February is the American Heart Month
Humans aren’t the only ones who suffer from heart disease. Our pets can suffer from cardiac disease as well. Canine & feline patients have heart conditions that are either congenital or acquired.
Understanding Canine and Feline Heart Health
The canine heart has 4 valves, located between the 4 chambers of the heart, left & right atria, and left & right ventricles. The right ventricle moves blood to the lungs, and the left ventricle moves oxygenated blood to the rest of the body. Heart disease occurs when valves are operating inefficiently or incorrectly. A heart murmur can be described as turbulent blood flow through the heart’s chambers and is often the first sign of trouble. A veterinarian can detect a heart murmur on a wellness exam before the patient ever shows physical signs of heart disease. Heart murmurs are graded on a scale of 1-6, 1 being the mildest. They are also classified by their location in the heart.
Congenital Heart Problems in Dogs and Cats
Puppies and kittens can develop what is called an innocent murmur. This murmur is usually mild and does not cause any physical symptoms. It will usually be outgrown before the pet is 6 months old. It is important your veterinarian monitors the heart murmur, and further diagnostics are done if the young animal does not outgrow its murmur. Pulmonic Stenosis, Subaortic Stenosis, Patent Ductus Arteriosus, Ventricular Septal Defect, Tricuspid Valve dysplasia, and Mitral Valve Dysplasia are all examples of congenital heart problems that affect dogs. Ventricular Septal Defect, Patient Ductus Arteriosus, and Mitral Valve Dysplasia are common congenital heart diseases that affect cats. Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine is a good resource for further information; they publish many articles about canine and feline heart health.
Acquired Heart Murmurs and Diagnostic Services
Acquired heart murmurs usually occur in older pets. Medical treatment for these pets will generally slow down the progression of the disease. Wags and Whiskers Veterinary Service offers diagnostic services to determine the progression of heart disease and the correct course of treatment. Heart radiographs allow Dr. Janelle to access a patient’s vertebral heart size (VHS) and vertebral left atrial size (VLAS). These scores measure enlargement in the heart and allow Dr. Janelle to plan for the management of the patient. We also offer B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP) testing. BNP proteins are important for circulation and help the body compensate during heart failure. A blood sample can be taken from a patient and screened for this protein.
Importance of Regular Veterinary Exams
At a minimum, we would suggest annual exams for all our patients. For patients over the age of 7, or patients diagnosed with heart conditions, we highly suggest exams every 6 months. Our team prefers to find a patient when a heart murmur is starting, do not wait for physical symptoms of heart failure to appear. Patients who are coughing, tire easily, have a distended abdomen, edema, and blue gums may be in heart failure. These patients have a reduced quality of life, and life expectancy in comparison to those who seek earlier treatment. Don’t take cardiac health lightly; show your pet love this February and schedule an exam with Dr. Janelle!
Also worth mentioning is heartworm disease in canine patients. Just because it is winter does not mean your dog is immune from contracting a heartworm infection. It only takes 1 bite, from 1 mosquito to transmit heartworm infections. It is important to continue heartworm prevention year-round. The pharmaceutical companies who manufacture heartworm preventative only offer guarantees on their product if it is given every month. Our clinic offers 2 options for heartworm preventative, ProHeart 12, an injection that lasts 12 months and Interceptor Plus, a monthly chew that will prevent heartworm disease and treats intestinal parasites. For more information about heartworm disease, see our monthly blog from May 2022: Wags And Whiskers Veterinary Service – Elmwood – Williamsfield – Illinois.