February is American Heart Month (for pets too!)

Hearts are seen everywhere in the month of February.  Both in honor of Valentine’s Day and also as a reminder of American Heart Month which raises awareness about heart disease n people.  February is also known as American Heart Month for pets.  It is estimated that 10% of dogs and cats suffer from heart disease and its related symptoms.

            The heart is a pump that circulates blood throughout the body.  If a pet develops heart disease the pump is no longer able to do its job properly.  This decrease in function leads to increased pressure and congestion.  If the heart is not able to pump the blood properly fluid can leak out into the lungs or abdomen.  If the fluid is leaking into the lungs this can lead to trouble breathing and sometimes a cough.

            Sometimes no sign of a heart problem is noted, or you may notice the following symptoms:

  • Coughing
  • Changes in breathing
    • Difficulty breathing
    • Shortness of breath
    • Labored breathing
    • Rapid or fast breathing
  • Changes in behavior (more noticeable in dogs)
    • Tiring easily
    • Reluctance to exercise or not wanting to go for walks
    • Less playfulness
    • Slowing down or lack of energy
    • Depression or a withdrawn demeanor
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fainting or collapsing (less common)
  • Weakness
  • Restlessness, especially at nigh
  • Swollen abdomen

Contact your veterinarian if you notice any of the above signs.

            One of the most sensitive early indicators of progression of heart disease or heart failure is the resting or sleeping respiratory rate.  This is something that is easy to measure at home, it doesn’t cost anything and the pet isn’t bothered since it is asleep.  The normal resting respiratory rate (RRR) is less than 30 breaths per minute.  To determine the RRR you need to count the breaths—each rise of the chest—over 15 seconds and multiple that number by four to get breaths per minute (60 seconds).  There are even apps for smartphones to help count and keep track of your pets RRR.  A RRR of over 40 breaths per minute is a reason for concern and warrants veterinary attention.

            Heart disease is diagnosed initially with a stethoscope.  The veterinarian will listen to your pet’s heart rate, rhythm, and for signs of a heart murmur.  Additional tests may be necessary including: blood test, radiographs, blood pressure tests, an electrocardiograph (ECG) and an echocardiogram (using cardiac ultrasound to view the heart and blood flow).  There are veterinarians that specialize in veterinary cardiology.  Your family veterinarian may refer you to a specialist to help determine the best treatment for your pet.

            Treating your pet’s heart condition will depend on the type of disease diagnosed and its progression.  There are several medications available to help improve and lengthen the lives of dogs and cats with heart disease.  Regular veterinary check-ups and diet and lifestyle changes can also help prolong your pet’s life. 

If you have any questions or concerns about your pets health don’t hesitate to reach out and make time to have your furry friend checked out.