Valentine’s Day has come and gone, but February remains the American Heart Month! This month we want to focus our awareness on heart disease and prevention in dogs and cats. It is estimated that roughly 10% of our furry friends are the victims of heart disease.
Heart disease in dogs and cats is typically broken down into two categories, congenital or acquired. Congenital heart disease is something the patient is born with, typically a structure problem with the heart. Sometimes, these issues can be fixed, but it often requires very specialized surgery. Acquired heart disease makes up the majority of cases and is a problem that develops within the heart over time. Of acquired disease, we think of valve problems, muscular, or electrical problems with the heart.
One of the most important parts of you pets’ annual physical exam is listening to your pets’ heart and lungs. This is how we can start to detect heart disease. We are listening for normal, crisp heart sounds and a normal heart rate and rhythm. Often, we can detect heart murmurs which is an additional sound that indicates a problem with one of the valves in the heart. Depending on where the murmur is the loudest and the severity of the murmur, additional diagnostics are typically recommended. Typically, we will start with radiographs of the chest to measure the shape and size of the heart and to look for changes in the lungs that may be consistent with congestive heart failure. Often from there, we will also recommend an echocardiogram where we ultrasound the heart to visualize the valves and musculature of the heart to better diagnose the extent and specific form of heart disease. Using the radiographs and the echocardiogram, we are then able to put together the best treatment plans for our patients with heart disease.
If an abnormal rhythm is noted, we may also recommend additional testing to check the electrical pathways in the heart. This test is called an Electrocardiogram or EKG.
If you are noticing decreased activity, exercise intolerance, coughing, weight loss, difficulty sleeping, or difficulty breathing, it is important to have your pet’s heart evaluated by your veterinarian.
Luckily, when heart disease is caught early, there is often a lot we can do to help our fur babies!
There are some new studies that have shown there is a BIG way we can help our dogs from developing a specific form of heart disease called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). There appears to be a link between grain-free, exotic ingredient, and boutique formulated diets and an increase in cases of DCM. There is even an FDA warning against feeding these diets. There is still more research to be done, but contrary to popular belief, there are no known health benefits to feeding these special diets unless your pet has been diagnosed with a special medical problem. For now, veterinary nutritionists are recommending reconsidering your pets’ diet if you currently feed a grain-free, exotic ingredient, or boutique formulated diet.