Our doctors are trained in the use of specialty diagnostics such as electrocardiography, echocardiography and digital radiology to diagnose and manage heart disease in pets. These advanced tools and technologies enable us to quickly and accurately pinpoint heart issues so we can initiate the appropriate treatment in a timely manner. The sooner we identify a potential heart condition in your pet, the better we’ll be able to address and manage it for the long-term.
Heart Disease in Dogs and Cats
Dogs and Cats get heart disease, just like their human companions. In fact, it is estimated that almost 8 million dogs (10% of all dogs) in the United States and 1 percent of cats worldwide have heart disease. The incidence of heart disease increases dramatically with age.
Heart disease in dogs is almost as common as it is in humans. The most common form of heart disease in dogs is valvular disease, which primarily affects small breed dogs over 5 years of age and accounts for up to 75% of heart disease in dogs. Heartworm disease causes 13% of heart disease in dogs even though it is entirely preventable. Cats do get heartworm disease but it is much less common in cats. Myocardial disease, such as dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), makes up 8% of canine heart disease and primarily affects large breed dogs of all ages. DCM is becoming more common recently and there is a link to feeding grain free diets, although why this is happening has yet to be determined. Cats more commonly have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) which is a thickening of the heart muscle, causing it not to function properly. In cats, HCM often occurs secondary to hyperthyroidism.
Symptoms of heart disease depend on the severity and type of disease. With early heart disease, there may be no symptoms at all. As heart disease progresses, they may develop more obvious symptoms such as fatigue, reduced willingness to walk or exercise, difficulty breathing or increased respiratory rate, loss of appetite, weight loss, a distended abdomen, trouble sleeping or coughing.
Since early heart disease is asymptomatic, it is best to take your dog or cat to the veterinarian every year to screen for heart disease. Your veterinarian will listen to your pet’s heart for abnormal sounds like murmurs or irregular rhythms and will look for other subtle signs of heart disease. If your veterinarian suspects heart disease, they may measure blood pressure or suggest additional tests like bloodwork, x-rays, cardiac ultrasounds, or ECGs to confirm the diagnosis and determine the cause so that treatment can be started.
The final stage of heart disease is congestive heart failure (CHF), which occurs when the heart is unable to meet the body’s demands. While there is no cure for congestive heart failure, fortunately there are medications available to help the heart work better. The Quality of Life and Extension of Survival Time trial (QUEST), the largest clinical trial studying of dogs with CHF, reported that dogs treated with pimobendan lived much longer and enjoyed a higher quality of life compared to dogs treated with conventional therapy. Speak with your veterinarian or a veterinary cardiologist to determine which medications your pet will need depending on the type and severity of their heart disease.
Although diet and exercise are important for preventing other important diseases like obesity, diabetes and arthritis, they have not been found to play an important role in acquired heart disease. In fact, most forms of heart disease cannot be prevented except for heartworm disease and some cases of DCM and HCM. Although heartworm disease can be treated, it is much easier to prevent it in the first place. In dogs, annual testing is important because sometimes the HWD is resistant to monthly prevention.
Early diagnosis and treatment is imperative to extend your pets quality of life. Routine visits to your veterinarian can help catch heart disease while it is still asymptomatic. During these visits, your veterinarian will listen to your pet’s heart for murmurs or irregular rhythms and look for early signs of heart disease. Additional tests like x-rays, cardiac ultrasounds or ECGs may be ordered by your veterinarian to establish the diagnosis and determine the cause in order to start the right treatment. Starting treatment earlier can improve quality of life and extend life expectancy.
At Sarasota Animal Medical Center, we are able to perform full cardiac workups and treatment plans for your pet. We offer digital radiology, echocardiography, electrocardiography, and blood pressure analysis.
Don’t wait until it is too late to have your pet checked out. If your veterinarian has indicated that your pet has any sign of heart disease such as an arrhythmia or murmur, please make an appointment for a consultation with us or a veterinary cardiologist as soon as possible.