Your pet’s heart plays a critical role in their health. The heart is arguably their hardest-working organ, beating 35 million times per year, with each heartbeat pumping blood through an endless network of vessels to deliver oxygen to their cells. Heart disease can impact your pet’s entire body, and have serious effects on their overall health. Heart disease is surprisingly common in pets—approximately 10% of dogs and 15% of cats have heart disease, with older pets more frequently affected. Knowing more about heart disease can help you recognize signs, and seek early treatment, should your pet be affected. 

What types of heart disease affect pets?

Pets can develop many heart disease types, including:

  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) — HCM, which is the most common heart disease in cats, causes thickening of the muscular heart wall. The smaller heart chambers cannot pump a sufficient blood volume, and the heart fails to keep up.
  • Valvular degeneration — Common in older, small-breed dogs, valvular degeneration causes blood to backflow, or regurgitate, from the lower heart chambers (i.e., ventricles) to the upper heart chambers (i.e., atria) during contraction. The atria may become enlarged, and the heart’s blood output may be inadequate for the body’s needs.
  • Electrical disturbances — Each of your pet’s heartbeats is initiated and controlled by an electric impulse that travels in a predictable path through their heart muscle. Heart disease that interferes with impulse initiation or conduction can lead to cardiac arrhythmias (i.e., abnormal heart rhythms).
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) — DCM causes the heart muscle to weaken, and pressure from blood flowing through the heart causes the walls to stretch over time. The heart chambers become dilated, and do not pump blood forcefully enough. DCM typically develops in genetically predisposed dog breeds, such as boxers and Doberman pinschers, but a rise in cases has been linked to boutique, exotic, and grain-free (BEG) diets in recent years.
  • Heartworm disease — Heartworms are parasitic worms transmitted through a mosquito bite. The larval worms grow to 12-inch adults that can accumulate in a dog’s heart and blood vessels and obstruct blood flow. Heartworm disease will progress to death without treatment. The worms cannot reproduce in cats, but can trigger significant lung inflammation, which can also become deadly. Heartworm disease can be prevented with prescription medications—ask our team which preventives are best for your pet.
  • Congestive heart failure (CHF) — When disease interferes with the heart’s ability to keep up with blood flow, CHF develops. As blood accumulates in vessels leading to the heart, the increased pressure causes fluid to leak into the surrounding tissues, including the lungs and abdomen. Fluid in a pet’s lungs causes difficulty breathing, which is a common heart disease sign.

What are heart disease signs in pets?

Regardless of a pet’s heart disease type, signs will be similar, and may include:

  • Lethargy
  • Tiring easily
  • Decreased appetite
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Abdominal distension
  • Pale or blue-tinged mucous membranes

If your pet shows any of these signs, or you believe they may have heart disease, our Kennedy Heights Animal and Bird Hospital team should evaluate them immediately.

How is heart disease diagnosed in pets?

Heart disease evaluation begins with a thorough physical exam, which includes listening to your pet’s heart and lungs for abnormal sounds or rhythms. A full heart disease workup may also include:

  • X-rays
  • Blood pressure monitoring
  • Blood work, which may include NT-proBNP, a cardiac biomarker
  • Heartworm testing
  • Electrocardiograph (ECG)
  • Echocardiogram, which is a cardiac ultrasound

How is heart disease treated in pets?

A pet’s treatment plan will be tailored for their heart disease type, with the goal of helping the heart pump more efficiently to keep up with the body’s oxygen demands. Medications are often prescribed to alter heart rate, contraction force, and impulse conduction. If your pet also has CHF, medications, including diuretics, may be prescribed to manage fluid retention, and help them breathe more easily. 

What is the prognosis for heart disease in pets?

Prognosis varies, depending on your pet’s heart disease type and severity. Some heart diseases, such as HCM, can be managed long-term with medications, whereas others, such as DCM, carry a poorer prognosis. If our Kennedy Heights Animal and Bird Hospital team diagnoses heart disease in your pet, we will develop a treatment plan with you that offers your pet the best prognosis possible. 

We don’t want your pet—or their heart—to miss a beat. Schedule your pet’s wellness exam, which includes heart disease screening, so we can detect any abnormalities before they become a problem.