Heart problems can affect all ages of cats and dogs but tend to be more common in older animals. The cause in young animals is usually congenital which means that the animal is born with the problem. This includes defects such as a whole in the heart and this type of problem will usually be detected by your vet when the puppy or kitten is examined at its first vaccination. The vet will detect a noise called a murmur when listening to the heart with a stethoscope This is caused when blood flows in an abnormal direction and is one of the primary things that vets look for when examining the heart.
Heart problems are much harder to detect in cats compared to dogs. Owners of dogs will usually notice a reduced exercise tolerance so when out on a walk or playing with a ball the dog will give up, start coughing or panting or even collapse but will tend to recover with resting. Cats, on the other hand, are by nature very lazy so the heart is not often put under stress. Accordingly, a heart with problems can usually cope with a cat’s sedentary life-style. This means that the disease is often progressed to a late stage before a problem is detected.
Animals with heart problems often cough due to a build up of fluid in the lungs and also because the heart often becomes enlarged due to disease and pushes on the windpipe. They often pant or breathe with their mouth open as this is a way of increasing the oxygen in the lungs. They may drink more and because of this wet in the house over night. They will tend to get tired more quickly because the heart is not able to pump blood round to the muscles as well. When the heart condition progresses, fluid can build up in the abdomen and this can be very uncomfortable as it puts pressure on the animal’s organs and stops them working properly.
Treatment is variable depending on the cause of the heart problem. It usually consists of some form of diuretic to clear excess fluid from the lungs or abdomen. There is also medication available which can reduce the workload on the heart to help it pump blood round the body more easily. However, each case is different and your vet will decide on a suitable combination of medication for each individual case.