Pets love, pets care, pets share, pets adore…. but never hate!
The heart is the most vital organ in the body regulating blood circulation. Its efficient functioning depends on many internal body factors. Like humans, pets too have numerous cardiac issues like congenital heart disorders, congestive heart failure, degenerative mitral valve disease, dilated cardiomyopathy, heartworm, etc. The most common cardiac issue in cats is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. With the increasing import of foreign dog and cat breeds into India, cardiac issues are also on the rise as few of these exotic pets like Dachshunds, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Dobermans are predisposed to certain heart problems. Recent estimation of the mortality caused by cardiac disease in the general canine population indicates that about 7% of all dogs die or are euthanized because of heart failure before 10 years of age.
Early diagnosis of any cardiac disease is the hallmark of cardiac treatment. Symptoms that owners need to keep an eye out for are laboured breathing, cough, exercise intolerance, cyanosis, fainting and reluctance to lie down (especially in cats). Correct diagnosis by a veterinarian involves many steps such as history, signalment, auscultation, etc.
Step-wise diagnosis of veterinary cardiac issues:
- Auscultation : It is the first step in diagnosing a cardiac problem. Arrythmia (irregular heartbeat), bradycardia (slow heartbeat) or tachycardia (fast heartbeat) can be differentiated. The origin of clinical signs can also be distinguished.
- Radiography : Taking a chest x-ray in two or three orthogonal views is critical to establish an enlarged heart, fluid in the chest, specific heart chamber involvement or lung issues.
- Electrocardiography: An ECG can help your veterinarian find out specific flow abnormalities, heartbeat irregularities and/ or a missed beat, etc.
- Echocardiography: This is the latest non-invasive cardiac diagnostic tool in veterinary medicine. The echocardiogram cannot be used to examine the lungs, but this ultrasonographic examination allows the veterinarian to see inside the heart. For moving organs such as the heart, the size, tissue character and muscle function can be assessed in what is called a “real time” examination that resembles a motion picture. Echocardiography provides a wealth of data concerning cardiac morphology and function.
- Blood tests: A complete blood count, kidney and liver function tests, serum mineral/electrolyte profile is essential is diagnosing cardiac problems as the primary cause.
- Canine Heartworm Screening: Critical for pets travelling abroad, the specialized CGS Hospital laboratory conducts routine Canine Heart worm screening using the latest Snap test (CaniV4). A buffy coat smear for specific diagnosis of female Canine Heartworms, if present in blood circulation is also performed.
Following diagnosis, treatment starts immediately. Cardiac patients need to be carefully monitored during the course of treatment. Most have life-long prescriptions that require periodic alterations based on re-evaluation of the patient. Medical treatment includes diuretics, a heartbeat regulator, a bronchodilator, a mineral stabilizer and a vasodilator. Surgical treatment may include stent placement, chest tube placement, etc. as per the specific condition.
Tips for cardiac patient owners:
- If you notice any of the discussed symptoms, get your pet checked by a qualified veterinarian.
- Adhere to the medical prescription. Do not abruptly stop or alter any medication.
- All exotic pets should be screened for Canine Heartworm routinely.
- It is okay to take your pet for a walk, but limit strenuous exercise.
- Avoid using collars / choke chain.
- Keep your pet in a cool shady place, away from extreme heat or cold.
- Restrict Sodium in the diet. Special Veterinary Prescription Cardiac diet is also available.
- Focus on weight control.
- Always inform your concerned veterinarian about your pet’s diagnosed cardiac ailment, medication he/she is on; as certain drugs can cause allergic reactions. Anesthetic protocols employed are different.
- Monitor your pet’s breathing, colour of the tongue, etc.
- In case of an emergency, rush your pet to the vet!
Cheers to a safe and happy heart!
By: Dr. Salisha Whitney Correia (M.V.Sc. Vet. Surgery & Radiology)