The heart is the center of your pet’s circulatory system, with the sole purpose of delivering blood to every body part. Electrical impulses stimulate the heart to beat approximately 100,000 times per day, with valves that open and close with heartbeat contractions and move blood through the four heart chambers. The heart’s two right chambers receive “used” blood from the body, which they pump through the lungs to pick up oxygen, and the two left chambers pump freshly oxygenated blood back into the body for reuse. Heart disease interferes with this essential heart function. Here are answers to four common questions about how heart disease can affect your pet. 

#1: How can I tell if my pet has heart disease?

Early heart disease may not have clinical signs, which makes regular wellness exams essential. Your pet needs immediate evaluation by the Animal Clinic of Council Bluffs team if they are experiencing any of the following signs: 

  • Lethargy
  • Decreased exercise tolerance
  • Decreased appetite and weight loss
  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Coughing or abdominal distention
  • Pale or blue-colored gums
  • Fainting or collapsing

#2: How is heart disease diagnosed in pets?

One of our Animal Clinic of Council Bluffs veterinarians will examine your pet, and listen to their chest with a stethoscope for a heart murmur, abnormal rhythm, muffled heart sounds, or increased lung sounds. Follow-up diagnostics can more fully evaluate the type and severity of your pet’s heart condition, including:

  • X-rays — X-rays enable us to assess your pet’s heart size, pulmonary vessels, and potential fluid accumulation in the lungs or abdomen. 
  • Echocardiogram — An echocardiogram provides real-time observations of your pet’s heart at work. The size of heart muscle walls, valve function, blood flow velocity, and pulmonary blood pressure can be measured.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) — An ECG documents the heart’s electrical activity,  and determines the type and location of abnormal rhythms. 
  • Blood pressure — Blood pressure changes can be because of heart disease, or a secondary cause that affects the heart.
  • Blood tests Laboratory tests assess your pet’s overall organ function, presence of infection, certain cardiac enzymes, and suitability for heart medications. 

#3: What types of heart disease affect pets?

Heart defects from birth (i.e., congenital) are rare in pets, with most acquiring heart disease over time, including: 

  • Mitral valve disease — A backflow of blood in the heart can occur from valve degeneration, manifesting as a heart murmur. Heart valves can progressively thicken, contract, and not completely close, which may result in heart enlargement. Certain small-breed dogs are genetically predisposed to mitral valve disease.
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) — Heart enlargement from weakened heart walls can cause decreased contractility and blood pumping capacity. Certain large-breed dogs are genetically predisposed to DCM, and diet has been implicated in some cases. 
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) — Heart walls can thicken internally, reducing the heart’s ability to contract and relax. HCM mostly affects cats, and can cause sudden collapse, or hindlimb paralysis from blood clots in a major artery.
  • Pulmonary hypertension — Increased blood pressure in and out of your pet’s lungs is usually a secondary sign of heart disease.
  • Cardiac arrhythmias — Abnormal electrical impulses in the heart can cause erratic heartbeats, which may be a primary problem, or secondary to other heart disease.
  • Congestive heart failure (CHF) — The end result of these diseases can include progression to CHF, which causes fluid retention because of increased pressure in veins and capillaries, to the point that they leak into the lungs (i.e., left-sided CHF) or abdomen (i.e., right-sided CHF). 

#4: How are pets treated for heart disease?

The goal of heart disease treatment is to slow disease progression and increase your pet’s quality of life. Treatments depend on the heart disease type and severity, and may include: 

  • Vasodilators and inodilators to help with heart function
  • Antithrombotics to prevent clots
  • Medications for pulmonary hypertension
  • Antiarrhythmics to stabilize the heart rhythm
  • Diuretics to reduce fluid accumulation
  • Heart-friendly diets and supplements

You can use your pet’s resting respiratory rate at home to gauge treatment effectiveness, and your veterinarian will use regular lab tests to monitor the effect of medications on your pet’s organ function. 

An early heart disease diagnosis can help ensure a longer and better quality of life. Do not hesitate to contact the Animal Clinic of Council Bluffs team if you have questions about your pet’s heart health, or you are concerned they may be showing heart disease signs.