By Dr. Gary Borgman, Kissimmee Animal Hospital
Pets are often presented to their veterinarian with symptoms that are believed to be a heart attack. Fortunately, dogs and cats seldom suffer the type of heart attack (myocardial infarction) which is so deadly to humans. Animals that collapse with exercise, pass out, faint or experience difficult breathing and weakness may indeed have heart disease but it is usually not a myocardial infarction.
We all know that the heart is vital for life but it is only part of the cardiovascular and pulmonary system working together to keep oxygenated blood flowing to the entire body. There are a number of conditions which can impair proper cardiovascular functions.
Puppies sometimes present with a congenital heart murmur which usually goes away. One exception is the puppy with a PDA defect which is life threatening and requires surgical correction. Kittens seldom have heart defects.
The most common form of heart disease in smaller dogs is valvular disease, which causes varying degrees of murmur and can result in congestive heart failure (CHF). The early symptoms of CHF are coughing, respiratory distress with exercise, and general weakness. Advanced CHF results in pulmonary edema and/or ascites (fluid in the abdomen). Heart valve disease is more common in small breeds but larger dogs also can develop CHF. The most common heart problem with larger breed dogs is cardio-myopathy which causes similar symptoms. As with all internal medical conditions, a careful examination and appropriate diagnostic procedures are essential for diagnosis and a treatment plan. Fortunately there are effective drugs for heart disease. Early diagnosis and appropriate medications are the keys to successful treatment.
Any discussion about canine and feline heart health issues would be incomplete without emphasizing the prevention of heartworm disease. Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes which are active all year in Florida. All dogs in Florida should be given a monthly preventive medication. Even indoor dogs can get heartworms because it only takes one mosquito to transmit the infective microfilaria. Cats are much less likely to get heartworm disease but effective monthly preventive medication is available for our feline family members. Fortunately, the preventive medications available can also be very effective to control other external and internal parasites, including fleas, ear mites, sarcoptic mange, and intestinal parasites.
The veterinarians and staff at Kissimmee Animal Hospital (Tel 407-846-3912) and Poinciana Pet Clinic (Tel 407-518-0880) are available to answer any concerns you may have about pet heart health or any other concerns. We are here to help and to serve.