Living Well With Heart Problems
Did you know that heart disease is a frequent problem affecting cats and dogs in the UK? In fact, about 15% of pets are struggling with this problem, with many going undiagnosed for months or even years.
The problem can affect any cat or dog, but some breeds get the problem more than others. In the feline world, Birman or Maine Coone cats show up with heart disease more frequently, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels or Boxers are common dog breeds to develop a problem.
In cats, heart issues are often caused by having another problem like an overactive thyroid gland or kidney disease whereas, in dogs, the heart is usually the main issue.
In general, animals with heart disease are either very young - or were born with a problem. Or very old - and have developed the problem (for example leaky heart valves due to wear and tear).
How Can You Tell If Your Pet Has a Heart Problem?
Typical symptoms of heart disease can be:
An unwillingness to go for walks or sleeping more
A swollen tummy
An increase in drinking.
If your pet has any of these problems, then it is well worth having a check-up, because there is much we can do to manage the problem successfully and make sure your pet lives a good life despite the issue.
How Do We Diagnose Heart Disease?
Heart disease can be picked up relatively quickly during a general wellbeing assessment. As vets, we listen for heart murmurs, lung sounds and the rhythm of the heart. If we hear something unusual, then we're likely to want to find out a bit more about what's going on. Not all murmurs are bad news, but it is hard to tell a problematic murmur from a benign murmur just by listening with a stethoscope.
To work out what is going on we recommend a combination of tests which may include:
An ultrasound scan of the heart
An electrocardiogram (ECG)
A Blood test
A urine test
Blood pressure measurement.
None of these tests are painful and most are performed consciously. Sometimes, if your pet is a little nervous, we like to give a mild sedative to make sure they are comfortable and relaxed for the tests.
Living Well with Heart Disease
Many animals with a heart murmur won't need any treatment at all and will live a full and healthy life. However, if your pet starts to show symptoms like those above or we find something significant on any of the tests then we may recommend treatment to help them recover and maintain an excellent quality of life.
The medications we use for heart disease usually have a quick and dramatic effect, allowing a pet with heart problems to live a happy life.
In addition to medication, it is a great idea to avoid high salt diets, add essential fatty acids to your pet's food and avoid strenuous exercise or stress.
Dogs on heart medication will tend to pee and drink more so free access to water is needed. These medications can often mean your pet will produce more urine. So you will have to be prepared to access for them to go to the toilet more often than before.
At higher doses, this can mean letting them into the yard for 5 minutes every four hours, so be prepared for some disruption to your sleeping pattern to avoid soiling your house at night.
Cats with access to the garden or a litter box are less of a challenge. But please be prepared to forgive any little accidents. Getting angry or stressed is a bad move for pets with heart disease! And they really can't help themselves sometimes.
Early diagnosis is the key to managing pets with heart disease efficiently and helping them to enjoy a happy, healthy life. We recommend you visit your vet for a check-up if you see any of these symptoms or have any concerns at all.