Our pets have a heart of gold (most of the time) and as their pet parents, we want to keep them in the best shape possible. Unfortunately, heart disease is common in our pets. That’s why it’s best to have a heart to heart about it now so that you can be aware of signs and symptoms.

There are a few breeds that are predisposed to heart disease, including Doberman Pinschers, Boxers, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, and Maine Coon cats. If you have one of these breeds, pay especially close attention.

Types of heart conditions

It’s with a heavy heart that I tell you that some of our pets are born with heart conditions. These conditions are called congenital, because they are present at birth. These include:

  • Patent Ductus Arteriosis
  • Mitral Dysplasia
  • Pulmonic Stenosis
  • Aortic Stenosis
  • Tetrology of Fallot
  • Ventricular Septal Defects

These congenital diseases affect the way blood flows into, out of, or through the heart, thereby having an impact how it can flow to the rest of the body’s tissues. For some of these conditions, treatment options exist to cure the condition, while for others symptomatic treatment is the only choice.

Other conditions are acquired, meaning they develop over time. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, dilated cardiomyopathy, and valvular degeneration are good examples of these kinds of conditions. Some types of cancers also develop on or around the heart and can lead to heart disease as well.

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Signs and symptoms

Our animal friends develop many of the same symptoms that we do. The first symptom you might notice is exercise intolerance. Unwillingness to exercise or weakness during exercises that used to be easy could signal heart disease. Fainting or collapsing are common signs of heart arrhythmias (abnormal heart beat rhythms). Coughing (especially at night) is a common sign of heart disease, as well, and is the result of the combination of an enlarged heart pressing on the trachea and fluid buildup in the chest.

Your veterinarian may hear a heart murmur during your pet’s routine physical exam. Take heart--it doesn’t necessarily mean that something is wrong. It does, however, warrant additional testing. Your vet may want to take an X-ray to evaluate your pet’s heart size or run an EKG to make sure your pet’s heart is beating correctly. If doubt arises during these additional tests, you may be referred to a cardiologist. This specialist will have the facilities to further diagnose your pet and have you both back on track without skipping a beat.

Treatment and prevention

Because many heart conditions are congenital and the costs of care can become expensive, it may help to have a dog insurance or cat insurance plan in place that will protect your pet should any hereditary or congenital problems arise. Pet insurance can protect your pet - and your family budget - from congenital or chronic conditions such as heart disease for life.

If you’ve got your heart set on spending a quality life with your pets, you need to keep both of you healthy--eat the right foods (and feed the right foods), exercise together, and don’t forget your yearly or twice-yearly checkups. Your hearts will thank you for it.

Oct 10, 2011
Pet Health

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