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February is Heart Month: What You Need to Know About Cardiovascular Disease in Pets

February is American Heart Month–hearts and Valentine’s Day… a perfect fit! Continuing with the “hearts” theme, we are using our blog this month to inform pet owners about cardiovascular disease in pets. And trust us, there is a lot to know!

What is Cardiovascular Disease?

Cardiovascular disease, also called heart disease, is a broad term used to describe any condition of the heart or blood vessels that interferes with the normal function of the heart and vasculature. Heart diseases can be either acquired (began at some point during the pet’s life) or congenital (present within the animal from birth). Many different cardiovascular diseases are inherited from parent animals, which means that they can be passed down through numerous generations. Heritable heart diseases can be be more prevalent in certain breeds of animals since they are so easily passed down through generations. A few of the most common types of cardiovascular disease include:
  • Congenital Heart Defects: Some of the most common congenital heart defects include patent ductus arteriosus, ventricular septal defect, pulmonic stenosis, subaortic stenosis, and tricuspid valve dysplasia.
  • Chronic degenerative valve disease: This condition occurs when there are degenerative changes to the heart valves, resulting in valvular thickening and leaking. It is also the most common form of acquired heart disease in dogs.
  • Cardiomyopathies: Cardiomyopathies are diseases of the heart muscle, which can include dilated cardiomyopathy, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, and arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy, also known as Boxer cardiomyopathy.
  • Pericardial Effusion: A condition where fluid accumulates in the heart sac.
  • Cardiac Arrhythmias: Abnormal heart rhythms. Bradycardias are abnormally slow heart rhythms, and tachycardias are abnormally fast heart rhythms.

Symptoms of Cardiovascular Disease

While the symptoms of heart disease may be different based on the exact condition your pet is facing, some of the most common symptoms include:
  • Rapid breathing
  • Fainting
  • Labored breathing
  • Coughing
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Cyanosis
  • Restlessness during sleep
Many types of heart disease can eventually lead to congestive heart failure. Congestive heart failure is the build-up of fluid in the lungs, abdomen, and/or chest cavity.  Symptoms of heart failure can include shortness of breath, weakness, lack of energy, cough, restlessness during sleep, and abdominal distension. It is also important to note that early heart disease rarely manifests in any symptoms. For this reason, annual medical exams are extremely important for our dogs and cats. During these appointments, your veterinarian will listen to your pet’s heart. Any abnormal sounds or patterns could be a sign of early cardiovascular disease in pets.

Treatments for Cardiovascular Disease

Before treatment begins, your veterinarian or a veterinary cardiologist will need to diagnose the type of heart disease that your pet has. To diagnose heart disease in pets, veterinarians may use x-rays, electrocardiographs, echocardiographs, and cardiac catheters. Treatment for cardiovascular disease depends on the exact condition, stage of the condition, and the species of pet. Your veterinarian or veterinary cardiologist can determine the exact types and doses of medications that will help manage your pet’s heart disease. Depending on the stage of the animal’s heart disease, dietary changes may be indicated.  We recommend following your veterinarian’s recommendations. Even heart failure can be treated. In some cases, veterinarians can treat the underlying cause of heart failure, which can reverse the problem. Certain medications can also help pets live with heart failure for months or even years.

Preventing Cardiovascular Disease

Most forms of heart disease can’t be prevented so we recommend annual exams with your veterinarian to try to allow early detection when possible. One type of disease that can be prevented, is heartworm disease. Heartworm disease can be prevented with medications that should be given year-round. If your primary veterinarian believes that your pet might have heart disease, ask them for a referral to GCVS. We can be reached at 713-693-1111 or via email at Our cardiology team can evaluate your pet and advise you on possible courses of treatment for the specific heart condition that your pet is facing. Don’t forget that we recently moved to 8042 Katy Freeway!

Feb 2