Heart disease in cats and dogs can be difficult to identify before heart failure, because it may in fact be asymptomatic, or without any symptoms. This can be problematic if the heart disease is progressing quickly and needs medical attention before heart failure becomes a likelihood.
If your dog or cat is exhibiting any symptoms of heart disease, it is crucial that you seek veterinary attention. Your vet will be far more likely to identify signs of heart disease just by performing a simple physical examination.
Heart disease symptoms can be categorized into behavioral and physical symptoms.
Behavioral Symptoms of Heart Disease in Dogs and Cats
- Lethargy is a common indicator of heart disease. When the heart becomes enlarged, it becomes inefficient, which can result in low energy and lethargy.
- Depression may not be easy to identify, and heart disease may not be the first thing associated with depression, but dogs and cats with heart disease often suffer from it.
- Decreased appetite may indicate that your dog or cat is feeling under the weather, and even if heart disease is not the first ailment associated with loss of appetite, it’s a very good reason to get your dog or cat in to see a veterinarian for testing.
Physical Symptoms of Heart Disease in Dogs and Cats
- Heart failure is the most serious symptom and result of heart disease. In many cases the dog or cat was not known to have heart disease until they experience heart failure.
- Increased heart rate can be the result of an enlarged, inefficient heart, trying hard to keep up with the demands put on it by the body.
- Coughing may be caused by blood overflow in the lungs, or in dogs, it can be caused by a persistent right aortic arch putting pressure on the esophagus.
- Fluid in the lungs or abdomen occurs when one side of the heart begins to fail. Fluid can build up in the lungs when the left side of the heart fails to function properly, and will usually build up in the abdomen when the right side of the heart begins to fail.
- Other common physical symptoms of heart disease are weight loss, general weakness, swelling and bloating of the stomach, bluish gums, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation. These symptoms may be easily spotted at home.
Once you’re at the vet’s office, your vet may perform one or more tests.
Heart Disease Tests Explained
- Physical Examination A physical exam is the first test your veterinarian can perform to get a sense of what further testing should be done. Your veterinarian will listen for a heart murmur and check for evidence of fluid in the lungs or abdominal cavity. In addition to the physical exam, a thorough history must be obtained, with information regarding activity levels and whether the animal coughs.
- Chest X-Rays A chest x-ray is the logical next test after the physical exam, because it allows the veterinarian to see inside the chest cavity without surgery. The x-ray can show the vet whether your cat or dog has an enlarged heart, and can show the vet the surrounding blood vessels. Fluid in the lungs and abdomen may also be clearly visible in an x-ray.
- Echocardiography An echocardiogram is a test performed by a vet to determine problems with the blood flow within the heart. It can show the veterinarian where there are valve weaknesses, and can show dimensions of the heart, and how well it pumps.
- Electrocardiography An EKG can determine the rhythm of the heartbeat. It can determine whether your pet’s heart has an arrhythmia, which is an irregular heartbeat.
- NT-proBNP Blood Testing ProBNP blood testing is an effective way for a veterinarian to pinpoint whether the symptoms are due to heart disease or respiratory disease. This test can even show early predisposition to heart disease.
- Blood Pressure Monitors A blood pressure monitor will indicate whether your dog or cat is at risk of a condition called hypertension, or high blood pressure.
Once all necessary tests have been performed, your vet will then determine the proper treatment.
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by,your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.