Protect Your Pet's Heart in 3 Easy Steps

Posted February 21, 2019 @ 2:48pm | by James Newton, DVM

February is American Heart Month. It’s a time of the year to focus on increasing awareness of heart conditions in people, as well as our pets! Heart diseases and conditions are fairly common in many animals and affect roughly 10% of all dogs and cats at some point in their lives. The good news is that many heart conditions and diseases are treatable, and early detection can greatly improve outcomes for many of our pets! 

How to Help Your Pet
It can be really frightening to think of your pet developing a heart disease. While  many diseases of the heart, such as congenital heart malformations or age-related development of faulty heart valves, are not preventable, there is still plenty you can do to keep your pet’s heart in tip-top shape. 

1.    Diet:  You can support a healthy heart through a healthy diet and regular exercise (i.e. preventing obesity). Obesity is far too common in pets, and being obese can put undue stress on the heart. Please ask your veterinarian to evaluate your pet to make sure he or she is at a healthy. 

If you feed your pet a homemade diet, it is important to make sure your pet receives certain amino acids. For example, in cats, dilated cardiomyopathy can be caused by taurine-deficient diets. There has also been a lot of controversy lately around dogs eating grain-free diets (and, in some cases, homemade diets) and dilated cardiomyopathy. The short of it is that if you are feeding a homemade or grain-free diet, consult with your veterinarian to see if blood work (including tests for taurine levels) should be performed. Again, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

2.    Heartworm disease is a life-threatening disease in dogs and cats, but it is also preventable. It is caused by the parasite dirofilaria immitis which is spread through the bite of a mosquito. In 2016, Twin Cities veterinary clinics reported an average of 26-50 cases of heartworm disease per clinic. Our beautiful forests, lakes, and excess of mosquitoes (!) means this disease is plentiful in Minnesota. Luckily, prevention is as simple as giving your pet a veterinarian-recommended monthly heartworm medication. 

3.    Early Detection:  Your veterinarian can find many heart diseases simply by listening to your pet’s heart. Other signs of heart disease may include (but are not limited to): cough, increased lethargy or weakness, difficulty breathing, weight loss, and collapse. Once a heart disease or condition is suspected, diagnostic tests like blood work, heartworm tests and x-rays can provide further information. Your veterinarian may then recommend a treatment, or a consultation with a veterinary cardiologist if further testing is needed.  

The sooner heart disease is detected, the sooner treatment can be initiated and the better the outcomes and prognosis your pet will have. This is one of many important reasons why annual veterinary rechecks are important for the long-term health of your pets! If it’s been over six months since your pet has been to the veterinarian, give them a call today! Your pet’s heart will thank you!  

Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota is the only locally-owned emergency and specialty hospital in the state. If your veterinarian refers you to a veterinary cardiologist for your pet’s heart issues, we hope you will consider us. 

Our St. Paul and Oakdale clinics are open to receive emergencies 24/7, every day of the year. 

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