Pets, just like people, can develop heart disease. It is actually quite common. “It is estimated that 10% of dogs have heart disease. The percentage increases as dogs age, with heart disease affecting 25% of dogs 9 to 12 years of age and as many as 75% of those 16 years of age or older.-BI” The difference is that their symptoms are much more subtle or even absent. Many times the first symptom noticed by owners occurs when the pet is already in heart failure. This is especially true with cats. Cats have an amazing ability to mask their illnesses and compensate for problems for a long time. As dogs tend to be much more physically active it is often easier to recognize cardiac problems by noticing an intolerance or reluctance to exercise.
As part of every Lockridge Animal Hospital patient’s physical exam their heart and lungs are asculted (listened to with a stethoscope). This can often detect abnormal sound of the heart and lungs such as heart murmurs, arrhythmias, and fluid in the lungs. While this is a great screening tool it does have its limitations. Just listening does not tell us why there is an abnormal sound. It simply tells us that there is a need to investigate further. If an abnormal sound is heard during the exam of your pet the doctor will recommend a cardiac ultrasound, chest x-rays and a blood pressure reading.
Cardiac ultrasound looks at the structure and function of the heart. It is used to determine why we here a heart murmur or arrhythmia and guide us on medication choices for that particular patient’s condition. Chest x-rays are used to evaluate the lungs. They can show us changes in the lung tissue such as masses or collapsed areas or fluid in the lungs or chest cavity. Blood pressure measurement is the same in our pets as it is in humans. High blood pressure (hypertension) can cause problems such as kidney damage, blindness and strokes. Low blood pressure (hypotension) can cause problems such as kidney damage, brain damage and weakness.
While all these things are tests that must be done by a veterinarian there are things you can monitor at home that are excellent indicators of your pets cardiac condition. The easiest and most indicative measurement is a resting respiratory rate. When your pet is lying down at rest you simply count the number of breaths he or she takes in 60 seconds. That number is your pets resting respiratory rate. Each pets normal resting respiratory rate is different so check with your pets veterinarian for guidance.