MAT­TERS OF THE HEART

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Gold Coast Eye - - PETS - WORDS: DR MARK REEVE

As you can imag­ine, the heart is a vi­tal or­gan for all an­i­mals. And, just like hu­mans, it can be easy to miss the early signs of heart dis­ease in our pets.

The heart works like a pump. The right side pumps blood to the lungs to pick up oxy­gen. The left side re­ceives the oxy­gen-rich blood from the lungs and pumps it to the body. As the heart starts to de­velop prob­lems, it be­comes less ef­fi­cient at mov­ing blood around. In re­sponse, the mus­cle around the heart starts to thicken or the size of the cham­bers di­late. We call this com­pen­sated heart dis­ease. In many cases there are few clin­i­cal signs, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to know that there is any­thing wrong with your pet. The early signs of heart dis­ease in­clude de­creased ac­tiv­ity lev­els and tolerance for ex­er­cise and, in some cases, weight loss.

As the prob­lem gets worse you may no­tice an oc­ca­sional cough or in­creased breath­ing rate while your pet is asleep.

Cats in par­tic­u­lar, are very good at hid­ing signs that they are un­well which means we may not no­tice un­til they are hav­ing se­vere breath­ing dif­fi­cul­ties.

Cats will of­ten sit with their mouth open and pant­ing, try­ing to get as much air in as pos­si­ble. When heart dis­ease be­comes se­vere in dogs, they will also pant and work very hard to breathe — so much so, you can of­ten hear a crack­ling sound as they pull air in and out.

De­spite these ob­vi­ous breath­ing dif­fi­cul­ties, mak­ing a de­fin­i­tive di­ag­no­sis for heart dis­ease can be quite dif­fi­cult.

This is be­cause we need your pet to lie down and be still for some chest X-rays. Just ly­ing on their side like this can be too much for some re­ally un­well an­i­mals. Some­times to di­ag­nose heart dis­ease we will need to or­gan­ise an ul­tra­sound of the heart or mea­sure the elec­tri­cal ac­tiv­ity.

The good news is that dogs and cats don’t of­ten get hard­ened ar­ter­ies or have heart at­tacks like hu­mans do. Treat­ment for heart dis­ease nor­mally con­sists of med­i­ca­tions to help the heart com­pen­sate for a de­crease in heart func­tion. Tra­di­tion­ally I have told own­ers that we can’t pre­vent heart dis­ease but we can slow its progress.

There have been pos­i­tive ad­vances in the treat­ment of heart dis­ease in pets. Some re­search shows that we may be able to slow the on­set us­ing a med­i­ca­tion in a group of dogs with a spe­cific dis­ease. There has also been im­prove­ments in sur­gi­cal tech­niques for the most com­mon mi­tral valve prob­lem in dogs, but it’s early stages.

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