Heart disease can affect our pets too

Max cat-naps under his portrait.

Somerset West veterinarian Dr Ingrid de Wet of Country Animal Clinic, says all breeds could be affected and the incidence increases dramatically with age.

“Signs that indicate your pet may have a heart problem would be exercise intolerance, coughing, breathlessness, fainting or increased breathing rate. These symptoms should not be ignored,” says Dr De Wet.

Large breed dogs, especially Dobermans and Boxers, are predisposed to what is called dilated cardiomyopathy, which means the heart wall gets very weak and doesn’t pump the blood very well. This is usually seen in younger dogs, and can cause sudden death if left undiagnosed and treated.

For smaller breeds like Maltese Poodles and Yorkshire Terriers, the danger lies in diseased heart valves as they age. This is often detected as a heart murmur and can be successfully treated and managed if caught early.

Cats tend to get what is known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which means that the heart wall thickens and the pumping action of the heart is inefficient.

“If caught early enough, pets with heart disease can be treated and often will live for many years after their diagnosis. It’s why we encourage annual checkups,” Dr De Wet says.

During a pet’s annual check up, a veterinarian will listen very carefully to the animal’s heart, listening for changes in the heart rate, its rhythm or for murmurs.

“If a problem is picked up we may recommend further testing, like x-rays, and ECG or an ultrasound of the heart.

“The earlier the problem is detected, the more effective the treatment and management of the disease. It’s essential not to neglect that annual check up,” says Dr De Wet.

Pet owners could increase their pet’s chances of not succumbing to a heart ailment by ensuring that, like humans, the animal is exercised regularly and is fed a balanced diet.

“Always aim for a good quality pet food rich in vitamins and minerals, and keep their weight under control,” Dr De Wet suggests.

“Heart disease doesn’t have to be a death sentence. But early detection and a healthy lifestyle are key to successful treatment”.