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Heart to Heart: Keeping Your Pet's Heart a Priority

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We love our furry family members, and our loyal pets love us unconditionally; one could say it’s not only a beautiful friendship but a relationship that stands the test of time. As we all know, a heart is an iconic symbol and one universally used to describe love. But what about the unseen hearts that are so important in keeping our pets happy and healthy?

Heart problems affect a huge number of pets. However, as with humans, a healthy, balanced diet and a good amount of exercise can help to prevent heart disease developing as the result of a poor lifestyle.

What are the symptoms of heart failure/heart disease?

  • Coughing
  • Lack of energy/ intolerance to exercise
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Laboured breathing
  • Fainting
  • Swelling of the abdomen (in more advanced cases) 

Please be aware that some pets may display few, if any, symptoms until the disease is at an advanced stage. 

Did you know that heart disease is actually a number of different individual conditions?

Primarily, these include… 


When an animal has cardiomyopathy, the muscles of the heart become unable to function properly. In hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, there is a thickening in the walls of the heart which causes an inadequate amount of blood to be pumped out into the body when the heart contracts. This is the primary cause of heart disease in cats.

Valve disease

Also known as atrioventricular valvular insufficiency (AVVI) or mitral valve disease, this is the most common form of heart disease in dogs. It involves a malformation in the valves of the heart, which means that they no longer close properly. One of the main signs of the disease is a loud heart murmur. Other early signs include coughing after exercise and becoming easily tired.

What is hypertension?

Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure. This can be a primary health problem, for example, a health issue in itself or a symptom of an underlying disease. For instance, high blood pressure is common in cats with hyperthyroidism or pets with kidney failure. This secondary hypertension accounts for the majority of cases.

In either case, hypertension is a significant problem that requires treatment as it can go on to affect a pet’s heart, kidneys, nervous system and eyes (sometimes even causing blindness).

Treatment will typically involve blood pressure reducing medication in the case of primary hypertension, or treatment to treat the primary underlying cause when hypertension is a secondary symptom. 

Some pet breeds are more likely to be affected by heart diseases than others. Confusingly, different dog breeds are more likely to be affected by different heart problems (are you still following?!).

Maine Coon and Ragdoll cats are known to carry the genetic mutation that often causes cardiomyopathy, and there are specific tests available for these breeds. However, please be aware that cardiomyopathy can occur in cases where this mutation isn’t present.

In dogs, smaller breeds such as Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Chihuahuas and Pomeranians are more prone to developing valve diseases, whilst larger breeds such as Boxers, Dalmatians and Cocker Spaniels are more likely to develop cardiomyopathy.

Diagnosing a heart problem

If our vets detect a possible problem with your pet’s heart, they will confirm a diagnosis through a combination of physical examinations and diagnostic tests such as an ECG and ultrasound.

Blood and urine tests are also normally run to test for other possible underlying diseases. 

Living with a heart problem

Having your pet diagnosed with a heart condition can be a huge shock.  However, don’t despair!

Prognosis and longevity for a pet very much depends on their specific problem and the level of advancement of their problem. Some pets can go on to live normal lives for a number of years with the correct treatment and management.

In some cases, pets will prove unresponsive to treatment or the disease will be identified too late. In these cases, care will be taken to ensure that pets are comfortable.

You should be aware that pets with heart conditions will have a low tolerance to stress, so please keep their environment as stress-free as possible and seek advice from your vet prior to potentially stressful situations, like fireworks displays or large family gatherings.

As with most serious conditions, early detection is the key to help treat and manage the disease. This is why we recommend an annual health check for pets. Whilst serious health problems are more frequent in older pets, the congenital or hereditary nature of some heart problems mean that even young animals should have check-ups. 

Are you concerned that your pet might be suffering from a heart condition or other health problem? You can use our handy online practice finder to contact your local Medivet practice for advice or to book an appointment.

Posted January 8, 2016 in Pet Care Advice

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