Although keeping your pet at a healthy weight and limiting their cigarette smoke exposure is recommended, these practices will not prevent your pet from developing heart disease. Pets affected by heart disease typically cannot be cured, and their condition is usually progressive, making catching the problem early imperative to extend their quality of life. Our team at Groves Veterinary Clinic wants to answer questions about heart disease in pets to educate you on this important subject.

#1: What is the difference between heart disease and heart failure in pets?

Sometimes these words are used interchangeably, but they are two different conditions.

  • Heart disease — This condition refers to any abnormality that affects the heart. Heart disease can be classified by numerous methods, including cause, duration, or clinical status, or by whether the disease was present at birth or developed later in life.
  • Heart failure — This condition occurs when heart disease damages the heart to the point that the organ can no longer pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. Heart failure results in abnormal fluid accumulation, decreased blood flow to the body, and abnormally low blood pressure. Heart disease can be present without leading to heart failure, but heart failure can occur only if severe heart disease is present.

#2: What causes heart disease in pets?

Multiple factors that affect your pet’s cardiovascular system can result in heart disease.

  • Valvular disease — The heart valves fail to close or open properly.
  • Myocardial disease — The heart muscle pumps too weakly, or does not relax adequately to allow appropriate blood circulation throughout the body.
  • Arrhythmia — The heart beats too slowly, too quickly, or irregularly.
  • Vascular disease — The blood vessels cause too much interference to blood flow.
  • Cardiac shunts — The blood flow through the openings between the left and right heart chambers is abnormal.
  • Extracardiac shunts — Blood flows abnormally between the body and the lungs.
  • Heartworm disease Heartworms parasitize and damage the cardiovascular system.

The most common heart conditions in dogs include valvular disease, heartworm disease, and dilated cardiomyopathy, a type of myocardial disease. Valvular disease most commonly affects small-breed dogs older than 8 years of age. Certain breeds, such as doberman pinschers, cocker spaniels, and boxers, are predisposed to dilated cardiomyopathy.

The most common heart conditions in cats are myocardial diseases that include hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, restrictive cardiomyopathy, and dilated cardiomyopathy. Maine Coons, Persians, and American shorthairs are predisposed to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the most prevalent form.

#3: What signs will I see if my pet has heart disease?

Initially, your pet will likely not show any signs, but as their condition progresses, they may lose weight and be less exercise tolerant. They may have difficulty breathing, and possibly a cough. Some pets lose their appetite and have difficulty sleeping. Cats typically show signs only in the advanced stages, including respiratory distress, and an inability to walk caused by a saddle thrombosis. This occurs when a clot from the malfunctioning heart lodges in the aorta as the vessel branches, obstructing blood flow to the hind limbs. Pets exhibiting these signs require emergency veterinary care.

#4: How is heart disease diagnosed in pets?

If you wait until your pet is exhibiting heart disease signs, they will have a poor prognosis for a long life. Regular wellness exams are the only way to catch heart disease in the early stages, and allow appropriate management. Your pet should be seen at least once a year for a wellness check, while a senior pet  should be evaluated at least twice yearly. Heart abnormalities, including murmurs and arrhythmias, can be heard on a regular physical examination. If our veterinary professionals suspect your pet has heart disease, they will incorporate other diagnostics, such as X-rays, blood pressure measurement, electrocardiograms, and cardiac ultrasound.

#5: How is heart disease managed in pets?

Except for heartworm disease, heart disease in pets cannot be cured, and those affected by heartworm disease usually sustain permanent heart damage that needs management. Medications are available that help the heart work better in several ways, depending on the condition affecting your pet. Our team at Groves Veterinary Clinic is well qualified to formulate a treatment protocol for your pet. 

#6: How is heart disease prevented in pets?

A healthy diet and exercise regimen are recommended to help prevent other disease processes, but they do not influence heart disease in your pet. Heartworm disease can be prevented with year-round heartworm preventives, but no other conditions have known prevention methods. Regular pet wellness checks are the only means of catching early heart disease. A veterinary professional will expertly evaluate your pet’s heart, and address their dental health, because poor dental hygiene has been linked to heart disease, and can exacerbate pre-existing heart conditions.

If caught early, heart disease can be managed, allowing your pet to live a long, comfortable life. If you would like your pet to have a wellness check, or you are concerned your pet may be affected by heart disease, do not hesitate to contact our team at Groves Veterinary Clinic to schedule an appointment.