| Heart Disease in Cats and Dogs
Heart disease is a common disease in cats and dogs and often results in life threatening states including congestive heart failure, blood clots, fainting and sudden death. Many animals show no outward evidence of cardiac disease until a major complication arises.
Common heart diseases include congenital and acquired heart disease. Congenital heart disease is present at birth and is rare. Acquired heart disease develops over time, usually beginning during middle-age and affecting many older animals. Acquired heart disease affects the heart valves or muscles resulting in heart failure.
Heart failure occurs when the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. Because the heart is not pumping effectively, blood may back up in the heart, lungs, or other organs. Blood vessels constrict and blood pressure increases. As a result, fluid may leak out of the vessels and cause congestion of the lungs or fluid accumulation in the abdomen.
Animals with heart disease may have decrease in activity, coughing during periods of exercise or excitation, increased respiratory rate, lethargy or weakness, fainting, reduced interaction with people, infrequent vomiting and reduced appetite.
The physical examination sometimes provides the first evidence of cardiac disease such as a heart murmur or arrhythmia. Animals with more serious heart disease may have blue mucous membranes, fluid in the lungs, weak pulses or blood clots.
Tests to diagnose heart disease include electrocardiogram (ECG) to evaluate the rate and regularity of the heartbeat. Chest x-rays to help determine the size and shape of the heart, the condition of the lungs, and the size of blood vessels. Echocardiography is used to visualize the internal structures of the heart and its ability to function. Blood pressure measurements help diagnose high blood pressure. Blood and urine samples check the function of the kidneys, liver and other organs for their involvement in the heart failure process, and for the presence of other diseases.
Although there is no cure for heart failure, new treatments and specially formulated diets help pets enjoy longer life with better quality. Success of treatment depends on the severity and progression of the disease, presence of other illnesses, and the age of the pet.
Early detection of heart failure provides the best chance for successful treatment.