The heart of the matter

Living

ALL IS NOT LOST It can be hard to learn that your pet has heart disease, but early diagnosis and proper treatment plans can help.


The vet's view
Conal Finnerty

One of the toughest realities a pet owner can be faced with is when their cat or dog (or indeed any animal in their care) is diagnosed with heart disease. It can be upsetting to hear, but I’ve found that understanding what is in involved can really help.  
The heart as we all know is a muscular organ, the primary function of which is to pump blood around the circulatory system, to bring oxygen and nutrients to the whole body and help eliminate wastes, such as carbon dioxide and other metabolic byproducts, from the body. As with us humans, it is vital that the heart functions properly throughout the life of an animal for optimal health.
Damage to all or part of the heart can lead to heart disease. Cardiovascular disease is not strictly the same as heart disease. In cardiovascular disease, both the heart and the vessels of the body – namely arteries, veins and capillaries – are involved, either directly or in-directly.  Heart disease is related to disease of the heart itself. It can be either acquired or congenital, and symptoms depend on which one is at play.
Acquired heart disease in adult patients is more commonly seen. Unfortunately, in the majority of cases, this leads to heart failure, which is quite a common cause of death.
Treatment of heart disease involves a number of different strategies, all of which are trying to alleviate symptoms and kick the can of heart failure as far down the road as possible.
It’s important to first look at the causes. Heart failure can triggered by mitral valve disease, cardiomyopathies, pericardial effusion, arrhythmias or congestive heart failure, or a combination of these. Management strategies include medications, weight loss, specific exercise plans, minimising stress and regular clinical assessments.   
And this is where you come in. Probably the most important aspect of managing heart disease or related ailments is owner compliance, be it with administering specific medications at the appropriate times, managing the animal’s weight, ensuring regular controlled exercise or complying with your vet’s regular assessments to ensure optimum treatment is being achieved.
It’s also very important to say that the medications that are commonly used when treating domestic animals can be very dangerous in small human hands. It is vital that these medicines are kept away from children – and indeed anyone who may be suffering from some degree of cognitive impairment and confusion. It’s also worth bearing in mind that with certain pets – more especially dogs – some breeds are predisposed to developing heart failure earlier in life than others (examples of such dog breeds include King Charles, Pugs, Maltese and Yorkies, as well as some of the giant breeds). This might be something to think about when you are getting a new dog.
All of this might sound a bit depressing, but heart disease in domestic animals more often than not does not mean an immediate death sentence. Furthermore, early diagnosis and the implementation of a proper, customised treatment plan for your pet can more often than not result in a relatively normal and prolonged life. So all is not lost, and your vet is here to help.

Veterinarian Conal Finnerty MRCVS practises at the Skeldale Vet Clinic in Ballinrobe and Belmullet. Follow the clinic on Facebook, or call 094 9541980 or 087 9185350 to make an appointment.