Cardiac Disease In Older Pets

What I See

I hear about heart disease in Dogs and Cats fairly often. Small breed dogs are represented more than larger breed dogs and with greater severity of symptoms. Heart murmurs are  frequently mentioned in cats, but I don’t hear about congestive heart failure in cats as often as with smaller breed dogs. Coughing is the most commonly mentioned symptom in dogs and difficulty breathing is the most commonly mentioned symptom in cats. Exercise intolerance is mentioned universally in animals and humans with untreated heart disease. Fluid build-up can be seen in both species with ascites (fluid in the abdomen), pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs) and pleural effusion (fluid in the thoracic (chest)) cavity. There can also be fluid in the sac that surrounds the heart (pericardial effusion). The latter is usually related to a growth in the heart muscle that is called a heart based tumor. The location of the abnormal fluid is often related to the area of the heart that is not functioning properly.

Important Information

Check-ups are important as the dog or cat ages and signs of heart disease can often be diagnosed or suggested when the veterinarian listens to the heart via a stethoscope. If a murmur or heart beat arrhythmia is auscultated (heard), the doctor may recommend a visit to a veterinary cardiologist for a more detailed and complete diagnosis to see if treatment is necessary. I would always suggest a cardiology exam prior to starting medication as certain kinds of heart disease may require a specific medication or combination of medications to help. Many times, when general practitioners find heart disease present, they will often use a combination of cardiac medications. This approach may be beneficial at first, but can present problems later if the wrong medication or combination is used. An echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) is necessary to determine exactly what is wrong with the heart and how advanced the problem is. Once that is determined, then the correct medication(s) and dosages can be prescribed. Heart disease can affect the entire internal function of the body and its organs. Also, other disease processes can damage the heart and can cause it to weaken. Hyperthyroidism is a good example in the cat and hypertension can damage the kidneys as well as cause problems with the heart in both species. Recent information has indicated that grain free diets can be related to cardiomyopathy in the dog, so it may be a good idea to change to a more suitable dog food. However, most cardiac disease is genetically predisposed in the dog and cat, so it’s not really a preventable disease. Fortunately, in many cases, the affected heart can be helped with medications. It goes without saying that this organ is one of the most important ones for all warm blooded creatures and keeping it in a healthy state maintains a steady life stream. For more detailed information, please check out the sources listed below.