February is American Heart Month, so experts at BluePearl are urging everyone to practice good heart health — for people as well as pets.
A healthy heart is just as important to your dog or cat as it is to you, but some similarities end there.
“I think the biggest misconception is the idea that dogs and cats frequently have heart attacks,” said BluePearl’s Dr. Laura Hatton, who is board-certified in veterinary cardiology.
Dogs and cats generally don’t have heart attacks because they infrequently suffer the clogged arteries that plague humans. But pets do get serious heart conditions, which often can be difficult to detect in the earlier stages.
And cats complicate the matter, because they tend to hide when feeling sick. It’s really hard to see signs of heart trouble in a cat who has disappeared beneath the bed.
The good news is that the vast majority of dogs and cats with congestive heart failure or many other heart ailments can be treated with medicine, or potentially surgery. “We can often give dogs and cats a really good quality of life for years,” Hatton said.
BluePearl has extensive experience treating heart conditions, with several veterinarians such as Hatton who have received years of additional training to become board-certified in veterinary cardiology.
1) Your pet tires with exercise. If your dog won’t exercise, or your cat just doesn’t scamper across the carpet like the old days, there could be several reasons, including arthritis or a temporary illness. Or maybe Rover’s just getting up there in dog years. But don’t assume your pet is slower only because he’s older. See if he has some of the other signs as well.
2) Labored breathing. You’ve seen people who breathe heavily after a short walk to the mailbox. Something similar happens in dogs and cats. Heavy, labored breathing is definitely something to ask your family veterinarian about, especially if it persists or progressively worsens in severity.
3) Coughing, especially in dogs. Dogs cough for many reasons, but one of them is heart trouble. When dogs develop heart conditions, fluid may eventually build up in their lungs, which leads to coughing. Seek answers for a persistent cough.
4) Swollen bellies, especially in dogs. Sometimes the fluid buildup mentioned above leads to swollen bellies. Pay attention to this change.
5) Your family veterinarian says, “I noticed a heart murmur or irregular heartbeat.” The key point here: Make sure your pet goes to a primary care veterinarian at least once a year, or twice a year for older pets. This step is crucial to your pet’s ongoing health.
BluePearl works closely with the primary care veterinarians who know your pet well. They are often the ones who first detect heart trouble in pets, and refer them to specialists at BluePearl for additional diagnosis and treatment.
“A trip to your primary care veterinarian is a really important step,” Hatton said. “We work in partnership with them to make sure your pets get the best treatment possible for heart disease.”