Heart Disease in Cats and Dogs

What is heart disease?

Heart disease in animals is either congenital (they are born with it) or develops due to an underlying cause.  Congenital disease is usually seen in younger animals, and affects many smaller breeds, whereas the development of heart disease is generally seen in older dogs and cats.  Often times smaller breed dogs will develop leaky heart valves due to degenerative changes.  Large breed dogs and cats are more likely to develop heart muscle dysfunction.  The development of heart disease is caused by trauma, infection or degeneration.  Congestive heart failure is usually caused by the heart's inability to pump blood forward in a normal manner, which causes stress to be placed on the heart muscle and valves.  This can cause back-up blood to occur in the lungs and liver.  Heart disease is often diagnosed with radiographs (x-rays), ECG and echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart).

How is it treated?

There are many treatments available for congestive heart failure.  Each one focuses on the underlying cause of the disease.  The drug therapies that are used may be directed at correcting an irregular heartbeat, increasing the amount of blood pumped by the heart with each beat, or decreasing the amount of fluid retained in the lungs and abdomen. A special diet, low in sodium can be an important component of therapy, as it helps to minimize fluid retention in the body.

What is the prognosis for congestive heart failure?

If the disease is caught early enough a patient can be treated and live for many more years.  However, there can be times when the disease is so severe and function is so compromised that quality of life is no longer present. The implementation of a treatment plan can slow the progression of congestive heart failure or any heart disease. Your veterinarian can provide a personalized treatment plan that is best for your pets condition.

What symptoms can present as the disease progresses?

  • Reduced activity/lethargy
  • Increased sleeping
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Coughing - especially at night or early morning
  • Weight loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Possible fainting spells

  • Severe weight loss
  • Distended abdomen
  • Vomiting/diarrhea
  • Blue-gray colored gums
  • Leg swelling
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fluid lung sounds
  • Unable to rise
  • If your pet exhibits any of the following symptoms immediate veterinary assistance is needed regardless of the disease.
    • Difficulty breathing
    • Prolonged seizures
    • Uncontrollable vomiting/diarrhea
    • Sudden collapse
    • Profuse bleeding - internal or external
    • Crying/whining from pain