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Heart Disease
Heart Disease
With Dr. Barry

"Although our pet's do not suffer from heart attacks or clogged arteries like their pet parents, they do suffer similar heart conditions. Pet's can live with heart disease long before they show any signs of it. In this series of brief articles, I will discuss early detection, the top 10 Signs of Heart Disease, why your pet maybe coughing and the must have supplement, Cardio Strength. Please see the article called "Showing Some Love" to learn more about this supplement.

To Your Pet's Good Health,    Barry Miller DVM

Getting to the Heart of the Matter
Getting to the Heart of the Matter



"What a beautiful world it would be

if people had hearts like dogs"

Author Unknown


Although our pets do not suffer from heart attacks or clogged arteries like their human pet parents, they do have similar heart conditions.

How can a heart so big and full of love suffer from any heart condition?

Just like our hearts dog hearts age as they grow old too.

Some are born with a genetic disorder of the heart.

Pet's can live with heart disease long before they show any signs of it. 

This can make early detection difficult but early detection can make all the difference in your pet's health. Please see the section called the Top 10 Signs of Heart Disease in your pet.


Getting to the know the heart:

Picture the heart as a pump that receives blood on one side and then forces the blood through the lungs to receive oxygen.  On the other side the oxygenated blood is pumped to the rest of the body.

The heart has four chambers. The upper chambers are called atria (one chamber is called an atrium) and the lower chambers are called ventricles. The heart is also divided into right and left sides. Blood needs to flow in one direction through the heart, valves prevent the backward flow of blood or the flow of blood in the wrong direction.


What is Congestive Heart Failure?


Congestive heart failure begins when the heart is unable to provide the tissues with adequate oxygen and nutrients. Without adequate oxygen, the body's cells become distressed and trigger a series of responses. Congestive Heart Failure or CHF can occur due to several different types of diseases.

CHF is an inability of the heart to pump oxygenated blood to the rest of the body this causes congestion or blood backing up into the lungs or other areas of the body.  This excess fluid most commonly collects in your pet's lungs, or the space around their lungs and in their abdomen. This causes one of the most common symptoms of CHF, coughing.


What is a Heart Murmur?

In my experience as a small animal practitioner, 90% of the heart disease cases that I diagnose have a Heart Murmur.

Murmurs are abnormal vibrations that your Veterinarian can hear when listening to your pet's heart. These vibrations or murmurs are produced due to a disturbance in the blood flow through your pet's heart, usually caused by damage to the heart valves or a change in the health of the heart valves. Murmurs are classified according to a variety of characteristics, including their timing.

     * Systolic murmurs occur when the heart muscle contracts

     * Diastolic murmurs occur when the heart muscle relaxes between beats

     * Continuous and to-and-fro murmurs occur throughout all or most of the cardiac cycle.

Murmurs are also classified by the valve that it involves. For example a very common heart murmur is Mitral Valve Insufficiency.


What is Mitral Valve Insufficiency:

Mitral valve disorder occurs as the mitral valve ages, changes and thereby fails to completely close off the area on the left side of the heart between the two chambers. This means that it is no longer able to prevent the backward flow of blood inside the heart. The left lower ventricle or chamber is powerful and when the mitral valve fails at its job the left ventricles can easily force some of the blood backward back in the left upper atrium or chamber each time the heart beats. This increases the pressure within the heart and makes it more difficult for the heart to function properly and causes an increase of blood pressure back into the lungs.

This increased pressure within the lungs results in fluid buildup or fluid on the lungs when this occurs fluid actually leaves the blood vessels and leaks into the tissues. The medical term used to describe 'fluid in the lungs' is 'pulmonary edema.'

As the condition progresses, the right side of the heart starts to fail because of its increased work and elevated pressures. At first the muscles strengthen, thereby increasing the mass and thickness of its walls. Over time, however, even these 'athletic' muscles cannot keep up with the ever-increasing pressures and they start to fail. During this congestive heart failure, the animal will be weaker and tire more easily, and may even faint. The dog may also lose weight and appear pale. The systemic blood pressure (blood pressure in the body versus the lungs or heart) may also be low, while the heart rate and respiratory rate are often elevated.

