Heart Disease is one of the top causes of death in people and it is also showing with increasing frequency in animals. Curiously, cats and dogs are affected a bit differently from heart disease.
In dogs, the usual cause of Heart disease is acquired, although there are several congenital issues that tend to appear in specific breeds. One of the top causes of heart disease in older pets is Chronic Valvular disease or Mitral valve disease, both are secondary to the wear and tear of the valves. Another common diagnosis affecting the heart is Dilated Cardiomyopathy, in which the heart muscle is very thin from the enlargement of the chambers and the valves leaking. Pericardial Sac disease, in which the sac around the heart fills with fluids and won’t allow the heart to contract, is another issue.There are several causes of Pericardial disease but the most common I see usually involves a tumor. Most seniors I auscultate start having arrhythmias or detectable murmurs before other main diseases have progressed.
Heart disease symptoms in dogs usually include a non-productive cough, exercise intolerance, abnormally fast breathing, a purplish or grey tongue and generalized weakness. When the Heart really starts to fail you can also see edema, a distended belly, labored breathing, and the pet will stop eating. Of these symptoms, the cough is the one that can worsen the condition and is also a Quality of life marker. In severe cases, I’ve to use intra tracheal injections to stop a cough before I even start treating the heart!
In cats, heart disease is a silent killer: most cats show zero symptoms! (other than a sudden death). In a large number of cats diagnosed with heart disease, the only symptom was vomiting.
How do we diagnose heart disease? Early heart disease might be picked in the wellness blood work and with a specialized test called pro BNP (Brain Natriuretic Peptide) that measures damage to the heart. If the number exceeds the range we can start our diagnostic work to determine the stage or need for intervention BEFORE the symptoms appear or worsen.In our practice, we start by doing chest x-rays to determine if there’s a problem then recommend an echocardiogram to confirm it and in some cases refer to a veterinary cardiologist. Cats can be diagnosed the same way.
Luckily, there are many holistic nutraceuticals and Chinese herbals used to prevent or slow down heart disease in dogs.The antioxidant Coenzyme-Q10 along with Taurine, Carnitine and Hawthorn Berry, can be given as a prevention step as well as an adjuvant to treatment.The Chinese herbal formulas Shen Calmer and Heart Qi tonic can also prove very useful to treat and prevent the Heart disease.
Western medications have advanced to the level of human counterparts and are prolonging the lives of Heart disease pet patients. We use Pimobendan (Vetmedin) in really advanced cases and have seen survival times quadruple, especially when paired with some of the holistic treatments mentioned above. If your pet is diagnosed, ask for options.