Pumps and Valves: February is American Heart Month <3

February 25, 2015

heart monthIn 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 ❤
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 ❤
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 ❤
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 ❤
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.

Heart Healthy Tests for Pets

February 13, 2014

In addition to being National Pet Dental Health Month, February is American Heart Month. Veterinary patients suffer from heart disease, although coronary artery disease, which is common in people, doesn’t occur in dogs and cats. Even so, cardiologists at The Animal Medical Center use a variety of diagnostic tests to determine if their patients have heart problems requiring treatment.

Auscultation
The stethoscope has been around since the early 1800s when it was invented by French physician René Laennec. Every veterinarian has a stethoscope and they use their stethoscopes to determine the heart rate, heart rhythm and heart sounds. Abnormal heart sounds, also known as murmurs, may be “innocent” or of no concern. Innocent murmurs are most commonly heard in pediatric patients. In adult dogs and cats, the development of a heart murmur typically indicates leaky heart valves. If your veterinarian hears a heart murmur, consultation with a board certified veterinary cardiologist for additional testing may be recommended by your primary care veterinarian.

Electrocardiogram
An electrocardiogram measures the electrical impulses produced by the heart. The recording is a graphic representation of the heart’s rate and rhythm. The normal heart rate varies depending on whether your pet is a dog or cat. Cats have a higher heart rate than dogs, and small dogs tend to have a higher heart rate than large dogs. A normal heart beats regularly. Heartbeats that occur at irregular intervals, called an arrhythmia, indicate heart disease and often land a pet in the animal ICU for emergency treatment by a veterinary cardiologist to correct the abnormal rhythm. Pets with serious abnormal rhythms may be very weak, faint and in rare cases, die suddenly.

This chest x-ray of a cat shows an enlarged heart and fluffy white patches in the lungs typical of pulmonary edema.

This chest x-ray of a cat shows an enlarged heart and fluffy white patches in the lungs typical of pulmonary edema.

Chest X-rays
Radiographs or x-rays show the size of your pet’s heart and the surrounding lungs. Enlarged hearts can occur with diseases of the heart muscle or as a result of leaky heart valves. When the valves are extremely leaky or the heart muscle becomes very weak, heart failure occurs. Heart failure allows fluid to build up in the lungs. This buildup of fluid, called pulmonary edema, can be seen on an x-ray as fluffy white patches in the normally black lungs.

Echocardiogram
An echocardiogram uses sound waves to create a real-time moving image of the heart as it beats inside the chest. The sound waves are created and recorded via a probe placed on the chest over the heart. As the probe is moved, different parts of the heart come into view. The computer inside the echocardiography machine is able to precisely measure the thickness of the heart walls, the valves and measure the rate of blood flow throughout the heart given your pet’s cardiologist an exact measure of how well all components of the heart are functioning. An echocardiogram is used to diagnose nearly all forms of dog and cat heart disease, including the most common form of heart disease in dogs, leaky valves, and in cats, heart muscle disorders.

Brain Natiuretic Peptide (BNP)
If your veterinarian recommends a BNP test as part of a cardiac evaluation, she has not lost her mind. Although the name seems just plain wrong for a heart test, BNP is actually a small hormone produced by the heart. Production increases when the heart muscle is excessively stretched, as in cases of heart failure. Sometimes the clinical signs of heart failure overlap with the signs other diseases causing breathing difficulties, including heart failure and pneumonia. This blood test provides a non-invasive method to help differentiate between cardiac and non-cardiac causes of respiratory problems. This test is most useful when combined with the other tests mentioned previously.

What can you do to have a heart healthy pet?

  • Keep in mind no test is perfect. It may take a battery of tests to determine your pet’s cardiac condition.
  • Excessive coughing or breathing difficulty in your pet should be evaluated immediately by a veterinarian.
  • Packing on the pounds puts extra stress on the heart. Keep your pet in ideal condition.

Sidney the Cat Goes “Red” to Educate Owners About Feline Heart Disease

February 27, 2012

February is American Heart Month. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the most common form of heart disease in humans is coronary artery disease. This disease causes the blood vessels supplying the heart muscle to become blocked, resulting in a heart attack. To raise awareness of heart disease in women, the Go Red for Women campaign works to wipe out heart disease and stroke in women.

Both dogs and cats suffer from heart disease, but neither have heart attacks like we do. Dogs most commonly develop thickened heart valves. The thickening prevents normal value function. Although he is a cat, Sidney, a patient of The Animal Medical Center’s Cardiology Service, has agreed to “Go Red “ and be the AMC’s spokescat for feline heart disease.

Meet Sidney. In addition to being a handsome, 10-year-old white cat with black trim, Sidney is a tough nut to crack from a medical perspective. Before Christmas, Sidney started having episodes of falling over without losing consciousness and sometimes he would curl his feet under himself and act woozy.

First steps

Sidney’s owner took him to his regular veterinarian, whose first step was to obtain routine blood tests looking for metabolic causes of episodes like an overactive thyroid gland, low blood sugar, or anemia. But the answer was not going to come easily; the tests were normal.

A neurology c consultation

Was it his brain malfunctioning causing a strange kind of seizure? Sidney first came to The AMC and saw board certified neurologist, Dr. Chad West.

After assessing Sidney, Dr. West determined Sydney’s problem was not neurological. But he did detect an abnormal heart rhythm and a murmur. Because episodes in cats can be caused by an abnormal heart, a cardiac evaluation was recommended for Sidney.

Finally an answer

Sidney came back to The AMC to see board certified cardiologist, Dr. Philip Fox. An electrocardiogram (EKG) showed enlargement of the right heart and he confirmed the abnormal heart rhythm and murmur. Dr. Fox then used a non-invasive echocardiogram to evaluate Sidney’s heart and found the muscle of the heart walls to be thickened. View Sidney’s echocardiogram:

The diagnosis was hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), or an abnormally thickened heart muscle. The thick muscle prevents the heart from normally filling with blood and is likely the cause of Sidney’s collapsing episodes. Enalapril, an ACE inhibitor, was prescribed for its beneficial effects and high level of safety in cats with heart disease, but if it does not correct Sidney’s collapsing episodes, different medications will be prescribed.

Feline heart disease

The most common disorders of the feline heart are abnormalities of the heart muscle itself. Thick heart muscles, like Sidney’s, are the most common; less frequently veterinary cardiologists diagnose thin, flabby heart muscles. Either form can lead to heart failure which is a backup of fluid into the lungs due to decreased heart muscle function.

Tips for the cat owner

Like Sidney, cats with feline cardiomyopathy can be successfully treated.

Early treatment of feline heart disease is critical, since cats without heart failure live longer than those developing heart failure. If your veterinarian detects a heart murmur or abnormal heart rhythm during your cat’s annual physical examination, ask if a further evaluation by a veterinary cardiologist is required.

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This may also be found in the Tales from the Pet Clinic blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.


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