Canine Cardiomyopathy

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Do you own a Doberman Pinscher, Boxer, Great Dane, Irish Wolfhound, Cocker Spaniel, Newfoundland or St. Bernard?  If you do, your pet is at risk for developing a heart muscle disease called cardiomyopathy.  Cardiomyopathy can affect dogs of any age, but it is most common in middle-aged or older dogs.  Dogs can be affected by cardiomyopathy and show no outward signs or symptoms until the disease has become severe.  Signs the dogs with cardiomyopathy may show include a heart murmur, abnormal heart rhythm, cough, rapid or labored breathing, fainting or a distended abdomen.  A veterinary cardiologist can help by screening at risk dogs with an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) and/or 24 hour ECG monitoring (called a Holter monitor).  Early diagnosis of cardiomyopathy allows early treatment that can slow the progression of the disease and increase the quantity and quality of your dog’s life. 

If you have a dog that is at risk for cardiomyopathy, talk to your primary care veterinarian about routine screening for cardiac disease and how a veterinary cardiologist could be involved in your pet’s care.

Feline Heart Disease


Unfortunately, heart disease isn’t a problem that only affects people, cats can have heart problems too!  The most common heart disease in cats is called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a condition where the heart muscle becomes thick and stiff.  This abnormal heart muscle can’t relax properly, and the heart can’t fill with blood as easily as it should.  The exact cause of HCM isn’t known, but genetics are suspected to play a role.  Other diseases can cause heart changes that mimic HCM including hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland) and high blood pressure.

Most cats with HCM initially don’t show any symptoms, but a heart murmur or abnormal heart rhythm heard by your primary veterinarian can sometimes be a sign of an underlying heart problem.  Cats with HCM may develop fluid in or around their lungs, a condition called congestive heart failure, and this can cause rapid and labored breathing.


Some breeds of cats have a higher risk of developing HCM than other breeds, but any cat can develop HCM.  Breeds at increased risk include the Maine Coon, Ragdoll, Sphynx, Bengal, British Shorthair and Persian breeds.  Most affected cats are middle aged, but even young cats can develop HCM. The most accurate way to diagnose HCM is with an echocardiogram, an ultrasound of the heart.  Veterinary cardiologists have specialized training in the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease in pets and can work with your primary care veterinarian if heart disease is suspected.  Unfortunately, there is no cure for HCM in cats, but medications are available to help treat the disease.

If you have a middle-aged cat, make sure to see your veterinarian yearly so they can evaluate your pet for any signs of heart disease.  If you have a cat that is a breed known to be at risk for heart disease, talk to your veterinarian about the possibility of screening for heart disease with an echocardiogram. 



Did you know that heart disease isn't just a human problem?

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Unfortunately, dogs get heart disease too, and about 10% of all dogs have some type of heart disease.  The most common type of heart disease in dogs is called chronic mitral valve degeneration, which causes a major heart valve not to close properly.  This condition is common in small and medium sized middle aged to older dogs.  Breeds known to be at a higher risk for valve disease include Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Dachshunds, Chihuahuas and Poodles, but any dog can be affected. 


The most common sign of valve disease is a heart murmur heard with a stethoscope.  Symptoms of valve disease you might notice at home include cough, rapid or labored breathing, fainting, or decreased exercise tolerance.  If you notice these signs you should have your pet evaluated by your veterinarian as soon as possible. Annual examinations with your veterinarian can help detect a heart problem before your pet is having symptoms at home, so make sure to have your pet evaluated regularly.


There is no cure for heart valve disease, but there are medications that can lengthen your pet’s life and improve their quality of life.  Veterinary cardiologists specialize in treating heart disease in pets and can work with your primary veterinarian if a heart problem is suspected.  If you have a middle aged small or medium sized dog, talk to your veterinarian about heart disease at your next visit.