Pet Heart Health

February is National Heart Month. Many people are aware of the importance of people taking care of their heart health, but did you realize that pet heart health is also just as important to their physical well-being? With a few simple steps, you can ensure your pet’s heart continues to perform its important job of pumping blood through the rest of the body.

Breeds with heart disease.The two types of heart conditions that affect dogs and cats are diseases of the heart muscle and those that affect the valves. Cardiomyopathy, or when a pet’s heart becomes enlarged, occurs most frequently in large breed dogs like Boxers, Dobermans, and Great Danes. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is the most common form of heart disease that affects cats. In HCM the walls of the ventricles become thickened, restricting the space that blood flows through. Valvular diseases of the heart are most commonly found in small breed dogs, especially King Charles Cavalier Spaniels. In these diseases, the valves within the heart can have an issue opening and closing properly, affecting blood pressure and flow.

Early symptoms of poor pet heart health can be difficult for owners to detect, as they can be subtle and mistaken with normal signs of aging. This makes annual checkups very important so the veterinarian can look for early warning signs. With congestive heart failure, the more advanced stage of heart disease, symptoms are more noticeable. Changes in the pet’s breathing, depressed behavior, poor appetite, weakness, and fainting are possible. Panting and open-mouth breathing are NOT NORMAL in cats; these are signs that the cat is in distress and needs to be seen by a veterinarian immediately. A healthy, normal dog or cat should take 30-40 breaths each minute while resting.

EKG readingDetecting heart disease early on improves their prognosis. The veterinarian can listen to the heart to make sure the beat is strong and regular. If there are concerns, they may use one of many diagnostic tools: checking the pet’s blood pressure, performing an electrocardiogram (EKG), and running blood work to evaluate hydration and mineral balance. Pets with compound heart issues can be referred to a board-certified veterinary cardiologist who can perform even more detailed testing and interpretation. We are lucky enough to have Dr. Keith Strickland come to MSAH on Tuesdays to see pets referred by our veterinarians. The vets then work together to formulate a treatment plan specific to each pet’s condition. These treatment plans frequently include a diet and medication regimen that can increase the pet’s lifespan and quality of life. Routine checkups are important to make sure the pet is appropriately responding to the plan.

What can you do to keep your pet’s heart healthy? Like in people, the importance of diet and exercise cannot be stressed enough. Besides the physical burden of carrying around extra weight, obese pets’ hearts have to work harder to beat. Fat stores take up space in the chest and abdomen that the heart needs to pump and the lungs need to expand. Extra fat also produces inflammatory hormones, which causes swelling of the heart muscle. Feeding a high quality meat-based high protein diet will help your pet maintain the ideal body weight. In addition to keeping pets from packing on extra pounds, exercise can strengthen the heart muscle. Short, vigorous play sessions can be good for both dogs and cats. Not sure if your pet is overweight? Check out our article about Pet Obesity.

Remember, maintaining pet heart health can help ensure they live a long, healthy life!