Though all forms of pet heart disease can show similar symptoms, the underlying causes and treatment can be complicated. Following are five of the most common heart diseases in pets, their signs, and how they can be treated.
#1: Congestive heart failure in pets
Congestive heart failure occurs when fluid builds up in the lungs, chest, or abdomen because the heart is not pumping efficiently. Heart valve problems are the most common cause, especially in older, smaller-breed dogs. The valve insufficiency results in a heart murmur that your veterinarian can hear with a stethoscope. Early signs include a cough, exercise intolerance, and increased sleeping respiratory rate. If you see these early signs or hear a murmur in your pet, Animal Internal Medicine and Specialty Services has the equipment and experience to diagnose and monitor them. Advanced diagnostics include blood pressure measurement, echocardiogram (i.e., ultrasound imaging of the heart and valves), and ECG (i.e., electrocardiogram of the heart’s rhythm). Congestive heart failure can be well-managed with medications, diet, and lifestyle changes, but your pet’s condition will progress over time.
#2: Heartworm disease in dogs and cats
Heartworm disease, although preventable, is another common heart problem diagnosed in pets. When a mosquito bites your cat or dog, microscopic immature heartworms can enter the bloodstream. If your pet is on a regular heartworm preventive, these larvae are killed, but in a pet who is not protected, the larvae grow to become large adult worms that live in the heart and lungs. The worms’ presence, along with the inflammation they cause, leads to heart failure. No murmur can be detected—blood tests, X-rays, and sometimes ultrasound are required for a diagnosis. The treatment process is not simple or easy, so monitoring your dog closely is vital. However, despite the difficulty of the treatment, dogs with heartworm disease have a good prognosis. Cats, unfortunately, are another story. Heartworm disease in cats is not as common, but far more deadly, since no treatment is available for them.
#3: Cardiomyopathy in pets
Cardiomyopathy means heart muscle disease—hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and dilated cardiomyopathy are the two most common types. In hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, most common in cats, the heart muscle thickens, resulting in a decreased ability to pump blood. In dilated cardiomyopathy, more common in larger dogs, the heart muscle thins and the heart chambers dilate, also resulting in less efficient pumping of blood. The first sign of a problem is often a murmur or abnormal rhythm your veterinarian hears on a physical exam. These conditions worsen over time, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. Cats, who are known to hide their symptoms well, rarely cough, and sometimes do not have a murmur, so when diagnosed, the disease can be severe. In some cat and dog breeds, cardiomyopathy can be inherited. At Animal Internal Medicine and Specialty Services, we can help diagnose and monitor the progression of heart muscle disease, to help your pet live a longer, more comfortable life.
#4: Pericardial effusion in dogs
Pericardial effusion is not as common as other heart disease forms, but often requires specialized diagnostics and treatment. The heart is encased in a tough membrane, called the pericardium or pericardial sac, and if fluid (i.e., effusion) builds up inside the membrane, pressure is placed on the heart, restricting its ability to pump. This condition often affects older, large-breed dogs. Unfortunately, the most common cause is a cancerous tumor that bleeds into the pericardial space, which can be challenging to diagnose and treat. Our team has experience caring for pets with pericardial effusion, so call us if you have questions about your pet with this condition.
#5: Diet-related heart disease in pets
Recently, pet diet-related heart problems have made the news. For many years, diets have been known to cause heart disease, mainly due to a lack of taurine; however, dogs with possible diet-related heart disease who were recently reported by the FDA did not have taurine deficiency. If you are concerned about a possible diet-related heart problem in your dog, check the label of their food for the term “grain-free” and the ingredient list for peas and lentils, and set up a heart evaluation for your dog if you have been feeding them this type of dry diet. Some affected dogs do not show any outward signs of a problem, despite their abnormal heart muscle. Although many dogs reported to the FDA died of heart failure, the problems in other dogs reversed with treatment. With early detection, diet-related heart failure in dogs can have a good prognosis. Few cats are affected with diet-related heart disease.
Animal Internal Medicine and Specialty Services is here to help you with any heart-related problems in your pet, and our urgent care facility is open 24/7 if any heart disease complications arise. We know your pets are close to your heart—let us help you take care of theirs. Contact us for help keeping your pet’s heart healthy.