cannot function properly. The organs no longer get the essential amount of oxygen they need and slowly start to die. Heart disease is a very serious medical condition that must be addressed promptly. If you notice any of the following symptoms, please contact our office at your earliest convenience.
Symptoms of heart disease in pets:
- Bloated stomach.
- Difficulty breathing.
- Rapid breathing.
- Reduced appetite.
- Weight loss.
Diagnosing a pet with heart disease
If a pet patient is suspected of having heart disease, Our veterinarian will first listen to their heartbeat with a stethoscope. If a heart murmur can be heard, it signals the vet that one or more valves are not functioning correctly. The veterinarian will then perform an X-ray, checking for an enlarged heart. Additional testing may include an EKG or echocardiograph.
How is heart disease treated?
If heart disease is a pet’s official diagnosis, the treatment and prognosis varies based on pet species, breed, and the underlying causal condition. Our veterinarian will formulate a treatment plan that focuses on getting the heart to pump efficiently to help your pet live comfortably. There are numerous medications that can help a pet when heart disease is caught early enough.
If you have any questions about heart disease or think your pet is demonstrating possible symptoms, please contact our office.
Congestive Heart Failure
With its ability to onset at any age, in any breed or gender, congestive heart failure (CHF) is one of the most serious canine and feline heart conditions. Congestive heart failure is characterized by the heart’s inability to circulate enough blood to meet the body’s demands. Because a heart muscle becomes weakened by CHF, the health of other organs suffers, including that of the liver, kidneys, and lungs.
CHF can be caused by the left, right, or both valves interrupting blood flow and causing blood to back up. Left side valvular disease occurs when blood accumulates in the lungs or abdomen, though this is less common in cats. Right side valvular disease arises when blood has collected in the vena cava and jugular vein, which causes the heart to pump faster and work harder; this eventually causes the heart to enlarge, forcing the heart’s internal chamber capacity to decrease, which means less blood can be pumped out. This entire consequence is cyclic, again causing the heart to work harder and continue to enlarge.
A pet with congestive heart failure can continue to function normally for months, even years, without exhibiting any outward signs of something being wrong; therefore, it can be difficult for an owner to tell that a serious cardiovascular condition exists.
Early signs of congestive heart failure:
- Coughing during increased activity.
- Decreased activity level.
- Easily tiring.
- Lack of appetite.
- Pacing and restlessness before bed.
- Rapid breathing.
- Unexplained weight loss.
Diagnosis of congestive heart failure
Identifying the cause of congestive heart failure is often an involved process. Diagnosis begins with a full physical examination, during which the veterinarian can find key indicators of congestive heart failure, including a scratchy sound in the lungs when breathing or a subdued sounding heartbeat. Following the physical, there are several tests the veterinarian may perform:
- Blood pressure measurement – high blood pressure suggests CHF.
- Echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) – allows the veterinarian to visualize valvular deformities, cardiac muscle-wall thickening, and valvular leakage.
- Electrocardiogram – measures electric impulses of the heart.
- X-rays – can depict fluid build-up in the abdomen or lungs. Can also show an enlarged heart.
Depending on specific indicators, other tests can be performed, including heartworm tests in dogs and feline leukemia virus tests in cats. The veterinarian will determine which tests your pet needs based upon the results of their physical exam.
Treating congestive heart failure
While there remains no cure for congestive heart failure, the ability to treat its symptoms depends on the severity and causes. The goal of treatment is to enable a pet’s body to compensate for its enlarged heart, thus preventing further damage. Most often, CHF is treated on an out-patients basis unless breathing is extremely difficult, in which case a pet may need to be placed on oxygen therapy and held overnight.
There are several medications that might be prescribed to help improve a pet’s quality of life. Depending on the amount of fluid in the chest, a diuretic may be necessary to aid with drying out the bodily tissues. Alongside a diuretic, various vasodilators can improve blood flow, while other drugs can improve the strength of the heart. Prescriptions are written on an individual basis, and the veterinarian will determine which medications are best for your pet’s needs. Usually it is beneficial for all CHF sufferers to limit their sodium intake, as sodium helps determine the amount of water in the blood vessels and body tissues, and drying up excess fluids is beneficial for CHF sufferers.
If you have any questions about congestive heart failure or would like to discuss any health concerns with our staff, contact our office today.
A cardiac arrhythmia (abnormal heartbeat) is any abnormality in pace, intensity, or regularity of a pet’s heartbeat. Though not every arrhythmia is cause for concern, others can be an indication of a serious, life-threatening disease. Cardiac arrhythmias can be caused by genetic abnormalities, environmental factors, or breed predisposition. They can occur in all canine and feline breeds, ages, and genders.
A pet’s heartbeat should be regular and strong. If beating slightly alters while breathing in and out, this can be caused by an unfamiliar environment or momentary stress; however, abnormalities, including a speedy or sluggish pulse, can indicate anemia, lung disease, pressure on the brain, or a failure of circulation. The only way to determine the underlying issue is to have a veterinarian develop a proper diagnosis. Until the origin is determined, an arrhythmia should not be taken lightly. The symptoms of an arrhythmia may come and go; regardless of whether your pet is currently showing indications of an irregular heartbeat, we recommend scheduling an appointment with the veterinarian to ensure there are not any serious underlying cardiac issues.
Possible indications of a heart arrhythmia:
- Abdominal pain.
- Difficulty breathing.
- Fast heart rate when pet is relaxed.
- Lack of appetite.
- Loss of consciousness.
- Slow heart rate when activity level is high.
- Sudden, unexplained collapse.
Diagnosing heart arrhythmia
In diagnosing an arrhythmia, a full physical will be performed with a complete blood analysis. The veterinarian will determine if an ECG or EKG are necessary. Blood work can establish whether a pet has anemia and can also detect whether the organs are working properly. An EKG can detect the arrhythmia, while an ECG can determine the type of arrhythmia. Chest X-rays might be necessary to determine if heart disease or heart failure has occurred.
How is heart arrhythmia treated?
After the veterinarian has obtained a positive diagnosis, they will discuss the various treatment options. Surgery and prescription medications are both available to your pet as possible therapies.
Prescription medication - Several medications are available to help control arrhythmias, and the veterinarian will discuss which prescription is best for your pet’s age, gender, and breed.
Surgery – There are two surgical options, both of which must be performed by a veterinary cardiology specialist.
Catheter ablation - destroys the defective electrical pathways within and around the heart that cause the arrhythmia. It involves inserting a catheter into the faulty blood vessel and using electrical impulses to destroy tissue. This method has been used in canines successfully, but has yet to be tested in felines.