What becomes of the broken hearted!!

The heart can be regarded as a muscular pump for the blood within the circulatory system and lies within the chest cavity. It is considered to have two “sides” the right and the left side.  Unlike cardiovascular disease, which describes problems with the blood vessels and circulatory systems as well as the heart, heart disease refers only to issues and abnormalities in the heart itself.

Disease is caused by damage to all or part of the heart, damage to the coronary arteries, or a poor supply of nutrients and oxygen to the organ.

Heart disease can be acquired or congenital and certain breeds are predisposed.

Symptoms of heart disease depend on which condition is affecting your pet as they may be easily tired, develop a cough, or have difficulty in breathing among others problems. On Veterinary examination the vet may hear a leaking valve through his/her stethoscope or notice that the heart rate / rhythm are abnormal.

In dogs, when the left side of the heart is damaged, the first sign is usually a cough at exercise, as fluid builds up in the lungs. In cats, this may be seen as difficulty in breathing.

When the damage is to the right of the heart the first sign is usually the collection of fluid in the abdomen, sometimes associated with difficulty breathing.

When the disease is in the muscle or valves of the heart, there are often no visible external changes to the animal. However inside the chest there is a gradual weakening and enlargement of the heart itself. The precise changes depend on exactly which part of the heart is damaged but as the disease progresses, clinical signs will appear. Sometimes weakening of the heart valves and muscles is associated with bacterial and viral infections

Specific diagnosis and treatment depend upon the Vet carrying out a series of careful tests. A full physical examination will give a multitude of information and below are some common tests used

  1. Auscultation of the heart.
  2. The taking of an X-ray will give an indication as to the size of the heart.
  3. Electrocardiogram (ECG) will test the electrical discharge from the heart and abnormal blood flow.
  4. Blood tests such as biochemistry analysis will check sodium and potassium levels.
  5. Ultrasound will show the valve movement among other things and sedation may be necessary during ultrasound.

Investigations are vital and will influence management and may provide additional helpful information in initial approach.

Treatment involves improving the pump action of the heart along with improving the blood flow in the tissues and in certain cases the removal of excess fluid from the chest and abdomen, thereby allowing the heart to work more easily.

However while diagnosis, treatment and management starts in the veterinary clinic; it is vital for both the pet’s quality of life and disease progression that treatment is continued at home. It is important to remember that the treatment of heart failure does not cure the underlying disease and heart drugs must be continued indefinitely.  Your pet may need multimodal therapy with medication, exercise adjustments and dietary management, as well as close home monitoring of clinical signs and a stress free environment.