Heart disease in women is the number one killer. Although our pets don’t suffer from heart disease in the same way, for example they don’t get coronary artery disease and very rarely do animals suffer from heart attacks. We still see a large percentage of our patients with heart disease of some cause.

Could it be their heart?

There are some specific clinical signs that can be suggestive that the heart is under strain. As the heart is the bodies pump it needs to generate enough pressure to pump the blood around the body from the front of the nose to the tip of the tail. When the heart is unable to pump as efficiently there can be a build-up of pressure within the system, think like a plumbing circuit! When there is an increase in pressure at the heart there can be an increase through the blood vessels in the lungs which causes fluid to build up in and around the lungs or within the abdominal cavity.

Heart murmurs…. the facts?

A heart murmur is a noise that we hear when we listen to your pets heart with our stethoscopes. The “murmur” is heard as a wooshing or squeaking sound either between or over the heart sounds. A healthy heart will have two heart sounds making a lubb-dubb sound. If the heart has a leaky valve or a narrowed valve this creates turbulence in the blood as the heart contracts. The turbulence means the bloods flows the wrong way and that is what we hear through our stethoscopes.

Heart murmurs can originate from many different locations in the heart from leaky valves, to extra vessels in the heart, defects in the walls of the heart or narrowed valves. Listening to the heart with a stethoscope allows us to identify there is a heart murmur and allocate a grade. The grade is given according to the loudness of the murmur, often we try and describe what it sounds like and where it is. By grading the murmur we can monitor it for progression, however the grade doesn’t always correlate to the severity of the murmur it depends on what is causing the murmur. Unfortunately the stethoscope doesn’t allow us to identify the exact cause of the murmur. For this we do require an ultrasound scan (echocardiogram) which can be done by a few of our vets including Rachel, Duncan, Sarah and Ruth all enjoy ultrasounding.

From an echocardiogram we can then decide if your pet requires medication to support their heart, in a few specific cases possible surgery or just monitoring every 6 months.

The silent killers…..

There are a couple of conditions where often it is too late for our patients by the time we diagnose them with a heart condition.

Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM)

If you are Doberman or a spaniel owner the likelihood that you know all too well about this disease. Dilated cardiomyopathy is a condition which is seen in specific breeds and has a genetic component. The heart gradually increases in size through the life of the pet. When this happens the heart muscle stretches which means that the valves don’t close and sometimes a heart murmur can be heard, often there is no heart murmur to even suggest this is happening. As the heart muscle cells stretch this affects the conduction of the electrical activity across the heart. This causes the heart to often produce arrhythmias which is when the normal regular beating of the heart doesn’t occur and we often listen to the heart beating in a haphazard way.

These patients often present collapsed and very sick very quickly. They can present with coughing, a sudden onset murmur or rhythm change to their heart. When the heart increases in size it is at this point that we often need to support these patients with medication. Often we need to perform chest x-rays and an ultrasound scan to confirm the diagnosis of DCM. Sadly often these patients have a poor long term prognosis.

Pericardial effusion

This is a condition where there is a build up of fluid in the membranous sac that surrounds the heart. This places pressure on the heart and prevents it from beating effectively. Pericardial effusion is a condition that can be seen in certain breeds the cause of which is often never found, this is called idiopathic (no known cause) pericardial effusion. Other causes of this condition include tumours and certain cases of heart failure. Pericardial effusion can be a sign of heart failure and also cause heart failure.

As you can see conditions of the heart are never straightforward and there is a fine balance that our patients walk between being fine and bright or being in heart failure.

As vets we listen to our patients hearts whenever they come in for their annual boosters, where if there are any concerns we can discuss what is the best course of action.

If at any point you have concerns about your pets breathing or any collapsing episodes please contact your nearest Swaynes branch we are here for you 24/7.