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Pets need heart care too

Look out for symptoms if your dog is old. One of the first observable signs of heart disease is a slowing down

Cats are susceptible to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.(iStockphoto)

By Dr Nameeta Nadkarni

LAST PUBLISHED 20.04.2023  |  01:00 PM IST

Recent news stories on young people developing heart diseases have raised awareness of heart health issues. Do you know that your pet too can suffer from heart ailments?

In fact, some of them are born with congenital heart abnormalities that frequently go unrecognised. At least 10% of the patients veterinarians check out have a heart issue, according to our estimates. Senior pets may have/account for a higher percentage of this, up to 75%. Most heart conditions are usually discovered when a pet is brought to the clinic for some other reason.

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Take the seven-year-old Doberman who was brought to my clinic for his yearly immunisations. After listening to his heart as part of the physical exam, we were able to determine that he had dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a condition that causes the heart muscles to weaken and expand. The pet owner was surprised. “He did not show any signs of discomfort," she said. Heart diseases tend to be subtle.

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Common heart conditions in dogs include DCM and afflictions of the heart valves—they lessen the heart’s capacity to pump blood efficiently. DCM is a degenerative condition; managing it calls for early detection and treatment.

As they age, cats can also develop heart problems, typically between the ages of four-six. Cats are susceptible to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), which causes the heart’s walls to thicken and subsequently reduces the ability to pump blood effectively. If left untreated, all these conditions can progress to congestive heart failure (CHF), which is when fluid starts accumulating in the abdomen and chest. This stage can become fatal.

Which pet is most likely to develop a cardiac disease depends on genetics and breed predisposition. Dobermans, Great Danes, Cocker Spaniels and Boxers are prone to DCM, Schnauzers, Pomeranians and Poodles to valve disease.

Diet and lifestyle are contributing factors. Obesity raises the risk of cardiac ailments. Pets may develop heart-related ailments if they are not given high-quality food containing vital amino acids like taurine and L-carnitine. The same is also true of/Or are given grain-free diets. Dogs and cats need at least 15 minutes of vigorous activity each day.

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Pay attention to dental health too. Infections that begin in the gums and teeth can spread through the bloodstream and harm vital organs. Therefore, regular brushing, scaling and maintaining good oral health are crucial.

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Timely detection is crucial to preventing the progression of CHF. If your pet is older than six years, you need to be on the lookout for these symptoms. One of the first observable signs of canine heart disease is a slowing down. While out for a walk, your dog will begin to sit more frequently. Lethargy is a fairly common symptom but pet parents typically attribute that to old age, arthritis or joint discomfort. It gets even more difficult to determine if a cat has slowed down.

As the illness worsens, you may notice your dog coughing a lot. It is a gentle cough that comes and goes but lasts for more than three weeks. Your pet will eventually start to expend more effort to breathe. Relatively few cats cough when they have heart disease, even in its advanced stages, but increasing reclusiveness, loss of appetite and respiratory problems are among the indications of cat heart disease. Other signs include unexplained weight loss, fainting and a bluish tint to the tongue.

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Treatment options include prescription drugs, dietary changes, nutritional supplements, weight loss, even surgical interventions such as valve replacements and pacemaker implants. The purpose of treatment is to improve quality of life and lessen discomfort. Although there is no way to reverse these heart diseases, your pet can lead a very normal life with appropriate treatment and management.

Nameeta Nadkarni is a practising veterinary soft tissue surgeon and pet blogger from Mumbai.