Your pet’s heart disease diagnosis can be, well, heartbreaking, but many pets with heart conditions can live long, happy lives through surgical repair or medical treatment. Heart disease can be present from birth as a congenital or inherited condition, or develop later in life. Without a proper diagnosis and treatment, your pet’s heart disease will continue to get worse, and likely prove fatal, so prompt veterinary care is essential.

What causes heart disease in pets?

Heart disease is common in pets as well as people and, as in people, can be caused by a variety of underlying issues. Heart disease in pets can be caused by one of the following factors:

  • Congenital or inherited heart defects
  • Parasites
  • Inability of the heart valves to close or open properly
  • Weak pumping of the heart muscle
  • Heart arrhythmias
  • Blood flow interference from blood vessels
  • Abnormal blood flows throughout the heart or between the heart and lungs

Finding the true cause of your pet’s heart disease is essential for proper treatment, and potentially, a cure.

What are the most common heart diseases found in pets?

Many heart diseases are found in pets. Some of the most common include:

  • Degenerative mitral valve disease — The most common cardiac disease in dogs, degenerative mitral valve disease occurs when the heart’s mitral valve fails to shut tightly. Blood then flows back into the atria rather than out of the heart, interfering with normal blood flow.
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy — Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the number one heart disease in cats, causes the heart muscle wall to thicken. The heart’s capacity decreases because of expanding wall muscle, and blood flow decreases. Cats with this disease have inadequate oxygen and blood supply, and may develop a blood clot that restricts blood flow to the hind legs, causing pain and paralysis.
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy — Most common in large- and giant-breed dogs, dilated cardiomyopathy weakens the heart muscle, which causes the heart chambers to stretch over time. As the chambers become enlarged, they fail to contract properly and cannot pump blood efficiently throughout the body.
  • Congestive heart failure — People who are told their pet has “heart disease” commonly think of congestive heart failure. However, congestive heart failure is a byproduct of a primary heart condition, like dilated cardiomyopathy or valvular disease. As the heart inefficiently pumps blood and creates back-up in blood vessels, fluid leaks from the vessels, accumulates in the chest, lungs, and abdomen, and causes breathing difficulties.
  • Heartworm disease — Transmitted when an infected mosquito bites your pet, heartworm disease creates a worm burden inside your pet’s heart, lungs, and surrounding blood vessels. As the worms grow and reproduce, they interfere with blood flow.

What are common heart disease signs in pets?

While numerous types of heart disease can affect your dog or cat, most cardiac-related conditions share similar signs. Common heart disease signs in pets include:

  • Coughing — Pets with heart disease may cough because of fluid accumulation in the lungs, or because their enlarged heart is pressing on their airway. If your pet’s cough does not resolve on its own after a few days, heart disease may be the cause. 
  • Difficulty breathing — Pets with heart disease may have difficulty breathing, or breathe more rapidly or with more force. You may notice your pet sitting or standing with their legs wide apart and their neck stretched out to help them breathe easier. Pets with severe heart disease will also find breathing difficult when they lie down or rest. 
  • Fatigue — Pets with heart disease will tire out more quickly on walks and during exercise, and may develop complete exercise intolerance. Generally, these pets sleep or rest more than normal. 
  • Behavior changes — Pets with heart disease can exhibit many behavior changes, including poor appetite, isolation, and a reluctance to play or engage in activities they previously enjoyed.
  • Fainting or collapse — When heart function decreases, the brain can become deprived of oxygen. When blood flow to the brain is compromised in pets with heart disease, they may faint or collapse. Excessive coughing or exercise can trigger an episode. 

Although these signs don’t always indicate underlying heart disease, they should not be ignored as minor issues. 

Has your pet displayed any heart disease signs? A cough does not always mean your furry pal is developing congestive heart failure, but can be a sign of a serious condition that requires prompt treatment. Contact our Cote Animal Hospital team for an appointment if your pet is coughing, fatigued, or having difficulty breathing.