The Heart of the Matter: Understanding Heart Problems in Pets

Part of dog playing with ballCardiac disease in pets is, unfortunately, a fairly common problem. At Animal Internal Medicine and Specialty Services, our cardiology department is well equipped to diagnose and treat a myriad of heart problems in pets.

Finding the cause of a cardiac issue is the foundation for allowing us to successfully help our patient in the most effective way possible.

Valve Related Heart Problems in Pets

One form heart problems in pets commonly takes is that of valve disease. The normal heart has four valves that form a seal between the chambers of the heart, forcing blood to flow in the correct direction. The heart valves include:

  • Tricuspid (right atrioventricular) valve
  • Mitral (left atrioventricular) valve
  • Aortic valve
  • Pulmonary valve

When one or more of the heart valves do not properly seal, it allows blood to leak backwards. This leakage creates a sound that can be heard with a stethoscope, called a heart murmur.

Heart valve problems can be congenital (something a pet is born with) or acquired later in life. The most common valve-related heart problem we see is acquired mitral valve dysfunction.

The Cardiomyopathies

The heart is a muscle, and some forms of heart problems in pets affect the actual muscle fibers in this important organ.  These are called cardiomyopathies. There are two major forms of cardiomyopathy that we see in pets:

Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) – Most commonly seen in dogs, DCM is a condition in which the heart pumps too weakly. This causes the heart to stretch and enlarge over time, further decreasing the organ’s efficiency.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) – A problem that is seen in cats, HCM causes the thickening of the walls of the heart, decreasing its ability to do its job.

Other Causes for Cardiac Issues in Pets

While valve disease and cardiomyopathies make up a large portion of the heart conditions we treat, there are other causes for heart problems in pets. These include:

  • Heartworm disease
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Congenital problems, such as patent ductus arteriosus (PDA)
  • Arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythm)
  • Endocarditis (inflammation or infection of the heart)

When the heart isn’t functioning properly, it is often unable to pump blood as efficiently as normal. When this happens, blood can pool and cause fluid leakage into the surrounding tissue, usually the lungs and/or abdominal cavity. This is often the cause for the clinical signs we see related to heart disease.

In order to properly help a pet with a heart problem, it is essential that we properly identify the problem. We may need to perform diagnostic tests, such as ultrasound (echocardiogram), electrocardiogram heart rhythm tracing), or CT scans, in order to arrive at a diagnosis.

Once a patient’s heart problem is identified, we can begin treatment. At Animal Internal Medicine and Specialty Services, we are proud to be able to offer the most current and effective surgeries and medical therapies available. Helping your pet feel better is our top priority.