Cardiology is the study of the heart and cardiovascular system. Disorders of the heart and cardiovascular system are very common in companion animals. We treat patients for a variety of disorders including congestive heart failure, cardiac arrhythmias, and hypertension to name a few. During a physical examination, auscultation of the heart and lungs can reveal abnormalities like a heart murmur, irregular heart rhythms with pulse deficits, or fluid accumulation in the lungs. Once these abnormalities are discovered, additional diagnostic tests may be recommended to identify an underlying cause for heart disease or help choose the most efficacious medication for treatment.
What is a heart murmur?
A heart murmur is an abnormal swishing sound that can be heard as the heart beats. Generally, blood flows through the heart's four chambers very smoothly. However, if there is damage to the heart valves or heart muscle, turbulence may be created. This turbulence causes what we hear as a heart murmur.
Many animals will have a heart murmur at some time during their life. Not all these animals will go on to develop heart failure. Once we recognize that a murmur is present, we monitor it yearly for changes in severity. It also alerts us to discuss heart disease with our pet’s parent so they are aware of the symptoms they should watch for in the future.
What are the signs of heart failure?
· Coughing or wheezing
· Exercise intolerance
· Labored or noisy respiration
· Loss of appetite
· Pale gum color
· Pot-bellied appearance
How is heart failure diagnosed?
Heart failure is diagnosed with a physical examination. Additional diagnostic tests like radiographs, ultrasound and an electrocardiogram help identify the type of heart failure present. There are many different types of heart failure that are all treated differently, so these tests are very important. We also perform blood tests to look for concurrent or underlying diseases that may need to be treated as well. Once these tests have been performed, treatment can be initiated.
What are the different types of heart failure?
· Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy: Most commonly seen in hyperthyroid cats
· Dilated cardiomyopathy: Most commonly seen in large breed dogs or dogs fed grain free diets
· Mitral valve insufficiency: Seen in all breeds of dogs and cats
· Atrial fibrillation: Often seen concurrently with dilated cardiomyopathy
· Congenital defects resulting in heart failure
How is heart failure treated?
Heart failure is treated with a combination of drugs that remove excess fluid from the body, help the heart beat stronger, adjust blood pressure, and control how fast the heart beats. Often, pets are placed on multiple drugs, but in most cases the medications are well tolerated and the animal can have very good quality of life. Frequent visits to the vet are usually necessary when the medications are being regulated, but then visits usually decrease to two to four times a year to monitor the heart and kidney function.