Screening for Cardiac Disease

Pet Tales
by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.

Willie is a whippet. He's always been a lank, lean, running machine. His body conformation is so classic for the breed. However, in the last 6 months he has lost just over a kilogram in body weight. Tanya is a fox terrier, another breed renowned for being very active, busy and usually 'on the go'. In the past 2 weeks, twice she has collapsed in a fainting-like episode. Bogie is a 7 year old mixed breed dog who visited the veterinarian for his regular checkup. The only change his owner had noticed was that his appetite had really declined over the past few months. Lady is a 4 year old King Charles Cavalier Spaniel. A happy and healthy little dog since her first trip to the animal hospital, she is coming for an examination and booster vaccinations. Buster is a friendly, out-going 14 year old Shih Tzu, slowing down only a little, as a concession to his age. When Striker, a 12 year old Domestic Short Hair cat, visited the veterinarian recently, an enlarged thyroid could be palpated in the throat region.

There they are. A little group of pets that could be found on the patient list for just about any animal hospital. Even though it might not be obvious to everyone, they all have something in common. Their veterinarian should be recommending cardiac screening for each of them. It is estimated that approximately 11% of dogs have heart problems. Screening for heart problems should be considered for several types of pets. It is often made part of a general panel of tests recommended for elderly patients in an animal hospital. It should be considered as a baseline for breeds with genetic predispositions for heart disease. Finally, any patient showing signs that can be associated with heart disease should be considered for such examinations.

A pet with heart disease may show no sign of heart problems or you may notice some of the following signs:
Changes in breathing - difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, laboured breathing, rapid or fast breathing
Changes in behaviour - tiring easily, reluctance to exercise, less playful, lethargy or lack of energy, depressed, withdrawn
Poor appetite
Weight loss
Fainting or collapsing
Swollen Abdomen

At the animal hospital, the veterinarian will examine the pet thoroughly. A stethoscope is used to measure and assess the pet's heart rate and rhythm and listen for signs of a heart murmur (a turbulence in blood flow as it passes through the heart). Additional diagnostic tests may also be used. Blood tests, x-rays, a blood pressure test, an electrocardiogram (interpreting the heart's electrical activity) and an echocardiogram (using cardiac ultrasound to view the heart and blood flow) would be some of the tests that might be considered.

Treatment of a pet's heart condition will depend on the type and severity of the disease. A treatment plan might include medications such as diuretics, ACE inhibitors and inodilators; regular veterinary check-ups; and diet and lifestyle changes. Bary Burtis is a local companion animal veterinarian. Past Pet Tales can be found at