February is heart month – a reminder to everyone to think about cardiovascular health and that includes our pets!
Heart disease for dogs can be a serious health issue. One in ten dogs has heart disease and that increases to one in six for older dogs.
Knowledge of the five common signs of heart disease in dogs can help pet guardians recognize a potential problem and address it with a veterinarian. The sooner your pet gets diagnosed and begins treatment, the better the outcome.
Unfortunately, cats can hide their illnesses, including heart disease, and it can be much more difficult to spot. Subtle signs such as hiding, decreased energy level or change in appetite may be the only early warning signs of a sick cat.
“Annual wellness exams for both dogs and cats can help your veterinarian catch early signs of heart disease sooner, so that it can be diagnosed and treated early,” says Dr. Kyla Townsend, lead veterinarian, BC SPCA Vancouver Animal Hospital.
1. Difficulty breathing
Look for excessive panting, especially at rest. Dogs with more advanced heart disease will have trouble breathing when they are laying down.
2. Persistent cough
Any cough that doesn’t go away in a few days should be checked out. Heart disease causes the accumulation of fluid in the lungs and this triggers coughing. An enlarged heart can press on the trachea and also cause a dog to cough.
3. Collapse or fainting
When the heart isn’t working properly it isn’t efficiently pumping oxygen to the brain and this can lead to fainting. In dogs it usually occurs after exercise and can sometimes be brought on by coughing.
Pay attention if your dog is sleeping or resting more and tires more quickly when they are on walks and when they exercise.
5. Changes in behaviour
Decreases in appetite and a loss or reduced interest in play and walking are some changes in behaviour to watch for in dogs.
If your dog is presenting with these symptoms, a veterinarian will run diagnostic tests to determine if it is heart disease which may include:
- Chest X-ray – will show heart size and can determine if there is fluid build-up in and around the lungs.
- Electrocardiogram (ECG) – is one of the simplest ways to assess abnormal heart rhythms like an arrhythmia. The dog may be required to wear a Holter monitor at home to track heartbeats over a number of days.
- Echocardiogram – is an ultrasound of the heart that determines how a heart’s chambers and valves are pumping blood through the heart. It can provide key diagnostic and treatment information to the veterinarian.
There are a number of treatment options to help dogs live a good quality of life after they are diagnosed with heart disease. These can include changes in diet, activity level and heart medications. Your veterinarian can put together a treatment plan for your furry family member.