Heart disease is a broad term referring to any affliction of the heart. Much like humans, our cats and dogs can accumulate damage to this vital organ over time.
Heart issues can affect any breed and any age, but older dogs are at the biggest risk.
Despite how scary it sounds to learn your pet has heart disease, pets can continue to live with the symptoms for some time. In fact, until the symptoms become severe, you might not even notice your dog has heart disease. But eventually, as the disease progresses, it tends to prove fatal.
What Causes Heart Disease in Pets?
There are two main types of heart disease in pets. The most common is chronic valvular disease, which occurs when the heart valves weaken and leak blood, lowering the quantity that is circulated throughout the body. This condition is seen most often in small breeds, including miniature poodles, pomeranians, and schnauzers.
The second type is myocardial disease. In this condition, the heart pumps less efficiently due to weakness or thickening of the heart muscles. It is more common in large and giant breeds, like Great Danes, of all ages.
Old age is the most common cause of heart disease.
Another culprit is heartworm infection, which is transmitted through mosquitoes. Thankfully, there are preventatives that can protect your pup from this disease.
Other common causes of heart disease include:
- Genetic predisposition
- Bacterial, viral, or protozoal infection
- Poor nutrition
- Ingesting toxins or poisons
- Various medications, including if taken by the pregnant mother
- Environmental factors
Symptoms & Diagnosis
The heart is responsible for circulating oxygen throughout the body. If it isn’t able to do this effectively, the first thing you will notice is breathing issues. Your pet may seem short of breath, and he may also be coughing or yawning excessively.
As the disease progresses, your pet may develop blue gums. In severe cases, the dog might develop ascites, an accumulation of fluid in the abdomen. Any of these symptoms should get veterinary attention as soon as possible.
Treatment of Heart Disease in Pets
If you suspect your pet has heart disease, a vet can confirm it with a few diagnostic tests. She will listen to your pet’s heart for unusual murmurs and use x-rays to examine the size and shape of the heart. Blood and urine tests might also be necessary.
The treatment for heart disease in pets depends on the cause of the issue. Heartworms, for example, can be killed with very strong medications. Tumors that are causing stress to the heart can be surgically removed.
If neither of these is determined to be the cause, the heart condition will be treated with frequent monitoring and medication. There is no cure, but this treatment can keep your pet healthier for longer.
How to Prevent Heart Disease in Pets
For issues of old age, like heart disease, prevention is key. Keep your pet healthy throughout life with a nutritious diet and plenty of exercise. Avoid exposure to toxins or unnecessary medications.
Frequent visits to the vet can help identify issues before they become too serious. Finally, keep your pet up-to-date on his vaccines to help prevent a parasitic heartworm infection.