Heart disease includes all disorders that impair the structure and function of the heart.  Heart disease is not curable, but it is treatable.
How does this disease occur?
A number of things can contribute to heart disease including breed, gender, age, and body condition.  Some pets are born with heart abnormalities (congenital), some pets develop disease over time (acquired).
There are two most common types of heart disease in pets.
  1. Chronic Valvular Disease – where a defective heart valve reduces the efficiency of the heart pumping blood.  Usually (but not always) smaller breed dogs suffer from this type of heart disease.
  2. Myocardial Disease – changes in the heart muscle that result in the heart pumping less efficiently. Usually (but not always) larger breed dogs and cats suffer from this type of heart disease
What are the clinical signs?
The most common clinical signs associated with heart disease are:
  • Low-pitched cough that may lead to gagging
  • Breathing difficulties, including shortness of breath
  • Reduced ability to exercise
  • Noticeable weight gain or loss
  • Fainting and sudden weakness
How is it diagnosed?
Performing a thorough physical examination is essential to the diagnosis of heart disease. During the exam the doctor will be checking for a murmur, which is often the first detectable sign of heart disease.  Follow up tests helpful in determining how advanced the heart condition is include complete blood work, a urine analysis, chest radiographs, and an electrocardiogram.  More often than not the doctor will recommend an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart); a veterinary cardiologist usually performs this test.
When does Heart Disease become Heart Failure?
Heart disease develops into heart failure when the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs.  Blood may back up in the heart, lungs or other organs.  Blood vessels constrict and blood pressure increases.  Fluid may leak out of the vessels, especially of the lungs and liver, causing congestion in the lungs and/or fluid accumulation in the abdomen and other tissue.
What are the signs of Heart Failure?
  • Coughing
  • Weakness
  • Lack of energy,
  • Irregular or rapid breathing
  • Lack of appetite and weight loss
  • Fainting
What are the treatment options?
  • Diuretics – we remove as much pooled fluids as we can with these drugs.  Once the fluids are removed from the lungs, the cough should improve and your pet should feel better.  For those pets that have accumulated fluids in the abdomen and have the potbelly appearance the medication should also help and the abdomen should get smaller.  Most commonly used drug in this category is Lasix or Furosemide.  These drugs will cause pets to drink and urinate more than usual.
  • Ace inhibitors – These drugs are vasodilators, which increase the diameter of the blood vessels throughout the body so that the heart does not need to work as hard to meet the body’s needs.  The most common drug used in known as Enalapril or Enacard.  The most common side effects of these drugs is lack of appetite and vomiting.  These drugs can affect the kidneys so caution must be used.
  • Inodilators – These drugs give the heart more strength allowing it to increase the amount of blood that the weakend heart can pump.   They also open up blood vessels throughout the body so the heart doesn’t have to work as hard.  The most common drug used is Pimobendan or Vetmedin. 
There are many other categories of drugs used to treat heart disease.  The doctor will talk to you about the need of other medications for your pet depending on the condition.
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