Cardiac Disease is quite common in our domestic pets. The trouble with heart disease is that it may be progressing quite silently in the background but can suddenly start causing symptoms, including death. This is one of the reasons why we carry out a full examination every time you come for annual booster vaccinations. Regular heart checks enable us to pick up, investigate and treat heart disease early. Heart disease can be caused by PRIMARY heart conditions, some of which are congenital or hereditary, and some of which are acquired. Other heart conditions may be SECONDARY to other diseases in the body; kidney disease for example.
It is estimated that 25 of dogs over the age of 7 have some form of heart disease. And in one study, 17 out of 103 cats examined had heart problems.
Signs of heart failure can usually be easily spotted but there are many other conditions that can cause similar signs; for example a cough may be caused by heart disease but can also be caused by infections, allergies, parasites and so on.
One simple thing you can check is whether your pet is breathing more heavily, especially at rest, or whether they have an increased breathing rate (greater than 30 breaths per minute). If you are not sure then call us or make an appointment with the Veterinary Surgeon for an assessment.
Heart disease can be caused by congenital defects, leaking valves, heart muscle disease, rhythm disorders and so on. The three commonest conditions we see are Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy in cats, Mitral Valve Disease in older dogs and Dilated Cardiomyopathy in larger dog breeds.
Some breeds of cat have a genetic predisposition to developing HCM. We see it more commonly in male cats from about 4 years of age. The heart muscle gets thicker and the heart loses the ability to pump normally. We diagnose HCM from history, from our examination and auscultation with a stethoscope (there may be a murmur), from special blood tests and from x-rays / ultrasound scan. We also see HCM in cats from 8 years of age onwards, secondary to having an overactive thyroid gland. Hyperthyroid cats have increased metabolism which puts extra load on the heart causing HCM and eventually heart failure. Thyroid problems are also easily diagnosed from examination and blood tests. Treatment is available for HCM and hyperthyroidism so come and see us for check up.
Mitral Valve Disease
There are many diseases that involve the heart valves but the commonest is mitral valve disease. This is a condition where the valve between the atrium and ventricle on the left of the heart stops working properly – the heart doesn’t pump enough blood to the body, fluid can accumulate in the lungs and the result is congestive heart failure. We see this really commonly in older dogs and in some small breeds, like the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, we see it more often. It can be a really debilitating disease but is easy to diagnose, sometimes just based on clinical examination, although blood tests and x-rays are necessary to confirm the diagnosis. Treatment is readily available, usually with diuretics to clear fluid and other drugs to lessen the workload on the heart, lower blood pressure and improve cardiac output. Many dogs live happily, with renewed vigour, for years with valve diseases.
DCM is one of the most common forms of acquired heart disease in dogs. Larger breeds over the age of 3 years are at greater risk. We can now detect this condition long before it starts causing symptoms and, in a recent study (the PROTECT study), it has been shown that early diagnosis and treatment can delay the onset of symptoms or death by 63% and can extend overall survival time by 34 %. A quick visit to us can allow us to pick up murmurs early, do an ultrasound scan if required and start your pet on life saving treatment. So make an appointment today.