A dog’s heart beats between 60 and 120 times per minute, and with each contraction, oxygen and energy are carried in the blood to the muscles and organs of the body, and waste products and carried away. As wit human’s cats’ and dogs’ hearts consist of four chambers separated by valves to ensure the blood flows in only one direction.
Heart disease can either be congenital meaning the animal is born with an abnormality, or acquired meaning the disease occurs later in life. There are a number of different types of acquired heart diseases, but for most pets, the disease typically falls into one of two categories:
- Valvular disease is a condition where one or more of the valves of the heart do not close properly. The majority of dogs with heart disease suffer from this.
- Cardiomyopathy is a condition where the heart cannot pump effectively. There are several types of cardiomyopathy. This is the most common form of heart disease in cats.
In many cases, the cause of heart disease is unknown, but as with humans, risk increases with age. Certain breeds of dogs and cats appear to be predisposed to different types of heat disease.
Hyperthyroidism can contribute to heart disease in cats, as con diets low in taurine. Heartworms, which are transmitted by mosquitos, can cause heart problems in both dogs and cats.
Signs of heart disease can be subtle, and may be mistaken for normal aging. They include:
- Coughing (less common in cats)
- Rapid breathing, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing (open-mouth breathing in cats)
- Behavior changes (less interested in walks or playing)
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
- Swollen abdomen
Dogs and cats with mild heat disease may not show and signs of illness. Unfortunately, the condition is usually progressive, and eventually heart failure (the inability of the heart to pump an adequate blood supply throughout he body) may occur.
It is sometimes possible to detect heat disease before your pet shows and symptoms. In addition to listening to your pet’s heat for signs of a heart murmur or abnormal rhythm, there are a number of diagnostic tests your veterinarian may recommend, including, radiographs (also referred to as x-rays), ultrasound (echocardiogram), blood work, electrocardiogram (ECG), and blood pressure tests all of which can help determine whether the hear is diseased and the extent of the disease.
There is no cure for most heart disease, but early detection and treatment can help your beloved pet live loner and more comfortably with the disease. One or more long term medications may be prescribed. Modifications to your pet’s diet and exercise regimen may be required, and follow-up examination by your veterinarian at regular intervals is strongly recommended to monitor the progression of the disease.