In February, we celebrate Valentine’s Day with flowers and candy hearts. February also focuses on another type of heart – the one beating inside your chest! This is American Heart Month, raising awareness of heart disease. Both dogs and cats get heart disease, but the common type in each species is different. Cats’ hearts have pump problems and dogs’ hearts have valve problems. Although the problems are different, the outcome for both pump and valve problems is heart failure, or inadequate delivery of blood throughout the body for normal function to continue.
Poor pumping = heart disease in cats <3
The heart is a sophisticated muscle, but it still performs the basic muscle function – contract and relax. When the heart relaxes, the pumping chambers fill. The next muscular contraction expels the blood from the heart into the blood vessels. When the heart muscle is diseased, it can do one of two things – get thicker or thinner. Both are bad. A thick heart pumps less blood with each beat since the thick muscle occupies space inside the heart where the blood to be pumped normally collects. When the heart is thin, the muscles are weak and do not adequately pump blood. Thick or thin, neither heart pumps blood well.
Leaky valves = heart disease in dogs <3
A normal dog heart consists of four chambers, and the flow of blood between chambers is controlled by little valves. Normal valves remind me of alabaster: translucent and white, but unlike alabaster, they are flexible. Especially in small dogs, the valves degenerate as a dog ages, becoming thick and lumpy and inflexible. The distortion of their shape prevents them from closing normally. Abnormal valves leak and blood is not pumped efficiently through the rest of the heart and blood vessels. Over time, the portion of blood leaking out of the heart chambers increases and blood pumped to vital organs decreases.
Congestive heart failure <3
Even though the underlying heart problem in dogs and cats is different, the result is often the same. Poor pumping in cats and leaky valves in dogs can lead to congestive heart failure. These disparate problems both decrease the blood flow to vital organs, such as the kidneys. To compensate, the kidneys retain fluid and when the fluid reaches a critical level, it floods into the lungs, causing pulmonary edema. Acute congestive heart failure is a common reason for admission to the hospital from The Animal Medical Center’s ER. Congestive heart failure can be treated with medications to remove fluid, help the heart pump more vigorously and dilate the blood vessels, allowing them to hold more fluid.
Keeping your pet’s heart healthy <3
I know you want to keep your pet out of the animal ER, so here are some tips for being heart healthy:
- Keep your pet at an ideal body weight. Obesity increases stress on the heart and it has other negative effects on health as well.
- Exercise daily with your pet. Folks who walk their dog daily have better heart health themselves.
- Ask your primary care veterinarian if a consultation with a board certified cardiologist could benefit your pet. Changes in heart valves and muscles cannot typically be reversed; new medications can prolong good quality of life in both dogs and cats with heart disease.