Mitral Valve Insufficiency is most common in small dog breeds such as Poodles, Yorkies, Pugs, Pomeranians, Lhasas, etc

Heart murmurs can occur in both dogs and cats


Clearing the Air on Coughing and Heart Disease
Clearing the Air on Coughing and Heart Disease

Coughing in your pet is a red flag. If your pet has a heart murmur coughing is a sign you need to take your pet to your Veterinarian.


Why is my pet coughing if they have a heart problem?

When a dog is coughing due to heart disease, often it is the result of the blood from the left ventricle or chamber of the heart being pushed back into the atrium and that usually occurs due to some type of damage to the heart valves or some type of change in the valve.

Eventually the atrium or chamber of the heart starts getting bigger and swelling; when this happen it will push on some of the main airways in the lungs. This pressure will cause your pet to frequently cough and be short of breath.  At this time the blood will start moving more slowly through the lungs resulting in more fluid leaking out into the alveolar spaces of the lungs leading to fluid on the lungs which will make your pet cough.

This condition causes more than just coughing, it can cause difficulty breathing and increased respirations. You will notice this typically after exercise, excitement, or when the animal has first gotten up after sleeping.

Showing Some Love
Showing Some Love



The importance of early detection is only matched in importance by the correct treatments to support a healthy heart for your pet.


Diet, exercise, prescriptions and supplements make for the prefect treatment plan. 


 New research is showing that proper nutrition may be able to slow the progression of heart disease, minimize the number of medications required, improve the quality of life or, in rare cases, actually cure the disease.

The issue of your pet's weight is often a key factor in treating heart disease.  Being either too skinny or overweight can interfere with supporting a healthy heart. I believe Dogs and Cats at the proper weight have less trouble breathing and are more comfortable. A special diet may be prescribed for your dog or cat to help treat the heart disease as well as to maintain their optimal body weight.

Heart Healthy Prescription diets contain the appropriate amount of nutrients but also contain less sodium than typical diets. Depending on the severity of heart disease, decreasing the amount of sodium in the diet can be beneficial. Special attention will need to be given to what your dog eats from its dinner bowl to other sources.  I do not advise table scraps and it is also important to remember that large amounts of sodium can also come from treats, and foods you might use to hide daily medications.

If you desire to reduce your pet's weight, discuss a prescription weight loss diet with your veterinarian, such as Purina Pro Plan OM.


Your Veterinarian will prescribe drugs like Lasix, Spironolactone (diuretics) or Enalapril and Vetmedin.

Enalapril is an angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor and it basically allows the heart to pump more effectively and it also increases blood flow to the heart muscle. And by doing this the heart pumps more effectively.

Lasix(furosemide) is also known as, the water pill. Lasix decreases the fluid that is on the lungs therefore your pet can breathe better and to a certain degree even decrease the size of the atrium in the heart. The result will be less coughing and a healthier heart. Since diuretics remove excess fluid it is important to know that your pet may urinate more while on this medication.

If your pet has Mitral valve insufficiency,Vetmedin will help the heart pump more effectively, with more force and will improve the quality of the dog's life.

The most common prescriptions used to treat Heart Disease are Vetmedin, Enalapril, Benazepril, and Amlodipine.


Some types of heart disease can be caused by taurine or carnitine deficiencies. Your veterinarian may choose to test these deficiencies to eliminate that possibility.

Taurine or carnitine can benefit your pet's overall heart health regardless of the cause of their heart disease. Most veterinary prescription heart health diets contain high levels of taurine and carnitine to support healthy heart function.

Supplements can help the heart muscles themselves to be healthier and that in turn will help increase blood flow to improve the overall health of your pet.

A great heart health supplement that I recommend to my clients is Cardio Strength.

