What a topic to talk about for Valentine's Day, huh? While the thought of heart disease isn't very romantic, we feel it's an important subject to discuss to bring awareness of this issue.
When taking your furry friend to the vets, you may notice that the vet will listen to their heart – this allows them to listen for any abnormalities that may be present such as a heart murmur. As with humans, the heart is an organ that can develop abnormalities over time through general wear and tear, or it can have defects present from birth. As with all organs of the body, it is important to look after the heart to make sure that it functions to the best of its ability.
Some breeds are more susceptible to heart problems than others and therefore regular check ups with your vet can help diagnose any problems very early on. Some of the breeds more at risk are Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Boxers, Maine Coons & Ragdolls. However it can affect any animal - old or young, male or female.
SYMPTOMS OF HEART PROBLEMS
Some symptoms that may indicate an underlying heart problem are:
- Reluctance to exercise
- Weight loss
- Panting/ heavy breathing
- Behavioural changes
If you notice any of these symptoms, we recommend that you bring your pet to see one of our vets for a health check – just for peace of mind that everything is ticking along fine.
HOW TO KEEP YOUR PET HEALTHY
Diet. Make sure that your pet maintains a healthy weight and is being fed a good quality food. Being overweight is a leading cause of heart disease and the extra weight your pet may be carrying, may be putting a lot of unnecessary pressure on the heart and can prevent it from working effectively.
Exercise. Regular exercise is so important for your pets' heart health. The heart is a muscle which means it needs to be kept active to keep it strong. Regular exercise can help strengthen the heart and improve the heart muscle so that it can perform to the best of its ability.
Health checks. Taking your pet for regular check ups with the vet allows us to monitor your pets' heart and identify any abnormalities in the early stages.
Some of you may have heard of these conditions but are not too sure what they mean so here is a little bit of information on some of the more common cardiac issues we see:
- Heart murmurs. These are caused by fast blood flow through the heart and vessels around the heart. There are many causes of murmurs including stress or a high temperature but it can also indicate the early stages of a heart condition so it's always best to get it checked. Murmurs vary in severity and are normally graded 1-6 with 6 being the most severe.
- Dilated cardiomyopathy. This is when the muscle of the heart becomes thinner and weaker causing the heart to stretch and preventing it from pumping the blood around the body efficiently. This is more commonly seen in medium and large dog breed dogs, but it can be seen in cats and small dogs on occasions.
- Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This is caused by the thickening of the heart muscle which in turn causes a reduction of blood volume in the heart. This is the most common heart disease seen in cats
- Congestive heart failure. This is sadly the end result of heart disease in cats and dogs. As the heart stops being able to function to its full potential and its ability to pump blood around the body is compromised, the heart becomes congested. This results in a build up of fluid in the abdomen and begins to interfere in the function of the other bodily organs.
This varies depending on the individual case but usually requires two of these to fully diagnose the disease
- Listening – The vet will listen to your pets heart using a stethoscope. They can listen to the rhythm of the heart and hear any obvious abnormalities present
- Ultrasound – This allows the vet to visualise the heart while it is in motion. They can measure parts of the heart and assess the quality of blood flow.
- X-rays – This allows the vet to see the size and shape of the heart. They can also look for signs of fluid accumulation in the chest
- ECG shows the electrical activity of the heart to help diagnose an abnormal rhythm
- Blood tests – there are specific blood tests that can be performed that show the health of the heart.
In very early stages your pet may not need any treatment and may only require regular monitoring. However if signs do develop, we can discuss all the treatment options with you. Changes to lifestyle can also be a beneficial treatment. Regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight can reduce excess strain on your pets' heart. Medications, if indicated, can improve the strength of the heart and remove excess fluid if necessary. If you have any questions regarding heart problems please call us on 0118 987 2294