Beat Heart Disease in Pets
Our pets have the biggest hearts. They’re the most loyal, loving companions to accompany us in life. And in turn, they make our hearts full! It’s a true testament of how strong their hearts are. But unfortunately, that doesn’t always mean physically. Some dogs and cats develop heart disease. It’s a scary and confusing illness, but the best way to help your furry friend is to inform yourself.
What is Heart Disease?
The heart is an organ with the vital task of pumping blood throughout your pet’s body. And in that blood is much needed oxygen and nutrients. While there are many heart conditions that may afflict your companion, the two main conditions are Chronic Valvular Disease and Myocardial Disease. The former is characterized by a “leaking” heart valve, which means less blood is able to be pumped throughout the body. This is the most common case of heart disease. The latter, Myocardial Disease, happens when the heart begins to weaken or thicken, stopping it from pumping properly.
Causes of Heart Disease
Heart disease is either acquired or congenital (already present at birth). Congenital heart disease will likely be diagnosed in your pet at a very young age, those it’s uncommon for heart disease to be congenital at all. It’s far more common for it to be acquired later in life.
There is no one cause for the disease, but certain factors may contribute. Firstly, your pet’s body composition has an impact. Heart disease is more probable in heavier, overweight, or larger dogs. Larger dogs are prone to issues of their heart enlarging, which is often a result of heart disease. Heart disease can also be attributed to age; it’s less prominent in younger cats and dogs as opposed to older ones. Certain breeds are also more at risk for heart disease. For dogs, breeds such as Pomeranions, Poodles, Cocker Spaniels, Great Danes and Schnauzers are just at risk. In cats, Maine Coons, Bengals, Rag Dolls, and others may be affected.
Symptoms of Heart Disease
- What might seem harmless might actually be one of the many signs that your pet is suffering from heart disease. Warning signals include:Coughing - Coughs can be a result of many factors or illnesses. It may stem from a respiratory problem, asthma, allergies, etc. Or it could simply be a passing cough that lasts just a few days. But if it’s persistent or worsens during/after your dog exercises, drinks water, or even just at night, it may be heart disease. This is due to fluid backing up in the lungs.
- Shortness of Breath - When the heart isn’t able to supply the body with enough oxygen, your pet’s lungs will try to do the job. They’ll do everything they can to keep the blood flowing normally. This, along with the fluid backup, can cause difficulty breathing. This sign is particularly noticeable if your cat or dog excessively pants, even when not exercising or in warm weather. They may keep their mouth open often or stand more often than sit or lay down in order to allow easier air flow.
- Loss of Appetite - Appetite loss can be dangerous if your companion is no longer consuming the necessary amount of food, along with needed nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. It can lead to other organs or systems of the body not working properly.
- Change in Weight - The loss of appetite will lead to this symptom. It can also be present in cognitive heart disease since your pet’s body will produce high levels of a hormone-like substance, leading to muscle and weight loss.
- Fainting - With less oxygen and nutrients flowing through your dog or cat, dizzy spells can occur. They may suddenly faint and lose consciousness for around 30 seconds. This could happen once or many times throughout the day.
- Lethargy / Weakness - Similarly, a lack of blood can cause the animal’s limbs to weaken. This can cause them to collapse, or try to avoid movement at all. They might not engage in play, exercise, or their usual activities the way they once used to.
Diagnosis & Treatment
Veterinarians will first take a comprehensive look into the pet’s medical history, such as vaccinations, medications, existing conditions, etc. They may then follow with a blood test or physical exam where they’ll listen to the lungs. X-rays can also help veterinarians and specialists catch any abnormalities or irregularities. In some cases, a monitor may be used to track your dog’s heart activity, catching if there’s an irregular heartbeat.
The way in which the disease is treated is specific to the condition and case of your cat or dog. If it’s congenital or minor, surgery will probably be out of the question and instead simplified to a particular diet. However, in some cases, especially those that are severe, surgery will be recommended. More likely, your veterinarian will prescribe medication that has many goals, whether it’s minimizing damage, controlling the accumulation of fluid, ensuring there is oxygen in the blood, etc.
There is no set way to prevent heart disease in your pet, but it always helps to provide them with all the staples. Provide them with a healthy diet, full of needed nutrients. A low-sodium option can be particularly helpful if your pet’s heart is enlarged as a result of the disease. Give them extra love and attention, and consult with your veterinarian for how to provide them with exercise. They’ll help you develop a plan that factors in if your pet has difficulty breathing or is lethargic.
But the best form of prevention is early detection. By catching heart disease early on, you’ll be able to take the steps to start improving your cat or dog’s life from the start. You can help make the condition much more tolerable and comfortable for them, and your veterinarian can start doing what it takes to help them live a longer, happier life. Heart disease isn’t reversible, but it is manageable and can be made better for your pet.