Heart to Heart
Want to know how to keep your pet’s ticker in tip top shape? Nadia Crighton catches up with Clinical Veterinary Cardiologist and Associate Professor at Sydney University, Dr Niek Beijerink, to discuss heart care in our pets.
Heart health in cats and dogs is certainly not a prevalent conversation between pet owners. But surprisingly, heart conditions in companion animals is not that uncommon.
“We see heart disease frequently in both dogs and cats,” Dr Niek Beijerink says. “I am a Veterinary Cardiologist, and am able to head a busy cardiology-only service at the University Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Sydney.”
This gives us an indication that many pet owners are dealing with issues surrounding the health of their pet’s heart. The most concerning aspect of heart conditions is that many owners simply do not realise that their pet’s ticker is in need of a health check.
“Many heart diseases first go through an asymptomatic phase (one can just hear a heart murmur, but there are no obvious clinical signs),” Dr Beijerink says. “Regular health checks like during annual vaccinations, are very important to pick up often subtle markers of disease, I think that important aspects are sometimes underestimated by clients when they go to their local vet for their pet’s annual vaccinations.”
Prevention and early detection is certainly the key aspect when dealing with all heart conditions. Having an annual check-up by your local veterinarian can help ensure that there are no underlying concerns that may need further investigation.
“Many heart diseases are asymptomatic to start with,” Dr Beijerink says. “Regular health checks by the local veterinarian are important to pick up asymptomatic heart disease. Further work-up could subsequently be recommended, and might lead to recommendations for treatment to cure or slow down progression of heart disease.”
Common Symptoms – DOGS
- Breathing difficulty
- Exercise intolerance
- Abdominal Distension
- Weight loss
Common Symptoms – CATS
- Breathing difficulty
“In dogs, mainly trouble breathing due to lung edema, but also exercise intolerance, fainting, abdominal distension and weight loss,” Dr Beijerink says. “In cats, also mainly trouble breathing, but also sudden lameness due to thromboembolism – dislodgement of a intracardiac blood clot that blocks blood flow to a leg.”
Dr Beijerink is quick to note that many dogs and cats only have silent symptoms such as a heart murmur or a heart rhythm disturbance.
What are the major risk factors when it comes to heart conditions?
Interestingly, many heart disease problems are seen prominently in certain breeds. This is why good breeding practises are vital.
“Many heart diseases are more frequently seen in certain breeds, so there is certainly a genetic component. Luckily dog and cat breeders recognise this. I collaborate with several breed clubs to develop screening programs of parent dogs. With one club I even collaborate in the hopes of developing genetic markers for diseases,” Dr Beijerink says.
It is very important you ask all the correct questions when purchasing a puppy or kitten and do your homework regarding heart conditions in certain breeds.
“If a purebred dog or cat is desired, it is important to buy a puppy or kitten from a breeder with a good reputation.” Dr Beijerink advises. “An owner should ask the breeder about possible diseases that might be more common in that particular breed, as well as to ask for evidence that the parent dogs or cats have been tested for that disease.”
The great news for heart patients is that there have been several huge advancements in treatments.
“Nowadays, from analogue to human medicine, there are veterinary cardiologists that can provide advanced diagnostics and treatments for canine and feline heart disease,” Dr Beijerink says. “One of the major breakthroughs is that we can provide keyhole surgery for inborn heart diseases, or repair mitral valve disease for selected cases under cardiopulmonary bypass.”
Another major advancement is the knowledge genetic diseases. This has allowed breeders to have specific tests for several heart diseases. This allows breeders to prevent the disease from appearing in their continuing bloodlines.
The treatment for heart disease has also improved.
“Cardiology is a field with lots of evidence based veterinary medicine. We now have the proof that many dogs with asymptomatic mitral valve disease benefit from medical treatment, which can slow down the progression of disease. ” Dr Beijerink concludes.