Are pets at risk for Heart Disease just like humans are?

Pets can get heart disease just like people! However, the common causes for heart disease in pets are quite different to that in humans.  Pets do not tend to get blocked arteries leading to ‘heart attacks’ as people can, but they can certainly have severe heart disease that leads to heart failure. Old age or degenerative disease is among the most common causes for heart disease in pets.  These changes can lead to enlargement of heart chambers, reduced contractility (ability of the heart to pump blood) and leaking heart valves.  Puppies and kitten can have congenital malformations, which are structural abnormalities that they are born with.  Other causes include heartworm, tumors of the heart, toxicities and nutritional deficiencies.

The heart normally tries to cope with degenerative conditions for as long as possible, so early signs of heart disease may not be obvious.  Symptoms may only be evident when the heart begins to fail.  Congestive heart failure results when there is a fluid build-up in various organs due to the heart’s reduced ability to pump blood.  When fluid builds up in the lungs, breathing becomes difficult,  The most common first signs of heart disease are coughing, reduced ability to exercise and rapid or difficult breathing.  When heart failure occurs, the animal is likely to collapse and will need to be treated as an emergency.  Cats are notoriously good at hiding signs of disease and may suddenly collapse without showing any early signs.

If your pet is taken to the vet in a collapsed state, the first steps are usually to provide oxygen and medications to clear the fluid from the lungs.  In cases that are presented earlier, investigations will probably include x-rays of the chest, blood tests and an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart).  Once heart disease has been confirmed and the cause identified, long term medications may be prescribed to manage heart disease.  Unfortunately heart disease is not curable, but if diagnosed early many cases can be managed and the pet may still have an acceptable quality of life.

Is your pet a victim of heart disease? Did you catch it early on, or was it too late? What warning signs would you suggest to look out for to help catch it early on and prevent further damage? Please comment.

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