The heart is vital to the function of the body in all animals. When the heart suffers from a condition that affects how well it pumps blood throughout your pet's body, it can lead to serious issues. Today, our Bedford internal medicine vets share the 5 most common heart diseases in pets, the symptoms they may experience, and what veterinary care may be needed.
Heart Diseases & Conditions in Pets
The heart is one of the vital organs in the body. It is responsible for pumping oxygenated blood throughout the body keeping other organs healthy and functioning properly. Heart diseases are veterinary internal medicine conditions in cats, dogs, and other pets that interrupt the heart's normal functions, potentially compromising the pet's entire body.
Our Bedford veterinary team has extensive experience diagnosing and treating a variety of internal medicine conditions in dogs and cats, including the common heart diseases listed below. If your pet requires treatment that is beyond our scope of practice, we will refer you to a qualified veterinary internist (veterinary internal medicine specialist) to ensure that your pet receives the best care possible.
What are the signs of heart conditions in cats and dogs?
Because cats and dogs can develop various types of heart diseases, your pet's symptoms will vary depending on the type of heart disease they have. The following are common heart disease symptoms in cats and dogs:
- 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.
The Most Commonly Diagnosed Heart Diseases in Cats & Dogs
Here are 5 of the most common heart diseases seen in pets:
Congenital Heart Disease
When the heart of your cat or dog doesn't develop properly it's referred to as congenital heart disease. 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.
Your veterinarian will perform an ultrasound of the heart to determine which congenital disease your cat or dog may have. They will then devise the best treatment plan possible, which may include minimally invasive surgery. Most cats and dogs recover quickly from these surgeries and live happy healthy lives.
Your cat or dog's heart has two chambers on each side just like a human's. These chambers are equipped with valves that open and close to control blood flow. These heart valves can sometimes deteriorate to the point where they can't close properly as pets age. As a result, their blood will not be able to flow properly. This condition is more common in dogs than in cats, and degenerative mitral valve disease is the most common type of valvular degeneration in our canine companions.
As dogs get older, the mitral valve (the valve that separates the left atria from the left ventricle) thickens and gets weaker. The result of this weakening is the backflow of blood back into the atria. 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.
The good news is that this condition is usually non-severe and can be managed. Even so, it's important to note that a small percentage of pets can experience a more severe case. 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 internal medicine condition causes the left ventricular muscle to thicken abnormally, reducing the ventricle's (lower chamber of the heart) ability to relax and accept blood. When this happens, the heart's pressure rises and the heart begins to dilate, resulting in sluggish blood flow and an increased risk of blood clots in your cat. When a pet has blood clots in the heart it can cause complications in the lower legs such as blockages.
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 disease.
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. Unfortunately, this heart condition cannot be cured, but with early intervention it can be managed and blood clots can be prevented.
In order to beat, the heart relies on electrical impulses sent from the brain. 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. If a pet is experiencing an irregular heartbeat they can experience symptoms such as lethargy and weakness.
Your veterinarian or a veterinary internal medicine specialist will be able to detect an arrhythmia if you bring your cat or dog in for a routine wellness checkup. If they suspect your cat or dog has an arrhythmia, they will perform an electrocardiogram (ECG) to evaluate your pet's heart's electrical activity. In many cases, veterinarians have patients wear a Holter monitor (a harness containing an ECG-recording device that records heart activity over 24 hours) to gain a better understanding of the frequency and extent of the arrhythmia. Depending on the diagnosis, your vet may prescribe oral antiarrhythmic drugs or pacemaker therapy for your cat or dog.
Dilated Cardiomyopathy refers to certain heart diseases that result in a weakened heart muscle. This can cause less blood to be pumped throughout the body and cause the heart's walls to stretch and chambers to dilate or expand. This can increase the dog's risk of congestive heart failure. This condition is more common in large or giant dogs, with Doberman Pinschers, Boxers, and Great Danes being the most vulnerable.
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 veterinary internal medicine 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.