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.

Dog’s Heart Takes A Lickin’ But Keeps On Tickin’

February 7, 2013
Chad

Chad

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, February is American Heart Month. In 2012, The Animal Medical Center’s spokes-cat was Sidney, who developed fainting episodes which led to the diagnosis of a heart muscle abnormality, a condition common in cats.

This year, we have a spokes-dog who does not want to be outdone by last year’s spokes-cat. This dog has not one, but two types of heart problems at the same time!

An accidental tumor

Chad is a rescued, older male dachshund. After he found a forever home, he needed some dental work. Because his regular veterinarian heard a heart murmur, an echocardiogram was ordered as part of the pre-dental evaluation. Echocardiograms evaluate the heart noninvasively using sound waves. The test showed Chad’s heart murmur was due to leaky valves. Leaky valves are the most common cause of a heart murmur in a dog.

In Chad’s case, the test surprisingly found a tumor near the base of the heart and he came to The Animal Medical Center in March of 2012 for further evaluation.

Magnetic resonance imaging

Heart tumors are quite uncommon; one study showed heart tumors occur in less than 0.2% of all dogs. The two most common types are often hard to distinguish using an echocardiogram. To image the heart, we use a special type of MRI. The MRI showed the tumor was located in the heart wall and could not be removed surgically. We started chemotherapy and between treatments, when he was feeling well, his teeth were cleaned. Chemotherapy finished in November 2012 and an echocardiogram showed the tumor was smaller.

Heart problem number two

In January 2013, Chad’s leaky valves worsened causing heart failure, a buildup of fluid in his lungs. The AMC’s Emergency Service treated him with diuretics (water pills), oxygen and other medications to decrease the fluid in his lungs. The Cardiology Service prescribed medications to keep his broken heart working and the fluid from building up again in his lungs. After two days in the ICU, his heart was ticking well and he went home to his anxiously waiting family.

Is your dog coughing? It might be heart failure. Our friends at the Washington State College of Veterinary Medicine have a nice list of the causes of coughing in dogs.

Still worried your dog might have heart failure? Review the clinical signs and see your veterinarian if you think your dog has heart failure.


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