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Heart Health Month Is for Pets Too

Feb 23, 2017

Photo by Found Animals Foundation

February is the time of year when love is in the air, hearts of all shapes and sizes express Valentine’s Day wishes, and we honor American Heart Health Month—an important reminder to evaluate our risk for heart disease. But did you know that dogs and cats are at risk for cardiac problems as well? Heart disease can be a scary thing when it comes to our furry friends, but understanding the warning signs can save their lives.

What Causes Heart Disease?

Heart disease in dogs and cats can be either congenital or acquired. Congenital heart diseases are conditions that puppies and kittens are born with. Acquired heart disease develops at some point in a patients’ lifetime. Both congenital and acquired heart disease can have a genetic cause. Other possible causes of acquired heart disease include infection, high blood pressure, endocrine diseases such as hyperthyroidism, or nutritional deficiencies.

Any breed of dog and even mixed breed dogs can be affected by cardiac disease.  It is estimated that at least 10-11% of all dogs will develop heart disease at some point in their lifetimes.  Some breeds are more predisposed to certain types of heart disease. For example, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel are genetically predisposed to developing degenerations on the valves within the heart.  Other dog breeds, such as Dobermans, Great Danes and Boxers are highly prone to other forms of heart disease. As for cats, up to 16% of adult, apparently healthy cats may have cardiac disease and the incidence is increased if a heart murmur is present and in older cats. Certain purebreds and orange mixed breed cats are most prone to heart disease.

Signs and Symptoms of Cardiac Disease

The symptoms of heart disease are highly variable. Some animals will show no symptoms while others display obvious signs. If your pet exhibits any of the following symptoms, contact your primary care veterinarian to have them examined:


  • Coughing – dry hacking or wet, moist
  • Increased sleeping breathing rate
  • Reduction/loss of appetite
  • Reduced ability to exercise
  • Restlessness (e.g., pacing back and forth, inability to sleep soundly)


  • Any change in behavior
  • Increased sleeping breathing rate/effort
  • Reduction/loss of appetite
  • Dragging any limb

The following are emergency symptoms and you should immediately take your pet to your veterinarian or the nearest emergency animal hospital, such as The COVE. We are open 24/7, every day of the year.

  • Difficulty breathing, such as rapid, shallow breathing or open-mouth breathing
  • Fainting spells or collapsing
  • Distended abdomen or swollen extremities
  • Limb paralysis (cats)
  • Blue or grey gums

Heart Disease Is Treatable—Early Detection Is Essential

If your pet has been diagnosed with a specific heart disease, it has been shown that your pet will have extended survival times when managed and monitored by your family veterinarian and a veterinary cardiologist.

A veterinary cardiologist is a specialist who has completed significant advanced training specifically in cardiac care. In most cases, your primary care veterinarian and the cardiologist will work together to manage your pet’s heart health.

At The COVE, we are fortunate to have veterinary cardiologist Merrilee T. Small, DVM, DACVIM (Cardiology) at the helm of our Cardiology Department. Dr. Small is one of 208 veterinarians board-certified by the AVMA in the specialty of cardiology, a subspecialty of internal medicine. She has earned a special place in the hearts of many pet owners throughout the region. 

The treatment varies based on the specific type of heart disease. Some congenital heart defects may be corrected with surgery, including minimally invasive surgery. Most acquired diseases are managed medically. Fortunately, there are many medical therapies that are very successful in keeping your pet living a happy and longer life. 

The most important thing you can to due ensure your pet’s cardiac health is routine health screening by your family veterinarian. In between visits, if you suspect your pet may be struggling with a heart condition, do not hesitate to schedule a visit your veterinarian. If your family veterinary recommends a seeing a cardiologist, please call 757.935.9111 to schedule an appointment or answer your inquiries about the visit. 


Category: Pet Health Tips