Like people, pets can suffer from heart disorders. However, they aren't susceptible to coronary artery disease (where plaque builds up in the arteries of the heart) that commonly affects humans. Instead, they're prone to heart disorders such as cardiomyopathy and valve disease.
Your pet's heart controls blood flow throughout the body and has a four-chamber structure, like our own hearts. It has two upper chambers called atria and two lower chambers known as ventricles. Here's how they work:
Pet heart disorders are categorized into two different types:
When the heart is not working properly because of a congenital or acquired disorder, congestive heart failure can occur. This is where the heart fails to pump blood effectively throughout the body, causing blood to back up into either the lungs or backwards into the main body circulation.
This causes fluid to build up in the body, particularly in and around the lungs and in the abdomen. Congestive heart failure is an emergency and requires immediate lifesaving treatment, so it's important to know the signs.
Fluid build-up caused by congestive heart failure can make it difficult for pets to breathe. They may exhibit noisy breathing, excessive panting, and bluish gums. Other signs include:
If you suspect your pet is experiencing congestive heart failure, you should take them to the veterinarian or an emergency animal hospital immediately.
Diagnosing a heart disorder requires a full physical exam, including checking your pet's blood pressure and listening for abnormalities, such as a heart murmur or lung sounds (crackles) that can indicate fluid build-up, with a stethoscope. Blood and urine tests may also be performed. Other possible tests, some of which may need to be done at a veterinary cardiologist, include:
Treatment will depend on the type and severity of the condition. For example, surgery may be recommended to put in a pacemaker to help regulate the heart's rhythm.
If your pet has congestive heart failure, treatment will focus on eliminating fluid build-up through diuretics and reducing the heart's workload with medications. Congestive heart failure can't be cured, but these medications can help improve quality of life.
Pets with a heart disorder may not eat as much or as often as usual, which can cause weight loss and reduced muscle mass. Your veterinarian can suggest ways to encourage them to eat such as:
If you have an overweight or obese pet with congestive heart failure, your veterinarian may put them on a safe weight loss program. Losing weight can help them breathe with less difficulty, feel more comfortable, and avoid additional health issues, like arthritis and diabetes.
If your pet has a heart disorder, your veterinarian may recommend certain diet restrictions or supplements to support heart health. For instance:
Remember not to make any dietary changes or give your pet supplements without consulting with your veterinarian. It's important to know if they're effective and understand how much you should give them.
Exercise is important for the physical and mental health of any pet. However, pets with a heart disorder may need to avoid strenuous exercise. Talk to your veterinarian about how much activity is safe for your pet.
Also, keep an eye on them when they are active for signs of overexertion, such as excessive panting. If you suspect your pet is overdoing it, have them take a break and give them some time to rest.
Regular check-ups give your veterinarian the opportunity to assess your pet's heart health on an ongoing basis. They can listen to your pet’s heart for any abnormalities and help track their weight so you can intervene early if there are any issues.
Your veterinarian can also test for heartworms and may recommend heartworm preventative medication if your pet is at risk. Heartworm Disease is a very serious but preventable problem that can affect both dogs and cats.
If your pet has congestive heart failure, your veterinarian may suggest more frequent visits. This allows them to monitor your pet's condition and manage medications more closely.
Diagnostic tests and treatments for heart disorders can get expensive. Pet insurance can help you manage these costs. See plan options for your pet.
Stress can take a toll on a pet’s health, just like it can with people. Pets with a heart disorder can be especially sensitive to things like a change in routine or noisy visitors. Of course, it's not always possible to avoid potential stressors. However, you can help your pet relax by giving them a cozy place to retreat when they need some downtime.
You should also make sure you give your pet lots of love and cuddles. This can help lower stress for the both of you!
The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.
title: Heart Care for Pets
author: Dr. Wendy Hauser