What You Should Know About Heart Disease & Your Pet

Congenital heart disease from a birth defect may be fatal to puppies under the age of 1 year. However, acquired heart disease that develops later in your pet’s life is much more common and accounts for most of the cases of heart disease in pets. TLC Animal Hospital can help diagnose and treat heart conditions in your beloved pet.

It can be easy to miss the symptoms of heart disease because some of them don’t become apparent until your dog or cat is older. In addition, some breeds are more susceptible than others. That’s another reason why regular check-ups are so important to monitor what is normal for your pet and what might signal a health problem. Symptoms include:

  • Coughing
  • Breathing problems or shortness of breath, decrease exercise tolerance
  • Heart murmur
  • Irregular heart rate or arrhythmia
  • Weakness, fainting, or collapse
  • Parts of the heart valve can thicken, making it difficult for them to close and allowing blood to leak backwards through the heart. This limits getting oxygenated blood to the body.
  • Myocarditis is a disease of the heart muscle.
  • An Arrhythmia is an irregular heartbeat, which most typically is caused by a problem with the electrical impulses that affect the way your pet’s heart beats.
  • Heartworm disease is a very serious parasite infestation transmitted from dog to dog by mosquitoes. This parasite can spread through your pet’s body and damage blood vessels in the lungs and cause heart failure.
  • Feline Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy is one of the most common heart problems with cats. This condition causes some of the muscle and walls of the heart to thicken. The heart becomes weak because it can’t expand and contract well. Blood clots can form, blocking the artery that allows blood flow to your cat’s back legs.

Diagnosing & Treating Pet Heart Disease

To diagnose heart disease, we begin with you. Because your pet cannot speak to us in words to describe his or her symptoms, we rely on your observations. The most common signs of heart disease that you may see are coughing and breathing difficulties. Your pet might become tired after only a short playtime, be restless, sleep more than he or she usually does, lose weight, or develop abdominal swelling.
We do a thorough hands-on examination that includes checking your pet’s weight and listening to the heart. In addition to the physical exam, we may perform several noninvasive diagnostic tests to confirm what we hear.

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) records the heartbeat so that we can detect irregular heartbeats, also called an arrhythmia.
  • X-ray images enable us to see abnormalities in the size or shape of the heart.
  • Ultrasound, also called an echocardiogram, uses sound waves to give us information about the size of the heart and what the structure, for example the valves, looks like.

Most pets are treated with medication to control their symptoms or slow disease progression. A special diet may be prescribed as part of the treatment for heart disease as well as for weight control. Many pets diagnosed with heart disease get a great benefit from exercise. The risk for heartworm infection can be reduced by giving your pet a monthly preventive treatment that we will prescribe. This medication kills heartworm larvae before they mature.

As part of your pet’s care team, remember that regular check-ups help us to know what is normal for your pet and help us to make the right diagnosis so that we may begin effective treatment as soon as possible.

Ultrasound Imaging Helps Diagnose Pet Problems

Ultrasound is an advanced, state-of-the-art diagnostic imaging technique that is painless and noninvasive. Using sound waves, a computer image is generated that helps us to evaluate the internal structure of organs and abnormal lesions.

In the abdomen, diagnostic ultrasound is especially valuable for imaging the:

  • Liver
  • Spleen
  • Gall bladder
  • Kidneys
  • Lymph nodes
  • Adrenal glands
  • Urinary bladder

In the chest, diagnostic ultrasound is useful to look for tumors, fluid, and evaluation of the heart. It is very useful for pregnancy evaluations. In addition, we also use ultrasound to guide us in diagnostic procedures such as urine collection and the biopsy of internal organs and tumors.