Heart disease can manifest in these symptoms, or even be asymptomatic. Learn what heart disease symptoms you and your vet can look for.
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
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
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
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
Physical Symptoms of Heart Disease in Dogs and
Heart failure is the most serious symptom
and the 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
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
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
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
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 an
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
Once all necessary tests have been performed, your vet
will then determine the proper treatment. Some conditions such
as congestive heart failure can be medically managed
using medications such as Vetmedin tablets for dogs.
What Causes Heart Disease in Dogs and Cats
Heart disease in
dogs and cats is caused by either a genetic
predisposition or a physical trigger, such as enzyme
deficiencies or hyperthyroidism. Genetic heart
disease is called congenital and
non-genetic heart disease is called acquired heart
There are some breeds of dogs that are very prone to
heart diseases, such as Newfoundlands, Dobermans,
Danes. Some breeds, such as the Cavalier
King Charles Spaniel, are genetically likely to
develop a heart
murmur, which leads to heart disease.
Causes of Congenital Heart Disease
Arteriosis - Dogs Dogs are often
diagnosed with patent ductus arteriosus (PDA) which
occurs when the connecting blood vessel between the
aorta and the pulmonary artery does not close
properly after birth.
Stenosis - Dogs Large breed dogs
are the most likely candidates for aortic stenosis,
which is a narrow or partially blocked aorta.
Stenosis – Dogs Some dogs suffer
from heart disease caused by pulmonic stenosis,
which is a narrowing of the pulmonary artery. This
artery carries blood to the lungs to be oxygenated,
so this form of heart disease forces the heart to
work harder to pump blood to the lungs.
Atrial Septal Defect – Dogs and
Cats Your dog or cat’s heart (and yours) is
separated into areas called ventricles and atria. A
ventricular septal defect is a hole in the heart
wall between the right and left ventricle of the
heart, while an atrial septal defect is a hole
between the left and right atria.
Aortic Arch - Dogs When
puppies are born, they have an aortic arch which is
supposed to deteriorate after birth, but if that
arch does not go away, it can become wrapped around
Cats Dysplasia is a malformation of the heart
Causes of Acquired Heart Disease
Deficiency – Dogs and Cats Dogs
and cats need a healthy balanced diet to keep their
heart strong and efficient. If they do not get
enough of the enzymes taurine and L-carnitine, the
strength of the heart may diminish, resulting in
cardiomyopathy (an enlarged heart) and heart
disease. It is important to investigate your choice
of pet food because if it is not providing your pet
with enough taurine and carnitine, a supplement
should be given.
Disease – Dogs The pericardium is the
sac that surrounds the heart, and when diseased, it
can restrict the heart and prevent consistent
Infection – Dogs and Cats If a dog
or cat becomes infected with heartworm, and it goes
untreated, it can lead to heart disease.
Dogs The most common form of heart disease in dogs
is a valvular problem called endocarditis, while in
cats it is the least common. Endiocardiosis is
usually found in older dogs because the valve has
been working for so long it now fails to close and
open all the way. This causes the valve to become
leaky and allows some blood to leak back into the
atrium or ventricle from which it came. This form
of leak can do a lot of damage after a while. The
heart becomes enlarged and can push up against the
windpipe, causing a cough. The overflow of blood
can also get pushed into the lungs. These leaky
valves are also called heart murmurs, which are
rated on a scale from one to six, with six being
the most damaging.
Cardiomyopathy – Cats When
something happens that causes the heart to struggle
to do its job, the heart can become enlarged, which
is called cardiomyopathy. Hypertrophic
cardiomyopathy occurs when the heart muscle
thickens, resulting in abnormal heart function.
Cardiomyopathy - Dogs Dilated
cardiomyopathy is a result of a taurine deficiency
in the diet. This is no longer as common as it used
to be due to increased taurine in most cat foods
Cardiomyopathy - Cats Restrictive
cardiomyopathy results in stiffness in the
ventricles of the heart, with a currently unknown
Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy
(ARVC) - Dogs and
Cats Arrhythmogenic right ventricular
cardiomyopathy is an arrhythmia, or an irregular
heartbeat, in the right side of the heart.
Cats Hyperthyroidism causes the blood to have
a high level of hormones, which is very hard on the
heart, resulting in heart disease. It's often the
cause of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in cats.
The symptoms and treatments for heart
disease may vary based on what’s causing the disease
in your pet. For example, congestive heart failure
can be managed with medications such as Vetmedin.
However, dosage information is critical as some dogs
may need a Vetmedin
5mg tab while others may need as low as 1.25
mg or as high as 10 mg. Always consult a vet before
buying pet medication.
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.