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February definitely has heart.
It's the month we celebrate National Heart Awareness and
Valentine's Day. For those reasons, February is a good reminder for
owners to learn more about pet heart disease so that their pets can
live a long, happy, and healthy life.
Cats and dogs may be born with a
congenital heart condition, or they may acquire a heart disease as
they age. According to Dr. Crystal Hariu, cardiology resident in
small animal medicine and surgery at the Texas A&M College of
Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), both
congenital and acquired heart diseases may be related to structural
defects or heart rhythm problems.
"For instance, a heart valve that did
not perform properly, or becomes abnormal over time, may not
function adequately and could cause problems," says Hariu.
"Congenital and acquired heart diseases may also be related to a
heart rhythm problem, meaning the rhythm at which the heart beats
is too fast or too slow."
One of most common heart diseases for
pets in Texas is heartworm disease.
"Despite its name, heartworm disease
is caused by a parasite that primarily affects the lungs," explains
Hariu. "However, it often secondarily affects the heart and can be
Fortunately, heartworm disease is
completely preventable. A veterinarian can prescribe a monthly
medication that will prevent heartworm disease and its devastating
As with other conditions, many of the
heart diseases in cats and dogs are hereditary.
"Certain diseases have known genetic
mutations that can cause the problem," notes Hariu. "Other diseases
do not have specific mutations worked out yet, but are known to be
passed on through breeding."
Hariu recommends consulting with
veterinarians prior to breeding because they can help owners make
an informed and responsible decision. Any pet that has a congenital
heart disease should not be used for breeding.
Any dog can be born with or develop
heart disease; however, certain breeds are predisposed to a heart
Hariu explains that Chronic Valve
Disease is one of the most common acquired heart diseases in middle
aged to older small dog breeds and is prevalent in the Cavalier
King Charles Spaniel, Dachshunds, Pomeranians, miniature
Schnauzers, and Chihuahuas. Dilated cardiomyopathy is another
acquired heart disease that develops in middle aged large breed
dogs like the Doberman Pinscher, Great Dane, Great Pyrenees, and
Irish Wolfhound. Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopthay is
an acquired heart disease with at least one known causative genetic
mutation. It typically affects Boxers; however, Pit Bulls or
English bulldogs can also be affected.
According to Hariu, the three most
common congenital heart diseases seen in dogs are patent ductus
arteriosus (PDA), subaortic stenosis (SAS), and pulmonic stenosis
(PS). PDA tends to occur in small dog breeds, such as the Bichon
Frise, Maltese, and toy Poodle; however, larger breeds like the
German Shepard are also predisposed. In contrast, SAS typically
occurs in larger breeds such as the Boxer, German Shepard, Golden
Retriever, and Newfoundland. Both large and small dog breeds are
predisposed to PS and the most commonly affected are the English
Bulldog, French Bulldog, Beagle, Boxer, Mastiff, and Chihuahua.
Some common precursors of heart
problems to look for in a pet are breathing difficulty, coughing,
decreased exercise, weakness, lethargy, and episodes of collapsing.
If any of these signs occur at home, a veterinarian should be
contacted for a full health evaluation.
If heart problems do exist there are
several procedures in modern veterinary medicine that can treat or
ease the symptoms of heart disease.
"While some heart diseases can only be
medically managed, some can be helped with non-invasive catheter
based procedures or surgery," explains Hariu. "For instance, PDA is
a condition in which there is an abnormal connection between two
heart vessels that should normally be separated. In many cases a
catheter can be used to non-invasively place a device across this
abnormal connection, effectively closing it."
"Some acquired heart diseases can also
be helped with procedures," says Hariu. "For example, some heart
rhythm problems in which the heart beats too slowly can be
effectively managed by placement of a pacemaker."
Receiving yearly checkups with a
veterinarian, maintaining a healthy and well-balanced diet,
exercising regularly, and keeping pets regular on vaccines are the
best ways to promote a healthy heart and the well being of a
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