Heart Disease in Pets
Humans aren’t the only ones affected by disease of the heart. Dogs, cats, farm animals and horses also suffer the condition. In fact it is second only to cancer as the commonest disease causing premature death in dogs, and it is estimated that 15% of canines in this country are affected one way or another, some breeds being more prone than others. The incidence in cats is slightly less frequent, but no less debilitating. Their symptoms are not so obvious as they seem to have the sense to curl up and sleep more, rather than chase about in the hope that someone will take them out for a jaunt up the hill.
Signs of heart disease are non-specific and may be confused with other conditions, or even accepted by the owner as the inevitability of getting older, especially since the changes are often insidious rather than sudden, and usually occur after reaching middle age. These may include exercise intolerance (can’t go as far as before), breathing difficulty (more rapid respiration), coughing (especially at night), syncope (fainting), cold extremities, elevated heart rate and swollen abdomen. Successful treatment of heart conditions will often correct such symptoms and allow the pet to enjoy a greater quality of life.
Now for some detail: the heart is basically a pump, which moves liquid around the body. It is important that the liquid is constantly moving and reaching every single nook and cranny; so the pump must work all the time with no rest periods for at least a decade. During the course of this time parts of the pump become worn (creating heart disease), but it is only when these parts get worn further that clinical signs suggestive of heart failure become apparent.
We all know that prevention is better than cure, and it is preferable to step in early before failure develops. The mitral valve, which resides in the left side of the heart, is the part most likely to become diseased in dogs, when it thickens and hardens. It doesn’t close properly and blood squirts the wrong way (and is audible as a ‘murmur’ to the vet listening with a stethoscope). This gives the heart more work to do because, in order to get the required amount of blood to the extremities, more has to be pumped than before. The changes in the worn part are progressive so that, over a period of time, more blood leaks out and the heart struggles to compensate. A condition known as congestive heart failure develops - a slow worsening of symptoms - and death ensues in due course. Early recognition and treatment of heart disease will postpone heart failure and improve quality and length of life.
Smoking and obesity in humans correlate directly with increased risk of heart disease, and some individuals have a genetic predisposition for it. In dogs, breeds such as Yorkies, Cavaliers, Chihuahuas, Miniature Schnauzers, Maltese Terriers, Pekes and Whippets have an increased risk of the chronic valvular disorder described above, whilst larger breeds such as Boxers, Dobermanns, Wolfhounds, St Bernards, Newfies and Great Danes are at greater risk of heart muscle disease (when the main muscle doesn’t expand and contract as efficiently as it used to).
What can you do? If your pet suffers heart failure then it should be treated. Medicines are available that will transform many pets lives, and during the stabilization period the patient should be rested. In addition, diets with high salt content should be avoided. The earlier treatment is offered, the better, so if you are concerned you should seek advice from your veterinary surgeon. You should be particularly vigilant to symptoms of heart disease in the aforementioned breeds. In addition all pets must maintain a sensible weight throughout their lives. Fortunately our pets don’t have to worry about smoking!
To ensure that your pet is in the very best of health contact one of our Veterinary Nurses to book your FREE NURSE CLINIC on 01291 672637.