Is it possible prevent heart disease in dogs and cats ?
On today's episode of Twin Trees Vet Talk, we welcome our very special guest, Dr. Mark Harmon. Dr. Harmon is a Board-Certified Veterinary Cardiologist in Vancouver, BC (Canada).
We discuss steps that pet owners and breeders can take in an effort to prevent dogs and cats from getting congenital heart conditions (abnormalities of the heart that are present at birth) as well as acquired heart diseases (heart diseases that develop later in life).
Genetics and nutrition are two main factors that can lead to heart disease in pets.
Genetics and nutrition are two main factors that can lead to heart disease in pets, and so screening breeding animals for heart disease (so that it is not passed on to the puppies/kittens) and providing proper nutrition (giving the pet all of the nutrients required for a healthy heart) are two ways that we can prevent heart disease in pets as much as possible.
Congenital heart diseases result from genetic mutations that cause of the heart to not form properly. Some common examples of congenital heart diseases include abnormal heat vessels like PDA (patent ductus arteriosus), septal defects (holes in the heart), and malformation of the heart valves. While congenital heart disease will rarely happen to an individual with no genetic predisposition, certain breeds are at a very high risk for both congenital and acquired types of heart disease, due to historical selective breeding practices leading to a high frequency unhealthy genetics within that lineage.
By being proactive and screening high risk breeds for heart disease BEFORE breeding them, we can do our best to produce puppies and kittens with the lowest possible chance of having heart disease.
There are now genetic screening tests to help identify pets that are at higher risk for certain genetic types of heart disease. Before breeding a pet, a cardiologist can also evaluate the heart with tests such as an echocardiogram and EKG to look for evidence of congenital or acquired heart disease. In some breeds where heart disease is very common, it is recommended to screen both breeding stock and offspring. If breeders keep a detailed pedigree, documenting any pets within a genetic lineage that develop heart disease, this can be very helpful in narrowing down and eliminating genetic heart disease within a genetic lineage.
In some breeds heart disease is very common. For example, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels can have as high as a 90-95% chance of developing heat disease at some point in life; other important breeds to mention include Boxers, Dobermans, Great Danes, Dachshunds, Schnauzers, Irish Wolfhounds, Golden Retrievers, Portuguese Water Dogs, English Bulldogs, Sphynx Cats, Maine Coon Cats, Bengals, Persians, Ragdolls, Siamese, and Burmese.
Prospective owners of these high-risk breeds must be properly educated on this ahead of time so that they can be prepared for the medical challenges that may lie ahead. The OFA website (below) is a great place for a breeder or prospective owner to search all of the inherited diseases that are common within that breed, so that they know what diseases should be screened for prior to breeding and what diseases to watch out for throughout the life of the pet. Having good medical insurance in place for a high-risk pet from Day 1 can help to ensure that the pet's owners will be prepared for cost of medical care should heart disease arise.
Nutrition also plays a very important role in heart health.
Nutrition also plays a very important role in heart health. In the 1980s, pet food manufacturers did not know that cats needed taurine for a healthy heart, and many cats died from dilated cardiomyopathy, a type of heart disease related to taurine deficiency. Taurine is an essential amino acid for cats; it is present in meat and commercial cat diets are now fortified with taurine.
In dogs, a diet-associated cardiomyopathy associated with certain ingredients (peas, lentils, chickpeas, and dried beans- all ingredients commonly found in "boutique," grain-free and vegan diets) has recently been documented, but veterinary nutrition researchers are still learning more about how and why this happens.
For people formulating pet food at home, it is recommended to meet with a Board-Certified Veterinary Nutritionist (that is a veterinarian who has gone on to do a clinical residency and specialize in nutrition- this is different from "pet nutritionists" advertised on the internet!)to ensure the diet has all the important nutrients for that individual pet's needs.
If your pet has any indication of heart disease (even a very soft murmur, exercise intolerance, shortness of breath, cardiac arrhythmia, etc.) it very is important to have the heart evaluated, and to see a cardiologist whenever possible. If heart disease goes undiagnosed, it can continue to get worse under the surface and eventually culminate in a big emergency like congestive heart failure (CHF). We hope you enjoy this episode! Please leave your questions and comments below!
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[TEASER] We know that certain nutritional deficiencies can put them at a very high risk for developing heart disease. We have genetic tests for heart disease for Dobermans, for Sphunxes now, Maine Coons. The breed listings on OFA will definitely list the most common things that they're trying to get out of the breeds. We can arrange days with breeders where we screen a bunch of animals to try to ensure that the population that is coming out there to owners is as safe as it can be and that we're at least not letting things slip by that could be prevented.
[Dr. Lopez]: We have a very special guest Dr Mark Harmon he is a board certified and Veterinary cardiologist at Boundary Bay Veterinary Specialty Hospital. What about this one: Is there a way to prevent heart disease?
