Watch closely to keep your pets heart-healthy

TAMPA, Fla. – February is heart month, so cardiologists everywhere are giving out the same advice: Go see a veterinarian.

Of course we’re talking about veterinary cardiologists like those at BluePearl Veterinary Partners, who want to make sure your dogs and cats stay heart-healthy. To anyone who loves their pets, the advice is worth hearing. And with Valentine’s Day approaching, this is a great time to remember that healthy hearts are just as critical for pets as for humans.

That doesn’t mean they’re the same. We all know people combat heart disease with diet and exercise, to make sure their arteries don’t become clogged. But those strategies don’t really apply to dogs and cats, who usually don’t get the same kinds of blockages.

Dr. Alan Spier, who is board-certified in veterinary cardiology, said pets rely on their owners and their regular veterinarians to discover heart problems.

“Because we don’t know what pets are feeling, we are dependent on what people see and what veterinarians hear,” Spier said.

That means owners should look for certain signs of heart problems.

For dogs, coughing can be a sign of heart trouble, because heart failure leads to fluid building up in the lungs. This fluid also sometimes gives dogs swollen bellies, which is another sign that should be investigated. Dogs with heart problems also breathe heavily and are not likely to run and play as energetically as they used to.

For cats, breathing difficulties also are a possible symptom of heart trouble. But cats tend to hide when they’re not feeling well, which makes it harder to observe problems.

That’s why regular visits to family veterinarians are critical. Veterinarians can perform routine checks such as listening for heart murmurs and doing evaluations that can detect issues such as arrhythmia. When extra care is needed, they will recommend seeing specialists such as board-certified cardiologists at BluePearl, who have received years of additional training.

Spier said medicines often are the best treatment. Diuretics can be used to combat the fluid build-up. Other medications make the heart pump more efficiently.

But all of these treatments require someone to see that a pet’s heart health needs to be checked out. That’s why Spier said a pet’s best allies are, “observant owners and routine veterinary visits.”