It is estimated that heart problems can affect around 10% of all dogs and cats in the UK.
Whilst some heart diseases may be present when the animal is born (congenital), the vast majority develop in adulthood. With certain breeds of dog, the occurrence of heart disease can increase significantly as they age. 90% of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels have heart disease by the age of 10.
Heart disease is any condition of the heart affecting the five great blood vessels that enter or leave the heart. Congestive heart failure occurs when the diseased heart begins to lose its ability to pump enough blood to meet the needs of the body. This can lead to a build-up of fluid on the lungs and in the abdomen.
Signs and Symptoms
The symptoms of heart disease any of the following signs:
Coughing, breathing difficulty or breathlessness
Reduced energy levels, inability to exercise and weakness
Swollen abdomen through a build-up of fluid
Poor appetite and weight loss although cats may have an increased appetite
Collapse or hind limb weakness
Heart disease is diagnosed using a variety of tests carried out by a veterinary clinician. These are echocardiography (a form of ultrasound scanning), radiography (X-rays), electrocardiology, blood pressure monitoring and blood tests.
The treatment options for heart disease very much depend on what these tests reveal.
The vast majority of acquired heart diseases are managed with medication. These will have effects on the heart to improve heart function and reduce pressures that the heart has to work against.
The drugs generally work in one of four ways:
Drugs that make the heart pump better
Diuretics which help to remove any extra fluid that builds up in the body
Ace inhibitors which decrease the amount of work the heart has to do by relaxing the blood vessels around the heart
Drugs that help slow remodelling ie changes to the heart structure such as muscle thickening or muscle loss secondary to heart disease
Pets with heart disease will often be on several medications at once.
Other conditions such as heart rhythm abnormalities can be controlled with a pacemaker or anti-arrhythmic drugs.
This field of medicine is improving all the time. With the correct medicine plus regular check-ups and adjustments to the medication pets with heart disease can have several years of good quality life.