Heart Disease in your Elderly Pet

July 25, 2017

           Your pet’s heart, like other organs, ages with your pet. Changes start to occur in our older animals over the years, these can be of no issue clinically, but sometimes they can be more sinister. Your vet will be able to pick up changes and to differentiate the benign cases from those cases which may need more of a work up and possible treatment. The most common old age heart diseases are mitral valve disease and congestive heart failure.

Mitral Valve Disease:  Problems with the valves are the most common type of heart disease. The mitral valve which sits in the left side of the heart is the most commonly affected valve in our older animals. Changes occur to this valve which causes it to become leaky and thus lets blood back into the chamber it has just come from. This leak causes turbulence in the blood flow, which can be heard using a stethoscope – this is called a murmur.

Many murmurs do not need to be treated, only monitored for changes. Some can be more harmful to our furry friends. If the leak progresses, it can cause the heart to enlarge. As the heart enlarges it has a reduced ability to pump the adequate amount of blood around the body. This is what is called congestive heart failure.

Congestive Heart Failure:  This can be the end result of mitral valve disease. Basically the heart is not able to pump enough blood around the body as it has weakened. As it cannot pump the blood fast enough the blood backs up in our vessels coming from the lungs. This then increases the pressure and fluid starts to leak into lungs. When fluid is present the lungs cannot absorb enough oxygen.

Signs of heart failure:

  • A dry ‘hacking’ cough

  • Increased breathing rate

  • Unable/uninterested to go for usual walks or ‘slowing down’

  • Pale or blue gums and tongue

If your animal is getting older he/she should get regular checks where the vet can listen for a murmur. If present your vet will discuss options of what to watch out for at home. We can also perform an ultrasound check of the heart to see if there is enlargement. There are some great medications to slow down the progression of heart failure if caught early. This will hopefully give you many more happy years together!

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