What does the heart do? The heart is made of four main chambers; the two atria and the two ventricles. Blood from the right side of the heart is pumped to the lungs, where it picks up oxygen. The blood then returns to the left side of the heart. The left side pumps the blood around the rest of the body via the arteries. After the blood has delivered oxygen to the various body parts, it travels back to the heart via the veins and starts the loop again. Valves in the heart makes sure the blood only goes one way around the system.

What can go wrong? There are many different types of heart diseases. There are developmental conditions, which animals are born with and there are acquired diseases, leading to heart failure. There are diseases which never cause any clinical signs, and there are diseases which lead to arrhythmias, originating in the heart and outside it. Most commonly we get leaks; the valves in the heart move apart or become damaged, so the watertight seal is broken. As the leak becomes worse, more and more blood goes backwards rather than forwards. As a result of this backwards pressure, fluid builds up in the lungs and the clinical signs of heart disease develop.

What are the clinical signs of heart disease? The common signs of heart disease in dogs and cats are: Wobbling/incoordination; coughing; increased breathing rate; weight loss; exercise intolerance; collapsing; swollen abdomen.

How is it diagnosed? Most heart diseases can be heard by listening to the chest with a stethoscope. We usually take an x-ray to see if there is any fluid on the lungs, and to see how much the heart may have enlarged. An ECG is sometimes performed to see how the heart is conducting electricity, especially if there is an arrhythmia. The best method for detecting heart disease is a heart scan. At Donaldson’s Vets, we have a visiting heart specialist who comes to our surgery to perform these for us.

Are certain breeds more susceptible? All breeds can get heart disease, but some breeds are more likely to have it. These are: Dogs – Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, German Shepherd, Boxer, Springer Spaniels, Doberman, Great Dane, Irish Wolfhound, Rottweiler, Bull terrier, Daschund. Cats – American Shorthair, Maine Coon, Persian, Siamese, Ragdoll, Sphynx.

Can we treat heart disease? Yes, the earlier these diseases are picked up, the better quality, and quantity, of life the pet is likely to have. There is a marked improvement of heart medication, so if you think your pet is showing any of the signs, then make sure you see your vet as soon as you can.