Ticker trouble - heart disease in pets
The heart is a busy organ! In the lifetime of the average animal it beats about 1 billion times and pumps an average of 4.5 litres of blood around the body of a dog every minute!
Located in the middle of the chest, the heart is split in half by a muscular wall. The right side of the heart receives low-oxygen blood from the body and pumps it to the lungs, where it gets rid of waste gas (carbon dioxide) and receives fresh oxygen from the air. Blood then travels to the left side of the heart, where it is pumped under high pressure to the tissues of the body, to carry oxygen and nutrients for use by other organs.
Like humans, dogs and cats sadly do suffer from heart disease. Unlike their owners, heart disease in pets is most often genetic and not caused by lifestyle! In dogs, two common diseases are seen by vets. In older, small breed dogs, more than half can suffer a leak in a major heart valve by the age of ten (mitral valve disease). In larger dogs, middle and older aged, dogs can develop a weakness of the heart muscle (called dilated cardiomyopathy). Dogs with heart disease may show signs of reduced exercise ability, heavy panting and fast breathing, coughing or even fainting.
In cats, the most common heart disease is a thickened heart muscle (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy). This is very common, with around one in seven cats of all ages being affected. Older cats may suffer with the disease more and develop signs such as breathing difficulties and weight loss.
Early detection of the disease is very important and if you are concerned that your pet is showing any signs of heart disease you should visit your vet. Modern veterinary techniques (such as chest x-rays and heart scans) can help us investigate further. Also, recent developments in veterinary medicine mean that we have new treatments to help dogs and cats with heart disease which can make them feel well and maintain a good quality of life for longer. They do not need to be left to suffer.
As always we advise you contact your vet if you are at all concerned about your pet’s health – prevention is always better than cure.
Chris Devlin BVSc MRCVS is a Vet and Partner at Hillside Veterinary Centre in Corfe Mullen.