What are the signs and symptoms of underlying heart disease in pets?
On today's episode of Twin Trees Vet Talk, we welcome our very special guest, Dr. Mark Harmon. Dr. Harmon is a Veterinary Cardiology Specialist at Boundary Bay Veterinary Specialty Hospital in Vancouver, BC (Canada).
We discuss the signs of heart disease in dogs and cats to watch for, and some tips to monitor your pet for signs of impending heart failure before it gets so severe that the pet showing obvious signs of dying from congestive heart failure.
If your vet suspects your dog or cat may have an underlying heart problem, a referral to a cardiologist can provide you with important information about the type and stage of the heart disease, and if any intervention is needed.
If your pet has any indication of heart disease (even a very soft murmur, exercise intolerance, cough, 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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-Watching your animal when it's sleeping and watching its breathing can be super super helpful. If we can catch something early like that, the goal is prevent these animals from needing the bigger things like hospitalization and aggressive sort of care to try to pull them through some sort of Crisis.
The heart is a pump, so if it's not working properly, or if it has holes in it, ultimately it can cause congestive heart failure.
-It's either backwards failure or forwards failure, so if it's backwards you have fluid backing up somewhere, like into the lungs,
- It's like they're drowning from the inside,
-You can also have forward failure, so if you don't have enough output from the heart that can lead to things like weakness or collapsing or fainting to happen as well.[Music]
[Dr. Lopez]: We have a very special guest today, Dr Mark Harmon. He is a board certified Veterinary cardiologist at Boundary Bay Veterinary Specialty Hospital .
What about this one: What are the signs and symptoms of heart disease and how would an owner know that it's getting worse?
[Dr. Harmon]: So the symptoms of heart disease can be pretty vague, so it may be things like their activity is just not as good as normal or they're slowing down and sometimes it's easy to chalk that up to just getting older... and sometimes it is because they're getting older or maybe they have arthritis or other issues going on. But sometimes it's because they have heart disease and they just can't tell us. So they can have these very vague signs that they're not feeling as good as they used to or that their quality of life is changing a little bit.
However, there is one thing in particular that owners can keep an eye on and it's a weird thing that you probably wouldn't look at otherwise. But watching your animal when it's sleeping and watching its breathing can be super super helpful. So if at least taking some sort of mental picture of what they look like when they're sleeping. A normal dog or a cat when they're sleeping will have a breathing rate that's about 20 to 30 breaths per minute or less. And if you just count every time the chest goes down that's fine. And again, we're looking at breaths per minute, and it should be 20 to 30 or less. Some animals are eight breaths per minute and that's fine, and some animals are 25 and that's fine. It just gives you some sort of ballpark idea of what is normal for them, so that if something starts to change you can be like hey you know they're sleeping but they're still kind of breathing hard, and that can be a very early sign of heart disease. And if we catch it at that standpoint, the goal of these is not only help alleviate any sort of breathing difficulty, because that can be very stressful, but the goal is prevent these animals from needing the bigger things like hospitalization and aggressive sort of care to try to pull them through some sort of crisis. So if we can catch something early like that that can be super super helpful.
But again if you just notice that something seems a little bit off with their activity maybe they seem a little bit weaker than normal those are all reasons to talk to your Primary Care Veterinarian and have that discussion: could this be heart disease? Is there anything that might suggest it's heart disease and do we need to do some sort of further investigation into it.
[Dr. Lopez]: For pets who have been diagnosed with some kind of heart problem, that might be a really good way for them to just keep a log, and monitor sleeping breathing rate.
[Dr. Harmon]: Yeah they're very very helpful to look for trends and to help us out on that front. We tell everybody that when we're looking for signs of heart failure in general especially left-sided heart failure which would cause signs of breathing difficulty and that can be super super helpful. I will say there's a little bit of a caveat so say an owner has a cat that has fluid around their lungs or what we call pleural effusion, the breathing rates are actually not as helpful in that situation as far as detecting if there's a problem. And so it may be that just when they get up and walk around they seem to be breathing more or maybe they're using their belly more than they normally would, and those are definitely situations where you still want to talk to your vets because the breathing rates at least are a little bit limited when we're talking about those circumstances. And that's going to be primarily cats- it's less commonly seen in dogs to get fluid around their lungs.
[Dr. Lopez]: That's very helpful to know. A lot of people might not know exactly what congestive heart failure is, so basically the heart's a pump right, so if it's not working properly or if it has holes in it, there may be a long period where they'll seem fine and then suddenly, they'll decompensate. Ultimately it can cause fluid to back up either into the lungs or around the lungs. It's like they're drowning from the inside. Did I explain that right?
[Dr. Harmon]: Yeah. The very simple way that we think about it is either backwards failure or forwards failure. So if it's backwards you have fluid backing up somewhere and so into the lungs and affecting breathing, or into the belly causing their belly to be really distended you can also have forward failure so if you don't have enough output from the heart so say the heart muscle is very weak that can lead to things like weakness or collapsing or fainting to happen as well so it depends on what's being affected what signs you may see but yeah that's a great description.
0:51 Intro, Q) what are the signs of heart diseases ?
1:08 symptoms of heart disease can be vague
1:37 monitor the sleeping breathing rate
03:30 exception: pleural effusion esp. in cats
04:05 what is congestive heart failure (CHF)?
4:24 symptoms of CHF (backwards vs forward failure)
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3 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!"
2) PREVENT THE PREVENTABLE. Learn as much as possible about dangers that face your pet, such as household poisons, seemingly harmless objects (like toys, clothing, garbage and rocks), other animals, and vehicles. Pets are like toddlers and they need a responsible adult/babysitter to protect them from danger. Puppies and kittens need to start their vaccines at ~8 WEEKS (and they need boosters too!) to protect them from deadly diseases.
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.
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