As pet parents, when we think about our pets’ health, we maybe focus on the gut, or the joints, or overall health in general. Or we only pay attention to things when they start to have issues. Often we forget about the different organs or how they play a role in overall health, or don’t pay particular attention to these organs’ roles in how our pets stay healthy.
And that includes the heart. Prevention is, after all, better than cure. It is better to stop something bad from happening than it is to deal with it after it has happened. It makes sense to pay attention to heart health.
February is Pet Heart Health Month, and so today we’re focussing on dog and cat heart health and the various things you can do to keep that all-important organ beating like a drum!
Why Heart Health is Important
It goes without saying that keeping the heart in tip-top shape is important. Its job is to pump blood to deliver a continuous supply of oxygen and other nutrients to the brain and the other vital organs. If it stops, the body stops.
And when it comes to heart disease, our furry friends are not immune. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), heart disease in dogs affects 1 of every 10 dogs worldwide. Dog heart disease is a condition in which an abnormality of the heart is present. Heart disease in dogs can lead to heart failure if untreated.
Heart disease in dogs can either be congenital (present at birth) or acquired (develop over time). Estimates suggest that 95% of cases in pets are acquired.
- Congestive Heart Failure – when your dog’s heart has trouble pumping the proper amount of blood throughout the body.
- Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy – a disease that affects the cardiac muscles and reduces the heart’s ability to produce enough pressure to pump blood throughout the vascular system.
- Pulmonic Stenosis – a heart defect that obstructs blood flow from the right ventricle to the pulmonary artery.
- Canine Valvular disease – when the heart valves weaken and begin to leak.
- Arrhythmias – when an issue develops within the dog’s electrical system and interferes with how it’s telling the heart to beat.
- Pericardial disease – when the sac that surrounds the heart fills with fluid and affects the dog’s heartbeat.
And although heart disease in cats is less common than in dogs, it’s still a serious condition that you want to prevent if at all possible. The most common type of heart disease in cats is adult onset hypertrophic (enlargement or thickening of the heart) cardiomyopathy.
Heart disease typically develops due to wear and tear on the heart, as well as injury or illness. Any of these symptoms may be an indication, and it’s a good idea to get your vet’s opinion and perhaps have a few tests run to check on cat or dog heart health:
- Dry coughing after exercise
- Coughing that gets worse at night
- Rapid, unexplained weight loss
- Shortness of breath
- Fatigue and fainting spells
- Pale gums
- Swollen abdomen
- Decreased appetite
Tips to Improve Cat and Dog Heart Health
Unfortunately, heart disease isn’t preventable, but there are plenty of things that you can do to improve cat and dog heart health and keep that vital organ as healthy as possible.
How to improve cat and dog heart health:
- Maintain a healthy weight. 59% of cats and 55% of dogs in the United States are considered overweight. Those are epidemic numbers. And carrying around extra weight can have a negative impact on cat and dog heart health. Extra pressure on the heart is never a good thing, and overweight animals have a much greater risk for developing heart disease. Keeping your pet at a healthy weight is good for their overall health, and it also can reduce stress on the heart. Here are a few more tips on how to keep your pet at a healthy weight.
- Exercise. Giving your pet adequate exercise, including frequent cardiac exercise, helps keep them healthy and happy. For dogs, walking, running, fetch, swimming, hiking, or dog-related sports such as flyball and agility are all great. Just make sure they can actually handle the fitness level you’re expecting of them. For cats, it may be a little more difficult, but daily play to get the body moving and the heart pumping helps a great deal.
- Heart healthy foods. A balanced diet is the way to go – especially one that features lots of heart healthy foods and supplements! For dogs, be sure to rotate in things like broccoli, blueberries, pumpkin, blackberries, spinach, etc. Flax seeds or hemp hearts are also good. And omega-3s are really important for both cat and dog heart health! We like small fish like sardines and mackerel, and a high-quality omega-3 oil. Other supplements like phytoplankton for omegas and antioxidants are really beneficial as well.
- Dental care. Dental disease is one of the most common conditions that dogs and cats face, and it has a strong correlation to heart disease! For example, if the bacteria in plaque enters the bloodstream, it can spread to vital organs like the heart, kidneys, and liver. To keep oral health in check, be sure to brush those pearly whites and allow your pet to chew on raw bones and tooth-friendly toys that clean the teeth. Probiotics are also good. They help encourage good bacteria in the mouth. Feeding them is good, but taking some and rubbing it directly on the teeth and around the mouth is even better.
- Annual exams. Having a yearly check up with your holistic veterinarian is a great way to ensure your pet’s health is good year over year. Exams give your veterinarian the opportunity to monitor your pet’s heart. This includes blood work on top of the basic physical examination. If something seems off during an annual exam, your veterinarian will be able to see the changes and possibly make an early diagnosis.
It also helps to know your breed. Certain dog breeds are more prone to heart disease than others. This includes spaniels, dachshunds, boxers, great danes, Boston terriers, dalmatians, saint bernards, Irish wolfhounds, dobermans, and retrievers.
Even though you can’t prevent heart disease, you can take measures to improve cat and dog heart health. A few simple changes – even just knowing the signs – and a daily focus on heart health will help your pet stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible. These tips will help you do just that.
The Veterinarious team is made up of pet owners, pet lovers, and pet experts from around the globe! We’ve banded together to create a community of like-minded pet people to give you the latest research and health advice for your beloved beast!