The heart is an amazing workhorse, beating on average 100,000 times per day, or more than 35 million beats per year. The heart keeps people and pets alive by oxygenating and circulating blood throughout the body. The right side of the heart receives “used” blood from the body and pumps it through the lungs to pick up oxygen, while the left side pumps freshly oxygenated blood back out into the body. An electrical impulse causes the heart to beat, and blood flows in and out of the heart through valves that open and close with heartbeat contractions. Pets rarely get coronary artery disease like humans, however. Instead, their heart muscle, valves, or electrical impulses change progressively.  

What are the common heart diseases affecting pets?

Only 1% of animals have heart disease from birth (i.e., congenital), with most acquiring heart diseases, including: 

  • Mitral valve disease — Valvular degeneration can cause a backflow of blood through the valves on the left side of the heart, manifesting as a heart murmur. The valves thicken and contract and do not close completely, and the heart can enlarge because of the backflow. Mitral valve disease is slowly progressive, and older, small-breed dogs are particularly predisposed.
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) — Heart walls can become thickened, making it difficult for the heart to contract and relax. HCM can cause blood clot formation (i.e., thromboembolism) or sudden collapse. This disease mostly affects cats, and can be secondary to hyperthyroidism, but certain dog breeds can be predisposed. 
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) — Heart walls become weakened and lose their ability  to contract normally, which leads to heart enlargement and decreased pumping capacity. Certain large-breed dogs are genetically predisposed to DCM, and diet has been implicated in some cases. 
  • Cardiac arrhythmias — Aberrant electrical impulses in the heart can cause an abnormal heart rhythm that may be a primary problem, or secondary to other heart disease.
  • Pulmonary hypertension — High blood pressure in and out of your pet’s lungs is usually a secondary sign of other heart disease.
  • Congestive heart failure (CHF) — All the above heart diseases can progress to congestive heart failure, which causes fluid retention in the body. The excess fluid is the result of pressure increasing in veins and capillaries to the point that they leak into the lungs (i.e., left-sided CHF) or abdomen (i.e., right-sided CHF). 

What are heart disease signs in pets?

Unfortunately, early heart disease has few clinical signs, which makes regular wellness exams essential. Any pet displaying the following signs could be experiencing heart disease, and should be immediately evaluated by the Cranberry Holistic Pet Center team:

  • Lethargy
  • Decreased exercise tolerance
  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Coughing
  • Abdominal distention
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Pale or blue-colored gums
  • Fainting or collapsing

How is heart disease diagnosed in pets?

A veterinarian usually picks up heart disease when they listen with a stethoscope for a heart murmur, arrhythmia, muffled heart sounds, or increased lung sounds during a routine exam. Follow-up diagnostics are needed to fully evaluate your pet’s heart condition type and severity.

  • Chest X-rays — X-rays allow visualization of your pet’s heart and lungs, and assessment of your pet’s heart size, pulmonary vessels, and potential fluid accumulation. 
  • Echocardiogram — An echocardiogram is an ultrasound that provides real-time observations of your pet’s heart at work.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) — An ECG measures the electrical activity of your pet’s heart, to determine the type and location of an arrhythmia detected during your pet’s exam.
  • Blood pressure — A blood pressure measurement checks for high or low pressures, which can be because of heart disease, or a secondary cause that affects the heart.
  • Blood tests Laboratory tests provide important information on your pet’s overall organ function, presence of infection, and certain cardiac enzymes and protein levels. 

How is heart disease treated in pets?

Heart disease treatment is designed to slow disease progression and increase your pet’s quality of life. At-home monitoring of your pet’s resting respiratory rate is essential for gauging treatment effectiveness. Regular lab work monitors the effect of medications on your pet’s organ function. Treatments depend on the heart disease type and severity and may include: 

  • Diuretics to decrease fluid accumulation
  • Vasodilators to improve circulation
  • Inodilators to enhance heart contractility
  • Medication for pulmonary or systemic hypertension
  • Antiarrhythmics to stabilize heart rhythm, or possible pacemaker implantation
  • Antithrombotics to prevent thromboembolism
  • Heart-friendly diets tailored to your pet
  • Specific nutritional or herbal supplementation
  • Acupuncture to help with heart disease symptoms

The Cranberry Holistic Pet Care team recommends regular preventive care visits to ensure an early heart disease diagnosis, and to provide for a longer and better quality of life. Do not hesitate to contact us if you have questions about your pet’s heart health, or you are concerned that they may be showing heart disease signs.