Signs of Heart Disease in Pets by Dr. Sarah Martin

Signs of heart problems are, of course, different in dogs versus cats. They rarely ever seem to read from the same textbook!

Let’s talk about cats first. They are the ultimate secret keepers. We often do not know there is a problem until there is a LARGE problem—they are that good at hiding their symptoms.
First of all, what if your veterinarian hears a heart murmur? What is a heart murmur? A murmur means there is turbulent blood flow, like with a narrowed artery or a faulty heart valve.

In cats, 50% of heart murmurs are asymptomatic and unlikely to cause any issue. The other 50 % occur for a number of reasons. When an older cat develops a heart murmur I worry about high blood pressure which can happen with hyperthyroidism and chronic kidney disease – bloodwork will differentiate these two. Other heart murmurs are because the heart is unhealthy – an ultrasound is the best way to learn what the heart is doing.

Typically, a cat in heart failure shows up for not eating, not moving around much and having trouble breathing; it is because there is fluid in his/her chest.  There are medications we can use to help improve the quality and quantity of life they have left, but heart failure is irreversible.

On to dogs. Many small breed dogs develop a heart murmur as they age and it is due to mitral valve insufficiency. The murmur itself does not ensure that heart failure will develop. Some will develop a cough because the left side of the heart gets big and compresses the bronchi in the chest, causing a mechanical cough. Others develop a cough because they have pleural edema (fluid within the lung tissue), as shown in the x-ray above. Once there is fluid in the lungs the dog is in heart failure. We treat heart failure with diuretics to decrease the fluid, medications to decrease blood pressure and medication to help the heart  contract.

There are many types of heart disease and reasons why it may or may not progress to heart failure. There are breed specific issues and nutritional issues as well, this article could go on forever! If you have a Maine Coon cat or any of these dogs: Boxer, Cocker Spaniel, Cavalier King Charles (to name just a few), ask our Brantford veterinarian team about some breed issues.

It is always a good idea to keep a close watch on your pets behaviour, and if they show any signs of the above it is best to not wait until things have gone on for sometime. Give us a call at Park Road Veterinary Clinic so we can best asses your pet.