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Pet Heart Health Q&A

February 28, 2018

In honor of American Heart Month, we have some pet heart health Q&A with our cardiologist, Dr. Gordon Peddle!

If my pet has heart disease, he/she would have symptoms, right?

Not necessarily.  In fact, most of the time heart disease in dogs and cats is detected prior to the onset of symptoms.  Pets often do not display symptoms of heart disease until the stage of disease is already advanced.  Early detection through routine exams with your family veterinarian can aid in selecting medications that delay the progression of the disease and/or reduce the risk of symptoms.

Ok, so my pet currently has no symptoms of any kind and is acting completely normally – What’s the best way for me to screen him/her for heart disease that might be present ‘under the surface’?

This answer is slightly different depending on whether you have a dog or cat.  In general, heart disease is more likely to occur in middle or older-aged dogs and cats.

In dogs, the most effective way to screen for heart disease is during his/her annual physical examination with your family veterinarian.  Identification of a heart murmur, abnormal or ‘extra’ heart sounds, or arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms) would suggest that heart disease might be present and a visit to a cardiologist would be advised for further evaluation.

In cats, heart disease MAY be detected on an annual physical examination IF a heart murmur, abnormal heart sound, or arrhythmia is detected.  However, many cats can have heart disease and not only display no symptoms, but display no abnormal findings on a routine physical examination.  Most family veterinarians run routine bloodwork panels every year in middle or older-aged cats to look for problems with thyroid, kidney, and liver function that can occur with age.  Most of these panels do not assess for heart disease, however.  Dr. Peddle recommends that all middle or older aged cats have a BNP blood level submitted along with their routine wellness bloodwork every year.  This BNP test is an excellent screening test for occult, or “hidden” heart disease.  There are two BNP tests (NT-proBNP or C-BNP), depending solely on which laboratory the sample is submitted to.  If the BNP is elevated, your cat may have heart disease and a visit to a cardiologist is recommended for further evaluation. Be sure to ask your family veterinarian about these additional tests!

What kind of quality of life will my pet have if he or she develops congestive heart failure?

Congestive heart failure marks the onset of the first symptoms for many dogs and cats with heart disease.  Many pet owners express worry about their pet’s day to day quality of life from that day forward.  Thankfully, the medications used to treat congestive heart failure in pets generally control symptoms effectively for the majority of their remaining life.  They will experience occasional relapses, but provided the symptoms and medications are being monitored by a cardiologist and your family veterinarian working , their day to day quality of life can usually be maintained at a high level.