Heart Disease

Information on heart disease in cats and dogs (canine and feline cardiomyopathy).

Select a Topic

  1. What is Heart Disease?
  2. What Causes Heart Disease?
  3. Diagnosing Heart Disease
  4. Help for Heart Disease
  5. More Information on Heart Disease

What is Heart Disease?

Heart disease is as common in dogs and cats as it is in humans. In order to understand the implications of heart disease for your pet, you need to understand the anatomy and function of the heart. The heart consists of four chambers which are divided into right and left sides.

The upper chambers are atria while the lower chambers are called ventricles. The heart is one of the most essential organs of the body and the primary function is to pump blood containing oxygen and nutrients through the blood vessels to the cells within the body. If the heart fails to pump blood effectively and efficiently, the blood circulating to the body is significantly reduced and heart failure occurs.

More and more dogs and cats develop various types of heart disease each year. These diseases include congestive heart failure, diseases of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy), diseases of the heart valve, heart murmur, arrhythmias or congenital defects. In dogs, heart disease may develop as a result of defects in the heart muscle or in the valves.

In cats, heart muscle defects are the most common form of heart disease. Although heart disease is serious and a cause for concern, with proper management and treatment your pet can live a healthy life.

Types of heart disease

Heart disease in dogs and cats affect the heart muscle and valves – dilated cardiomyopathy, mitral valve disease and chronic valvular heart disease.

Dilated cardiomyopathy is a heart muscle disease which is characterized by the thinning of the muscle and as a result, the heart has to struggle to pump effectively. Because the heart has to work extra hard, it stretches and enlarges and causes circulation and blood flow to the organs to decrease. It typically affects medium to large breeds such as German Shepherds, Doberman pinschers, Great Danes and Irish Setters.

In mitral valve disease, the surfaces of the heart valves are affected. The heart valves which usually act as a seal between the chambers of the heart begin to leak affecting circulation and blood pressure.

The leakage may also cause a heart murmur. Mitral valve disease is the most common form of heart disease and typically affects small to medium size breeds such as the Poodle, Chihuahua, Schnauzer, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Boston terrier or Fox terrier. Older dogs, particularly male dogs are prone to this disease. Cats rarely develop heart valve disease.

Chronic valvular heart disease develops as a result of thickening and degeneration of the heart valves. This may lead to enlargement of the heart and heart failure because of a build up of fluid in the abdomen or lungs.

Symptoms and signs

The common symptoms and signs of heart disease in dogs include:
  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Cough
  • Wheezing
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Fatigue
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Pale gums
The common symptoms and signs of heart disease in cats include:
  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Breathing difficulties

What Causes Heart Disease?

Heart disease occurs as a result of various factors including heart worm infection, congenital defects, genetics, hyperthyroidism, a weak heart muscle (cardiomyopathy) or heart valve, obesity, aging, poor nutrition or lack of exercise.

Diagnosing Heart Disease

The diagnosis of heart disease is based on your pet’s symptoms, a thorough physical examination and review of the medical history. Additional diagnostic tests such as x-rays, ultrasound and ECG (electrocardiogram) will be performed to determine the cause of heart disease.

Help for Heart Disease

Your vet will prescribe certain medications depending on the type of heart disease, cause and your pet’s overall health. Medications such as diuretics, vasodilators administered are aimed at reducing the build up of fluid in the chest and lungs, increasing the amount of blood pumped by the heart and correcting rhythm abnormalities. In addition, a special diet and nutrient supplements may be recommended as part of the treatment plan. In more severe cases, surgery may be required.

More Information on Heart Disease

Tips to manage heart disease in pets

Although heart disease is not curable, there are certain things that you can do to manage this disease in your pet

  • Feed your pet high quality commercial food that is low in salt or all natural diet without preservatives, additives or colorants
  • Ensure that your gets moderate exercise such as regular walks or swimming to maintain health and fitness
  • Maintain a healthy weight in your pet – overweight and obese cats and dogs are more at risk of heart disease
  • Always provide fresh, clean water
  • Incorporate a vitamin supplement to your pet’s treatment plan to boost the immune system
  • Make sure that your pet is treated for heartworm
  • Visit your vet regularly for routine check ups
  • Reduce stress and anxiety in your pet
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