Heart disease affects as many as 60% of our older canine patients and although it is very hard to know the extent of heart disease in cats, it is estimated to be present in up to 15% of them. The reason it is so hard to get a more accurate statistic in cats is that it often goes undiagnosed. Heart disease is also estimated to affect about 15% of young dogs.
Unfortunately heart disease can be very difficult to diagnose in both dogs and cats. They can not tell us when they are feeling bad or lethargic or if they are having any unusual pains in their chest. That is why this disease is often undetectable until they are showing signs of heart failure, at which point treating is less beneficial because the disease is not reversible.
There are some breeds that are more prone to heart disease. These include but are not limited to the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Chihuahua, Poodle, Dachshund, Doberman pinscher, German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Great Dane, Weimaraner, and Boxers.
Although it is quite complex, heart failure occurs when the heart is unable to pump out the amount of blood it is receiving, therefore supplying inadequate amounts of oxygenated blood to the body. The problem can be attributed to valves that become leaky, allowing blood to flow through the heart in the wrong direction, or because the muscle itself becomes weak and stretched over time. The end result is the same however with fluid “leaking” from vessels into the lungs or abdomen, depending on which side of the heart is affected. This buildup of fluid causes obvious symptoms of difficulty breathing (if fluid is accumulating in the lungs) or abdominal distension (if fluid is accumulating in the abdomen). Other symptoms that may or may not be present early in the disease process include exercise intolerance, reluctance to play, and general lethargy. Many times, signs of heart disease are so mild that the owner doesn’t even realize there is a problem. It is easy to attribute “slowing down” to old age. Your veterinarian may detect a heart murmur or abnormal rhythm during your pet’s physical exam and discuss further diagnostics with you.
Once heart disease is suspected your veterinarian will probably recommend chest radiographs to determine if the heart is enlarged and if there are any changes present in the lungs. This may help stage the heart disease somewhat and help the doctor determine a treatment protocol and prognosis. There are more extensive diagnostics such as an electrocardiogram or echocardiogram that may be indicated as well. These things may have to be done multiple times through the course of the disease to monitor progression and response to treatment.
The goal of treatment is to help the heart function more efficiently. Medications are available to allow the heart to contract more strongly thereby pushing more blood out and through the body. Diuretics may be needed as fluid starts to accumulate in the lungs or abdomen.
There are also congenital heart anomalies that can occur in puppies and kittens. Examples include Patent Ductus Arteriosis (PDA), Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD) and Pulmonic Stenosis, just to name a few. Many of these can be corrected surgically by a board certified veterinary surgeon.
Cats too can be affected by heart disease. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a condition that occurs most often in young cats. They may often be asymptomatic until it is very end stage. At this point they may have acute respiratory distress or sometimes they pass away suddenly without warning.
Routine visits to your veterinarian will give your pet the best chance at detecting this disease and starting a treatment protocol before they are symptomatic. Frequent monitoring will ensure that they are responding well to treatment and have the best quality life possible.
Thanks for reading!
Dr. Stephanie Bradley
Hey everyone! Just thought we would give you a couple of pointers about limping in pets.
Pain when walking or “lameness” is a very common ailment seen at our hospital. There can be many different causes of lameness in your pet and there are many different considerations that your veterinarian will use when determining the underlying cause. In many cases, the species (canine or feline) and specific breed are significant factors when investigating the type of lameness we see in your pet. Many of you are familiar with diseases like hip dysplasia and luxating patellas and the breed of dog in which these diseases are seen are pretty consistent. To keep things simple, I will break down some of the most commonly seen issues that pertain to lameness.
In many cases, the degree of lameness is a good clue as to the severity of the injury. Anytime your pet is unable to use a limb at all or you can clearly see an odd angle or in some severe cases, a dangling limb, these can all be indications of a fracture or dislocation and your pet should be taken to the vet right away.
If you have a pet that suddenly started limping on a front or back leg while running or playing always look for sharp objects wedged in the foot pads first and if not seen, a sprain or strain may be the culprit. Sprains and strains are commonly seen in both growing dogs and adults. Its always a good idea to try and rest your pet if you see them start to limp abruptly. Take them out on a leash for potty breaks and keep the activity to a minimum while in the house if possible. If your pet is crate trained, keep them in their crate if they start to get too rambunctious. If the issue does not resolve in a day or two, call your veterinarian and schedule an exam.
For larger breed puppy owners, hip dysplasia is a biggie when considering causes of lameness but there are also other diseases like elbow dysplasias, osteochondrosis, joint luxations and nutritional imbalances to keep in mind. If the lameness is in the back end, radiographs or xrays should be taken to assess for hip dysplasia. Hip dysplasia is a fancy term for hip joints that are malformed which eventually leads to arthritis and loss of function. This disease is most commonly seen in German shepherds, St. Bernards, Labrador and Golden Retrievers and Rottweilers but can also be seen less commonly in cats such as Maine Coons.
Elbow dysplasia is a collective term for 3 major diseases that can be seen in the elbow of some large breed puppies and is one of the most common causes of limping in the front limbs. Your veterinarian will need to take xrays to determine if these diseases are present and they usually require surgery to correct.
Osteochondrosis dissicans is a disease of cartilage formation and will cause limping in both the front and hind limbs depending on where the lesion is located. This can be difficult to diagnose as cartilage is not readily seen on radiographs but is a cause of persistent lameness and should be evaluated. In many cases, this issue will require surgery to remove the diseased flap of cartilage causing the problem.
As far as nutritional imbalances are concerned, as long as you are feeding a good quality large breed puppy formula, these issues should not arise providing there is no outside supplementation.
Lameness in adult dogs can be the direct result of the above mentioned disorders but can be from other causes as well. Cranial or anterior cruciate ligament rupture (CCLR or ACLR) is the same disease you hear about in professional atheletes with an ACL tear. Our pets can also develop this disease and unfortunately it eventually affects both back limbs. This disease occurs as a result of instability within the knee joint (stifle) which leads to arthritis and eventually a weakened cruciate ligament. The weakened ligament tears or partially tears when playing or running around doing normal things. This is a pretty straight forward diagnosis and nearly always requires surgery to lessen pain and to preserve function in the limb.
Luxating patellas is another common disease that we see mostly in our smaller patients such as Yorkies, Maltese, Poodles, etc. This disease occurs when the kneecap (patella) moves abnormally toward the inner or outer knee and can cause significant arthritis and pain. The patella can even become “locked” in that abnormal position over time which permanently changes the normal conformation of the limb and prevents normal function. This condition is correctable surgically if caught early.
This is just a brief overview of the most common causes of limping that we see in the hospital. I could go on forever about each of these topics and others relating to lameness but for the sake of keeping this relatively painless, we’ll stop here and if any of you have any additional questions please feel free to call us anytime.
Thanks for reading!
Dr. Jessica Zink