Cardio Strength features 11 synergistic ingredients that are vital for maintaining normal cardiovascular function in cats and dogs. This formula is recommended to support animals with pre-existing, sub-optimal cardiovascular functions, breeds that are pre-disposed to cardiovascular stress or, senior pets that are showing signs of cardiovascular weakness.

Each ingredient of Cardio Strength has been researched and chosen for its ability to support cardiovascular health.

L-taurine supports a regular heartbeat, minimizes the loss of potassium and allows for proper electrolyte utilization. The inclusion of potassium is necessary for maintaining electrolyte balance for normal heartbeat and blood pressure levels.

DMG (N,N-Dimethylglycine) acts as an antioxidant and supports circulation and immune system health, while CoQ10 supports heart tissue oxygenation and heart muscle strength.

L-carnitine supports the use of fat for energy and oxygen utilization while also supporting fat metabolism and helping the body balance triglyceride and cholesterol levels.

EPA and GLA (fatty acids) support circulation and blood flow, and ingredients like vitamin E support normal clotting and healthy capillary strength, making Cardiac Vitality is an incredibly comprehensive formula for the cardiovascular health of your pet.


Proceed with caution and discuss the severity of your pet's heart disease with your pet's Veterinarian before starting an exercise regimen.  The severity of the heart disease will determine what level of exercise is best for your pet.

If your pet has mild heart disease or is not showing active signs, exercise does not have to be limited at this time. Any time your pet shows sign of stress or experiences episodes of coughing or difficulty breathing it is time to stop.

Pets with more severe heart disease need to limit strenuous activity, leisure activity like short walks is best.




Top 10 Signs of Heart Disease in your Pet
Top 10 Signs of Heart Disease in your Pet

#10 Coughing


As discussed in the section: Getting to the Heart of the Matter, Coughing and heart disease seem to go hand in hand.  A cough unrelated to heart disease may only last a few days.  A cough that is caused by heart disease will not go away and is a sign that your pet needs to see his Veterinarian.


#9 Changes in breathing

 Heart disease leads to an increase of fluids in the lungs making it more difficult for your pet to breathe. Your pet may experience shortness of breath or experience an increase in their rate of breathing.


#8 Lethargy


As the heart becomes unable to provide the body with sufficient oxygenated blood you will notice changes in your pet’s daily behavior and activity. Your pet may tire more easily, be reluctant to play or to exercise, become withdrawn.


#7 Changes in Appetite


Your once happy to eat anytime, anyplace pet may become unable to eat as much at one time and experience a loss of appetite.


#6 Changes in weight.


As heart disease progresses, your pet can experience a swollen belly as a result of the increase in fluids within their body. Or your pet may have weight loss as their appetite decreases and their body's organs struggle to maintain normal operation and hormonal balances.

#5 Episodes of Fainting or Collapsing


Since the heart is responsible for pumping oxygenated blood to the entire body once it is compromised in its ability to effectively accomplish this your pet's may experience fainting or collapsing. Much like if you held your breathe for too long and your body did not receive the required oxygen it needs.


#4 Weakness


Another result of lack of oxygenation to your pet’s body is Weakness. Your pet may not have the strength to tackle stairs or jump up on their favorite spot on the couch.


#3 Restlessness


Your pet has a strong sense of when something is not right within their body. As they sense something is wrong they may become more restless or be unable to settle. At night when it is quiet is often when your pet will suffer from an inability to ignore their symptoms and experience restlessness.


# 2 Edema or Swelling


You may also notice that your pet has swelling or edema in their belly or extremities (feet and legs). When the body is no longer able to regulate normal fluid balances, swelling or edema of body tissues occurs.


#1 Isolation


This one may be the most surprising. It is a natural instinct of animals to go into isolation when they are sick, it is a survival instinct.  When your pet is experiencing heart disease it will often become withdrawn from family members and other pets to seek safety and isolation.


To Your Pet’s Good Health!

Barry Miller DVM




Recommended by Dr. Barry!