Getting to the Heart of What Matters – Your Pet
Believe it or not, animals are susceptible to heart disease. Your dog or cat’s heart is one of the most important organs in his or her body. It is responsible for supplying life-giving nutrients and oxygen to every other organ. Heart disease is any condition that disrupts normal function of the heart and vascular system to deliver oxygenated blood to the body. These conditions include cardiomyopathy (disease of the heart muscle), arrhythmia (irregular beating), and valve disease (causing heart murmurs).
Some animal companions may inherit heart disease, while others develop it later in life. The good news is that many types of heart disease are treatable, particularly if caught early. If left untreated, heart disease leads to heart failure, a condition where the heart becomes weak and inefficient.
What are the Signs of Heart Disease?
During the early stages of heart disease, most dogs and cats show no symptoms. This is due to the ability of their bodies to adjust and compensate for the ailment. However, as the disease progresses, you may notice a rapid decline in your canine or feline’s health. Early detection is the key to successful treatment of heart disease. During your pet’s annual wellness exam, your veterinarian will check your pet’s heart rate and rhythm and listen for the presence of murmurs.
Be aware of subtle changes in your cat or dog’s behavior as he or she goes about daily activities. Symptoms of heart disease can sometimes be mistaken for natural signs of aging.
Talk to Your Veterinarian if Your Pet is Exhibiting These Warning Signs
- Coughing (rarely exhibited in cats), especially at night or while resting
- Difficulty breathing (shortness of breath, labored breathing, rapid or fast breathing, use of the abdominal muscles while breathing)
- Changes in behavior (tiring easily, reluctance to exercise or go for walks, less playful, slowing down, lack of energy, depressed, withdrawn)
- Poor appetite
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Swollen abdomen
- Vomiting or dry heaving (in cats)
- Thromboembolisms/blood clots (more commonly found in cats, especially in the rear legs, causing significant pain and difficulty walking)
Diagnosing Heart Disease
Early diagnosis and treatment of heart disease are essential to improve and prolong the quality of your pet’s life. An echocardiogram, or ultrasound, of the heart, is a safe, non-surgical way to evaluate the chambers and valves of the heart. Performed by a board-certified cardiology specialist, this test is a critical step in diagnosing the condition. If heart disease is detected, your veterinarian will inform you of the various treatment options available, so together you can develop a plan specific to your pet’s needs.
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