Vail Pet Talk: Understanding heart disease in our pets |

Vail Pet Talk: Understanding heart disease in our pets

Charlie Meynier, DVM
VAIL CO, Colorado

What are the leading causes of heart disease in dogs and cats?

For dogs: The leading cause of heart disease in dogs is chronic valvular disease, dilated cardiomyopathy, congenital heart disease and heartworms. Chronic valvular disease affects 20-40 percent of all dogs. This disease is characterized by degenerative changes in the heart valves, with the mitral valve being the most common site affected. When the valves of the heart are no longer able to perform their job, the internal pressure of the heart increases, cardiac output drops, the heart becomes bigger, and finally congestive heart failure prevails. Dilated cardiomyopathy is a disease where the chambers of the heart become enlarged and the walls of the ventricles become thin and weak. This disease has been shown to have a genetic or familial basis as well as a link to deficiencies in certain amino acids and protein like substances (L-Carnitine and Taurine).

For cats: The leading causes of heart disease in cats are cardiomyopathies. These are diseases that affect the muscle of the heart and result in weakness of the heart itself. The most common cardiomyopathy affecting cats is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy where the heart muscle becomes abnormally thickened and loses its ability to function properly. Other less common cardiomyopathies include: Dilated cardiomyopathy, restrictive cardiomyopathy and arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy.

A common link between cats and dogs is how thyroid conditions can lead to secondary heart failure.

Some dog breeds are more susceptible to heart disease then others. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Miniature and Toy Poodles, Chihuahuas, Lhasa Apsos, Yorkshire Terriers, Schnauzers and Cocker Spaniels are breeds that are commonly affected by chronic valvular disease.

Boxers, Doberman Pinschers, Springer Spaniels, American and English Cocker Spaniels, German Shepard, Great Danes, Old English Sheep Dogs, St. Bernards, Schnauzers, and other large breed dogs are commonly affected by dilated cardiomyopathies.

In cats, pure breeds such as: Persians, Maine Coons and Ragdolls appear to be the most affected by cardiomyopathies, but any breed can fall victim to heart disease.

What are the signs of heart disease in cats and dogs?

Dogs: Coughing, lethargy and tiring easily, fainting spells, weight loss, arrhythmias and murmurs.

Cats: Breathing difficulty, inability to walk, weight loss, lethargy, arrhythmias and murmurs.

But take note, both dogs and cats may be completely asymptomatic even in the late stages of heart disease.

What is the best way to prevent, diagnose and treat heart disease in our pets?

Regular veterinary checkups are the key component to keeping our pets safe from heart disease.

Your veterinarian can recommend a proper diet, exercise, heart worm prevention and supplements that can help prevent disease as well as key into early signs of cardiac issues during routine checkups.

Diagnostics such as: a thorough physical exam, heart worm test, X- rays, ECG, blood pressure, blood work and echocardiogram are great screening measures to detect early heart disease.

Treatment of heart disease in our pets can be highly successful if properly diagnosed and caught early.

If you suspect your pet may have a heart condition or is a breed that is susceptible to developing one, don’t wait to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.

Feel free to email questions to Veterinarians Charlie Meynier and Tom Suplizio practice at the Vail Valley Animal Hospital and ER, with locations in Eagle-Vail and Edwards. Call 970-926-3496 or visit

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