Although Valentine’s Day falls in February, February is known as “Heart Month” internationally, albeit with an emphasis that is a little different from the usual Valentine’s Day theme of love and romance. Heart Research Month, RedFeb and Wear Red Day are dedicated to raising awareness of heart disease. This awareness month is mainly directed at human heart health, but organisations such as the Australian Veterinary Association get on board to extend the awareness of heart disease to animals as well.
Heart disease can lead to congestive heart failure which is when the heart has difficulty pumping blood to the rest of its body. Heart disease can be congenital, the result of a defect at birth, or acquired over the years. It is a wide-ranging condition that can affect different parts of the heart, with many different causes, such as ‘wear and tear’, injury or infection.
Because there are so many causes and manifestations of heart disease, it can be difficult to try to prevent it, but there are some things you can do to help your pet live a longer, healthier life. Feeding a high-quality, appropriate diet and providing regular exercise to keep your pet at a healthy weight will go a long way to maintaining their good health. Regular visits to the vet will also help to identify any heart issues earlier.
You can also be aware of the signs of heart disease so that if a problem does arise, you can spot it sooner and seek treatment right away. Some of the signs of heart disease are often chalked up to ageing, but especially if your pet is showing more than one sign, a visit to the vet should be in short order.
Cats tend to mask the signs of heart disease better than dogs, although the disease tends to present itself in much the same way, with a few exceptions. The top signs of heart disease are:
- Coughing: in dogs, a minor illness-related cough would normally last around three days- if your dog coughs for longer than that, see your vet- it may be a sign of heart disease.
- Vomiting: Dogs tend to cough, while cats vomit instead as a result of heart disease.
- Difficulty breathing: may include shortness of breath, labored breathing, rapid breathing.
- Blood clots: in cats, they are often the first sign that is noticed. Dogs do not usually tend to get blood clots. A clot will often lodge at the end of the aorta and cut off the blood supply to the back legs, resulting in pain and an inability to walk normally on the hind legs.
- Behaviour changes: tiring more easily, reluctance to exercise, distancing themselves from family members and being reluctant to accept affection or attention, isolating themselves, acting withdrawn or depressed can all by signs of heart disease
- Poor appetite: it’s always a sign of something amiss when a pet suddenly doesn’t want to eat.
- Weight loss or gain: usually weight loss is a symptom of disease, although sudden weight gain can be, as well.
- Change in colour of mucous membranes, such as the tongue or gums- if these tissues start to look bluish or grey instead of pink, low oxygen from poor blood flow can be to blame.
- Fainting/collapsing: a sure sign something is wrong and to seek veterinary attention
- Weakness: often put down to the ‘slowing down’ of old age, weakness can be a sign of heart disease
- Restlessness: as well as pacing, having trouble settling down, especially at night. This may be more evident in dogs, as many healthy cats are generally restless at night, but if it’s a change from your pet’s usual nighttime behaviour, it may be a sign of heart disease.
- Edema: swelling of body tissues- especially in the abdomen or extremities.
All of these signs can be associated with many other diseases or medical conditions in pets. Because they are unable to tell us what they are feeling, the best things to do is to seek veterinary attention if you notice one or a combination of these symptoms and are concerned something is wrong with your pet. Being aware of the signs of potential heart issues with you pet can help you to help them live a longer, healthier life.