The family pet is now considered much more ‘family’ than ‘pet’. More and more families insist the best food, supplies and health care for their loyal companions. Specialty veterinary medicine has evolved and is now widely available to meet this need. Board-certified veterinary cardiology specialists now collaborate with primary care veterinarians to form a comprehensive health care team for pets just as they do in human medicine. In order to specialize they must complete three to five years of postdoctoral, residency training and pass rigorous board exams.
There are many types of heart disease in dogs and cats. Some are acquired diseases, occurring later in life, and some the pet may be born with are congenital abnormalities. Fortunately, although pets don’t typically have coronary artery disease like people do, they can have many other types of heart disease. Examples of these include conditions such as disruptions in the electrical activity of the heart, abnormalities in the structure such as malformed heart valves, chambers or blood vessels, or changes in the ability for the heart muscle to serve adequately as a pump. Pets often have no symptoms of heart disease, and it is only during an annual wellness exam that a veterinarian hears an abnormal heart sound (murmur) or detects an abnormality in the electrical activity of the heart (arrhythmia). Other pets may show signs such as coughing, lack of energy, or difficulty breathing.
The primary care veterinarian will typically refer the patient to a cardiologist immediately upon suspicion of heart disease for several reasons. First, as in human medicine, patients with cardiac disease show greatly improved quality of life and longevity when managed by both a primary care veterinarian and a cardiologist, and the earlier this happens in the disease process, the better. Most cardiac conditions can be diagnosed utilizing techniques such as electrocardiogram (ECG) or a cardiac ultrasound (echocardiography) by a veterinary cardiologist. Echocardiography is the gold standard to identify the source of any cardiac abnormality or disease. Fortunately, these tests are non-painful, noninvasive and performed while the pet remains awake and the family by their side. These diagnostics give the cardiologist a great deal of information regarding the structure and function of the heart. Once the condition is properly diagnosed, treatment can begin.
The vast majority of veterinary cardiac patients are treated on an outpatient basis with medication. Most pets tolerate cardiac medications remarkably well with minimal to no side effects. Cardiologists utilize numerous human and veterinary licensed medications as well as nutraceutical and nutritional support in their treatment of heart disease. Cardiologists create a treatment plan individually tailored to the pet with the goal of enhancing the pet’s quality of life and longevity. With a team of doctors and a loving family, most pets still live healthy, happy lives even with a heart condition.
By Chesapeake Veterinary Cardiology Associates