Pets and Heart Disease: What You Need to Know


Cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes aren’t just human health problems — they can affect your pets, too. Unfortunately, many pet owners don’t recognize the signs of heart disease in their furry friends until it’s too late.

Heart disease affects dogs and cats the same way it does humans, and it can be dangerous if not treated early on or if not caught at all.

Learn more about heart disease in pets by reading the information below.


Heart problems can be common in older pets

Heart disease is the most common health condition found in pets. While some heart conditions are harmless, they can lead to other more serious problems such as arrhythmia or congestive heart failure if left untreated.

Some breeds are also at an increased risk of developing certain types of heart disease including Doberman Pinschers, Weimaraners, Dalmatians, Irish Setters, Greyhounds, Great Danes, St. Bernards, and Golden Retrievers.

An exam from your veterinarian will include a physical exam, blood tests, and an electrocardiogram (ECG) to assess how well your pet’s heart is functioning.

It is important for any family with a pet who has had a sudden loss of consciousness or chest pain that lasts longer than 10 minutes to see their veterinarian immediately for further evaluation and treatment.

If you have questions about whether your pet may be at risk for heart disease, speak to your veterinarian about their breed and lifestyle.


Take your pet’s pulse

Did you know that as many as 1 in 4 dogs over the age of 10 have been diagnosed with some form of heart disease? Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to spot warning signs.

Whether your pets has been diagnosed with a heart condition or is showing symptoms, take your pet’s pulse so that you can start improving their quality of life today.

1) Take your pet’s pulse-you may want to check for an irregular heartbeat or enlarged heart.

2) Find out if there are any physical changes like weight loss, lethargy, coughing, or difficulty breathing. If they don’t get better after taking them to the vet make sure you contact your veterinarian immediately because these are warning signs of congestive heart failure.

3) Add more exercise into their routine-dogs need 30 minutes a day of exercise at least three times per week.

4) Consider prescription medication like ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, and diuretics.

5) Learn how to administer CPR if needed (this video from the American Red Cross can help).

6) Provide oxygen.

7) Place on the floor or bed and cover with a blanket.

8) Stay calm and reassure your pet that everything will be okay while you wait for veterinary assistance to arrive.

9) Lastly, make sure your pet’s environment is safe – no stairs or jumping onto furniture.

When you know what to look for, it can be easier to diagnose and treat heart conditions early before they become serious.


Your dog may have trouble breathing

The most common symptom of heart disease in pets is trouble breathing. If your dog doesn’t seem tired or in pain but has a difficult time breathing, it could be a sign of heart disease.

If you notice any other symptoms – such as weight loss, coughing, sudden fainting spells, or vomiting – go see the vet immediately. Your pet may need a complete examination, blood work, an x-ray, and an echocardiogram to determine what’s wrong. 

A diagnosis will include information about the type of heart disease your pet has so that treatment can begin as soon as possible. In some cases, surgery might be necessary for relief from serious symptoms.

However, for many pets life can continue normally with medication for their condition if caught early enough. For example, diuretics help to remove excess fluid from the body which helps relieve congestion in the heart.

Beta-blockers control irregular heartbeat while ACE inhibitors improve blood flow by lowering high blood pressure.

Some pets also benefit from daily medications like insulin for diabetes or thyroid hormone replacement therapy if they have low thyroid levels.


There are new treatments available

The good news is that there are new treatments available for your pet. In addition, the tests veterinarians use to diagnose heart disease in pets have become much more sophisticated over the last decade, leading to better diagnoses.

As a result, vets are now able to offer patients faster diagnoses, leading to faster treatment. For example, cardiologists now use a tool called echocardiography which provides them with 3-D pictures of your pet’s heart.

These pictures show if your pet has any abnormalities such as an enlarged heart or abnormal valve openings (called stenosis). They also give your vet the ability to assess how well your pet’s heart is pumping blood and they can see where clots may be forming.

There are many different types of medications that can help pets with congestive heart failure including diuretics (to increase urine production), ACE inhibitors (to reduce strain on the heart), and beta blockers (to improve survival rates after a severe attack).


The symptoms of heart disease overlap with other diseases

In general, the symptoms of heart disease in pets are the same as they are in humans. A chronic cough or breathlessness is often a sign of congestive heart failure, while the sudden onset of fever with lethargy is an indication that your pet may have a bacterial infection.

At other times, there may be no noticeable symptoms at all-it is common for pet owners to see their veterinarian for a regular check-up and get an abnormal EKG reading by mistake.

The only way to know for sure if your pet has heart disease is to take them in for an examination. Some dogs will respond well to medication, but others may need surgery.

When treating heart disease in pets, veterinarians focus on three major points: relieving pain and discomfort; improving quality of life; and slowing the progression of the disease with medications or surgery when necessary.

To prevent heart disease in pets, you should try to keep your dog from becoming overweight (or obese) which can lead to diabetes and high blood pressure. And don’t forget about cats!

Cats who are overweight can also develop diabetes and high blood pressure which can lead to heart disease! Keep your furry friend trim so he/she doesn’t develop any health problems down the road.


How to find a pet cardiologist

Pet cardiologists are specialists who offer veterinary cardiology services, including diagnosis and treatment of heart conditions in pets.

This includes various cardiac diseases such as arrhythmias, heart failure, mitral valve disease, respiratory tract infections, restrictive lung disease (including asthma), urethral obstruction, and congestive heart failure.

Consult a veterinarian if you notice your pet panting excessively or if they seem lethargic or depressed. If your pet is coughing or choking, has trouble breathing, or can’t seem to catch their breath, get them to the vet right away!

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