Protecting your Pet’s Heart: What You Need to Know About Pet Heart Disease

We love our pets with all of our hearts, and they love us back equally. As a pet parent, you want to do everything you can to protect your best friend, and we want to help you do just that. We believe the first step in protecting pets is educating their parents, which is why we want you to know the facts when it comes to your pet’s heart health.
Did you know that heart disease in pets is almost as common as heart disease in humans? That’s right - pets, large and small, can develop heart complications and heart disease. From Great Danes to Chihuahuas, tabbies to Siamese cats, ferrets to rabbits, all creatures are at risk of developing heart problems.
The first question every pet parent wants to know: is heart disease fatal? The heartbreaking answer is yes, when left untreated for too long. Once a pet reaches the point of congestive heart failure, there is no cure or treatment.
Before you panic, keep reading to learn what you need to know to protect your pet from suffering the complications associated with heart disease.

Heart Disease and Dogs

Heart disease is a pretty common problem for our canine companions. Ultimately, about 10% of dogs experience heart disease.  Unlike the heart problems people face, the range of heart diseases and risk factors for dogs differs greatly.

The Most Prevalent Canine Heart Disease: Valvular Disease
Valvular disease may seem like a mouthful to say, but it’s pretty straightforward in its effect. 75% of dog heart disease we see is heart valve-related. 

What is Valvular Disease?
If you recall your middle school years and learning about how the human heart functions, you already have a good idea of how your dog’s heart operates:
Blood flows into the chambers, and the heart uses valves to stop the blood for a moment to re-oxygenate the blood before the thump and beat of the muscles pushes the blood out and around the body. The heart’s valves also keep the blood flowing in the right direction. 
Valvular failure occurs when these valves wear and change in shape. The seal they form isn’t as tight as it needs to be, and a tiny bit of blood leaks in the wrong direction with each pump. 
Over time, the heart has to compensate for the lack of efficiency by enlarging to push enough blood through the body. Eventually, the heart cannot keep up: the muscles wear out, the walls of the heart become thin and stretched, and the heart fails.

What Dogs Are At Higher Risk for Valvular Disease?
This disease is most frequently seen in the smallest dog breeds. It can be found in medium and large dogs, as well, but is much more prevalent in small dogs.

Other Deadly Heart Diseases in Dogs
One fact that will always be disappointing to us is that the second most common heart disease affecting dogs is completely preventable. Heartworm disease accounts for 13% of cases of canine heart disease. All it takes is a simple appointment and a prescription for heartworm prevention to ensure your dog is protected against this one.
Other canine heart diseases include myocardial disease and dilated cardiomyopathy. Dilated cardiomyopathy primarily affects large breed dogs. 

How Are Grain-Free Dog Diets Related to Heart Disease?
One question that keeps popping up from dog owners is: Why do I keep reading in the news that grain-free diets are linked to heart disease? As of right now, there is no conclusive evidence that a grain-free diet causes heart problems for dogs but there has been an increase in heart complications in low-risk dogs that eat strict grain-free diets, so the FDA is studying the issue.  Given the FDA concern, our doctors no longer recommend feeding a grain free diet unless specifically recommended for a health reason.
If you are worried about your dog’s diet, we can answer any questions you may have.

Heart Disease and Cats

Nine lives or not, you want to keep your cat’s heart in optimal condition! Like dogs, about 10% of cats will develop heart disease.
The causes of cat heart disease can vary. Some cats are born with malformations in their heart valves while others develop heart irregularities over the course of their lives. Like dogs, cat heart valves can wear out over time. They can also experience heart murmurs along with tears in their heart valves, walls, and arteries.  While it is not endemic to felines, cats can also contract heartworms.  
When left undiagnosed and untreated, heart disease will result in heart failure which is fatal for cats as well.

Heart Disease and Other Pets

As you’re probably aware, we see all types of companion animals: from birds to hedgehogs, turtles, and ferrets! We believe all animals deserve protection and the best care. We tailor our exams to make sure all pets’ hearts are in good health. Heart health is imperative to your pet’s longevity. If you have an exotic pet, we have the expertise needed for their special hearts, too!

Symptoms and Warnings of Pet Heart Disease

The key to treating heart disease before it transitions to heart failure is an early diagnosis. Unfortunately, the first stages of pet heart disease are often symptom-less. As the heart slowly enlarges, it is able to supply enough oxygen to the body; it’s not until the heart can no longer compensate that symptoms appear.
As heart disease progresses, pets then begin to show signs such as trouble catching their breath, weight loss, lethargy, coughing, and bloating. When these signs appear, it’s often too late.
Annual exams are the best way to catch heart complications early on. We can listen to your pet’s heart and explore deeper if needed. 
If it’s time to check your pet’s heart health or set up an annual exam, give us a call at 651.770.3250 or use our appointment portal to request your pet's visit to see us.
 Image credit: humonia | iStock | Getty Images Plus

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