The heart pumps vital oxygen throughout an animal's body so it can thrive. When the heart develops a disease, it can no longer function properly, impacting the operations of the entire body. Today, our Rock Hill vets talk about 5 of the most common heart diseases in pets, including their symptoms and treatment options available.

Heart Disease In Animals

Located in the center of an animal's cardiovascular system, the heart constantly pumps oxygen to every cell in the body. Heart diseases are internal medicine conditions in cats, dogs, and other pets that interrupt the heart's normal functions, potentially compromising the pet's entire body. 

Our Rock Hill veterinary team has extensive experience diagnosing and treating a variety of internal medicine conditions in dogs and cats, including the common heart diseases listed below. If your pet requires treatment that is beyond our scope of practice, we will refer you to a qualified veterinary internist (veterinary internal medicine specialist) to ensure that your pet receives the best care possible.

Signs & Symptoms of Heart Disease In Pets

Because cats and dogs can develop various types of heart diseases, your pet's symptoms will vary depending on the type of heart disease they have. The following are common heart disease symptoms in cats and dogs:

  • Lethargy
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Dry cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing 
  • Difficulty or discontinuing exercise
  • Increased respiratory rate and effort
  • Regularly elevated heart rate
  • Sudden hind leg paralysis
  • Fainting/collapse

If you notice your furry friend exhibiting any of these symptoms call your vet immediately or bring them to the nearest emergency animal hospital as quickly as possible.

Common Heart Disease In Cats & Dogs

Here are 5 of the most common heart disease seen in pets:

Congenital Heart Disease

Congenital heart diseases occur as the result of abnormal heart development. They are often present in puppies and kittens from birth. Vets often start the diagnostic process for this disease when they detect a heart murmur during a pet's routine exam.

Your veterinarian will perform an ultrasound of the heart to determine which congenital disease your cat or dog may have. They will then devise the best treatment plan possible, which may include minimally invasive surgery. Most cats and dogs recover quickly from these surgeries and live happy healthy lives.

Valvular Degeneration

Cat and dog hearts, like human hearts, have four chambers, two on each side. These chambers are equipped with valves that open and close to control blood flow. These heart valves can sometimes deteriorate to the point where they can't close properly as pets age. As a result, their blood will not be able to flow properly. This condition is more common in dogs than in cats, and degenerative mitral valve disease is the most common type of valvular degeneration in our canine companions.

As dogs get older, the mitral valve (the valve that separates the left atria from the left ventricle) thickens and gets weaker. This lets a small amount of blood flow backward through the valve every time the heart beats. This is called mitral valve regurgitation. As mitral valve regurgitation increases, the heart can get progressively larger and puts the dog at a higher risk of congestive heart failure.

Most cases in dogs are mild, however, approximately 30% of cases in dogs are severe, and will have to be managed their entire life. Degenerative mitral valve disease is often diagnosed when veterinarians notice a murmur in the left side of the heart during a routine checkup. Once this condition is officially diagnosed, your veterinarian will develop a plan to manage the disease, which may require prescription medications.

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy

This condition, which is more common in cats, occurs when the left ventricular muscle thickens abnormally, reducing the ventricle's (lower chamber of the heart's) ability to relax and accept blood. When this happens, the heart's pressure rises and the heart begins to dilate, resulting in sluggish blood flow and an increased risk of blood clots in your cat. Blood clots in the heart can cause blockages in the lower legs.

Sadly, this condition often goes undiagnosed because cats are skilled at hiding their pain and typically don't start showing symptoms until the blood clots start to prevent the blood from flowing to the back legs. This can put cats in even more pain and cause paralysis. Bringing your cat to the vet regularly for routine wellness exams gives your vet the chance to detect the earliest signs of heart disease.

If your vet believes your kitty may have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, they will implement a cardiac workup to confirm their suspicion and determine if medications are required. While this form of heart disease can't be cured, when it is properly managed and spotted early enough, many cats go on to live fulfilling lives without developing blood clots.

Heart Arrhythmias

Every beat your pet's heart takes is initiated and managed by electrical impulses that travel through their heart muscle. All of these impulses start at the top of the heart, and move through a conduction pathway, resulting in a coordinated heart contraction. When these electrical impulses don't initiate normally, follow the right pathway, or move through the entire conduction system, an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) can develop. Signs of arrhythmias in cats and dogs include lethargy, weakness, exercise intolerance, or/and collapse.

Your veterinarian will be able to detect an arrhythmia if you bring your cat or dog in for a routine wellness checkup. If they suspect your cat or dog has an arrhythmia, they will perform an electrocardiogram (ECG) to evaluate your pet's heart's electrical activity. In many cases, veterinarians have patients wear a Holter monitor (a harness containing an ECG-recording device that records heart activity over 24 hours) to gain a better understanding of the frequency and extent of the arrhythmia. Depending on the diagnosis, your cat or dog's treatment may include oral antiarrhythmic drugs or pacemaker therapy.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Dilated Cardiomyopathy is a group of diseases that weaken the heart muscles in dogs. As a result, the dog's heart pumps out less blood with each beat, causing the heart's walls to stretch and chambers to dilate or expand, increasing the dog's risk of congestive heart failure. This condition is more common in large or giant dogs, with Doberman Pinschers, Boxers, and Great Danes being the most vulnerable.

Sadly, this condition is progressive and can't be reversed. However, your vet might be able to slow the development of your pup's symptoms if the condition is diagnosed early enough, to help improve the quality of your canine companion's life.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If you think your beloved pet may have heart disease or to schedule their next routine examination, contact our Rock Hill vets today to schedule an appointment.