[Dr. Hamon]: It's a tough one. So I would say, that if you can avoid diets that have peas and lentils and chickpeas and dry beans in them then we can try to avoid the diet associated issues [in dogs] or if you are going to do some sort of home formulated diet you should definitely work with a Board-Certified Veterinary Nutritionist to make sure that you are formulating a complete diet, because we know that certain nutritional deficiencies can put them at a very high risk for developing heart disease down the road.
Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), so the same type of heart disease that we see with the diets that we talked about earlier, it can be genetic in certain breeds like Dobermans. And we at least know of two genetic mutations in Dobermans that can cause DCM or pose the risk for it. And so it would be good to know: if you're going to get a doberman that they [the breeders] have done the genetic testing to actually look for it. We have genetic tests for Maine Coons, we have genetic tests for sphynxes, now so if there is a genetic test for a heart disease, it's really nice to know that they [the breeders] have at least looked at it, so that you know if it's something that's going to be a risk or not.
[Dr. Lopez]: Do you work with any breeders that breed high risk breeds to screen the breeding stock to make sure that the breeders aren't basically manufacturing pets that come with heart problems?
[Dr. Harmon]: We do and the tricky part for a while, so especially in British Columbia here, for a few years I was the only cardiologist in the entire province, and so we had to prioritize seeing sick patients. On my days off sometimes we can arrange days with breeders where we will screen a bunch of animals to try to ensure that the population that is coming out there to owners is as safe as it can be, and that we're at least not letting things slip by that could be prevented.
For instance, Sphynx cats are very predisposed to heart disease. Maine Coons, golden retrievers can be born with certain issues. Dobermans. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and miniature dachshunds are both very predisposed to getting this degenerative change to their mitral valve (MVD) that can create issues for them and development of heart failure. Unfortunately there's not a specific genetic test for them, but at least knowing that your breeder is tricking their dogs and trying to ensure that they're doing the best they can on that sort of realm is important.
[Dr. Lopez]: I f somebody's really interested in getting a certain breed they should definitely know that that breed has a high risk of heart problems, and make sure that they're finding a breeder that does all of the pre-breeding screening.
I send people to the OFA website- is that a good resource or is there a better one?
[Dr. Harmon]: I think it's a good resource. The breed groups want these animals to be safe as well. So, you know, the vast majority of breeders want the best for the breed that they're working with. The breed organizations and listings on OFA will definitely list the most common things that they see in the breed or that they're trying to get out of the breed. In addition to that sort of information- any breed can develop issues, so if your vet raises some sort of alarm bell and it's not something that was on your radar, it probably warrants some sort of Investigation to see if it's really significant or not. Have them routinely check these animals out so that we know: Were they find before now they have a heart murmur? If we can catch them early and if we can be proactive with them, we have a lot of things in our arsenal these days to slow things down and make things better. Maintaining a good, constant relationship with your primary care vets, ane good physical examination skills by them, can be instrumental at catching any breed that can have a potential for risk .
[Dr. Lopez]: That's very helpful. Thank you so much!
0:42 Intro, Q) Is there a way to prevent heart disease?
0:56 avoiding nutritional causes (taurine deficiency, certain ingredients)
1:24 genetic tests for heart disease
1:59 cardiologists work with breeders to screen high risk breeds
3:08 tips: before getting a of high risk breed
3:21 search the OFA website for more info
3:44 be proactive
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4 BEST PIECES OF ADVICE FROM THE EMERGENCY VET THAT COULD SAVE YOUR PET'S LIFE
1) DON'T WAIT TOO LONG TO GET HELP! If you wait too long, it could be too late. This is especially true for concerns such as laboured breathing, pale gums and weakness. You know your pet best, so if you are worried or concerned, "when in doubt, check it out!"
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3) BE PREPARED FOR THE WORST CASE SCENARIO. Have a plan in place, know your nearest emergency clinic, have the ASPCA phone number on speed dial. Know basic first aid training and CPR. But MOST IMPORTANTLY, BE FINANCIALLY PREPARED. The cost of medical treatment in an emergency, and the owners' ability to pay for it, is probably the most important factor that determines whether a pet will receive the medical care it needs. The best way to protect yourself is to have good medical insurance for your pet. Do your research.
3) KNOW WHEN TO REQUEST A REFERRAL TO A SPECIALIST. It is your right to request a referral to a specialist for a second opinion. If you are dealing with a chronic problem that is difficult to manage, a serious or life-threatening problem, or a medical problem requiring advanced diagnostic testing or surgery - it is OK to ask for a referral to a specialist. You can find a directory of veterinary specialist by field ( on this website: www.vetspecialists.com )
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