Does Your Pet Have a Broken Heart?

Every time you take your pet to the veterinarian, steps are taken to detect signs of heart disease.  The main tool is through auscultation (listening to the sounds inside the body).  A stethoscope is used to detect the heart rate, heart rhythm, and heart sounds.   Abnormalities with any one of these areas can then be evaluated through EKG (electrocardiogram), blood pressure, chest x-rays, and echocardiography (heart ultrasound).

Heart disease does not only occur in our senior pets.  Congenital abnormalities (defects that are present at birth) can be detected at your pet’s first puppy/kitten visit at 6-8 weeks of age. Early detection of certain conditions (i.e. Patent Ductus Arteriosus, Pulmonic Stenosis) can even lead to life saving intervention!  Cardiac arrhythmias (abnormal heart beat/rhythm) can happen to pets of any age, although middle age and older pets are more affected.

At every exam, your veterinarian will listen for the presence of a heart murmur.  A heart murmur is the swooshing sound heard in between the normal heart sounds.  It is caused by turbulent blood flow in the heart.  There are many causes of heart murmurs.  In young pets, it is usually a congenital defect and in older pets it is associated with changes to the heart structure or degenerative changes to the valves of the heart.  Further tests such as x-rays and heart ultrasound are needed to determine the severity of a murmur.  Your veterinarian will let you know which tests are recommended.

Heartworm disease is prevalent in Louisiana and a major cause of heart disease.  Just one mosquito bite from an infected mosquito can cause an infection in your pet.  Dogs are much more susceptible to heartworms than cats.  The worms cause damage and inflammation to the inside of vessels and lungs.  Severe cases can cause the heart to be filled with worms, preventing blood flow, and causing death.  Monthly medication, starting at 8 weeks of age, can prevent an infection.  At every yearly exam, your pet will have its blood screened for the presence of heartworms.

Signs of heart disease to monitor include weakness, inappetance, weight loss, labored breathing (open mouth breathing in cats), coughing, exercise intolerance, fainting, and a distended abdomen.

Monthly heartworm prevention is a must and yearly exams are key in identifying heart disease. Metairie Small Animal Hospital is equipped with the ability to perform blood pressure, take x-rays, and hospitalize patients in oxygen cages.  We even have a board certified veterinary cardiologist come to our clinic weekly to perform echocardiograms (heart ultrasounds)! The bottom line is that the heart keeps everything going.  You take care if it and it’ll take care of you.