Most people would agree that there’s nothing more heartwarming than taking care of a dog or a cat. Since they take such good care of our hearts, it’s only fair that we return the favor. Everybody knows that cardiovascular disease is bad, both for people and pets, but not everybody knows just exactly what it is. Part of the confusion stems from the fact that cardiovascular disease is not actually a specific condition, but a catchall term for the entire class of diseases that affect the blood vessels and especially the heart. If left untreated, cardiovascular disease can lead to heart failure in dogs and cats, which makes it very important for pet owners to educate themselves on both the causes and warning signs of cardiovascular disease.

There are many different causes of cardiovascular disease in dogs and cats. Age is one of the most significant risk factors, as cardiovascular disease is most commonly diagnosed in pets that are middle-aged and older. Genetics is often the culprit, too, as it certainly plays a role. Many diseases, including primary heart muscle disease and heart valve abnormalities, have a known important genetic component.  While genetic predispositions are important such congenital conditions often lead to cardiovascular disease, there are also external causes that can afflict even pets with perfect genetics. Acquired or adult onset disease can occasionally be traced back to infectious diseases including heartworms, Lyme disease, and some fungal diseases. Finally, a simple dietary deficiency can play an important role in the clinical signs of heart disease.

While both dogs and cats can suffer from some of the same or similar heart conditions, there are certain forms of cardiovascular disease that preferentially affect one or the other. On top of that, cats and dogs often display different symptoms, even when they are suffering from the same illness. With that in mind, it’s important to keep an eye out for the species-specific signs your pet may be giving you.

Signs of Cardiovascular Disease in Dogs

Cardiovascular disease is both remarkably dangerous and heartbreakingly common in American dogs. A recent study of dogs in this country found that roughly 10% of them suffered from some form of cardiovascular disease. That translates to millions of animals in the United States alone, so learn to recognize the following serious symptoms (and keep in mind that while some are physical, others can be behavioral):

  • Breathing heavier after exertion
  • Depression
  • Fainting or collapsing
  • Distention of the abdomen
  • Restlessness at night
  • General weakness
  • Persistent coughing
  • Reluctance to play or exercise
  • Respiratory distress (increased respiratory rate at rest)
  • Weight fluctuations (loss or gain)

Any one of these can be a serious warning sign of cardiovascular disease in your dog, so if you have any cause for concern, contact your veterinarian or a veterinary cardiologist immediately. If it is after regular business hours, don’t be afraid to contact a 24/7 emergency vet center in Phoenix to discuss symptoms and bring it in if have them evaluated if necessary. It’s better to be safe than sorry when your pup’s heart is on the line.

Signs of Cardiovascular Disease in Cats

There are a lot of fundamental differences between cats and dogs, but sadly heart disease is one area where they tend to overlap. If anything, it is even more common in cats than in dogs, due in part to the fact that feline cardiovascular disease can be tricky to diagnose. As with their canine counterparts, they rely on you to watch over them for any changes, be they behavioral or physical, and especially the following warning signs:

  • Depression
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Inability to tolerate exercise or exertion
  • Loss of appetite
  • Paralysis of the front or back legs
  • Short, raspy breathing sounds
  • Unusual lethargy
  • Weight fluctuations (loss or gain)
  • Withdrawing or hiding

It is imperative to immediately contact your veterinarian or veterinary cardiologist if you notice your cat exhibiting any of these symptoms. If an animal is suffering from heart problems, time can be of the essence, and emergency veterinarians exist for that very reason—so that pets can get potentially lifesaving attention at a moment’s notice. Don’t be shy about picking up the phone night or day, and calling a 24/7 emergency vet center in Phoenix for advice.

Of course, as with so many medical conditions, prevention is the best medicine. It is up to us as pet owners to make sure the four-legged members of our family are leading healthy lives that minimize their risk of cardiovascular disease. Talk to your vet to make sure they are eating the optimal diet for their age, weight, and breed, and institute strict portion control. Keep them active with exercise. These considerations will keep your animals at an ideal weight, which is crucial for preventing heart problems. Make sure they are up on all their shots and medications to mitigate any possible exposure to harmful preventable infectious diseases. While there is obviously no way to prevent a congenital heart condition, early detection of such a problem can make a world of difference for your pet’s long-term health.

Beyond these basics, it behooves any responsible pet-owner to consult with a veterinarian about their specific animal or animals. The best-case scenario is to take your pets to a clinic that already has a veterinary cardiologist on staff, which is exactly what VetMed offers. A cardiologist can perform a complete cardiovascular physical examination on your dog or cat, recommend procedural options, and generally give your pets—and their hearts—the best possible care.

If you have any reason to suspect your dog or cat may be suffering from cardiovascular disease, you can call us at (602) 697-4694 to let us know you are on your way so that we can prepare for your arrival. VETMED is an AAHA-accredited veterinary hospital that specializes in 24/7 emergency veterinary care in Phoenix, AZ. Our team of specialists has extensive experience treating both hereditary and acquired heart disease, and is ready to help your pet!