Signs of Heart Disease in Dogs and Cats

Heart disease doesn’t necessarily mean one specific type of condition but encompasses a wide range of heart-related problems that can affect your cat or dog. While there are several heart diseases that your cat or dog can contract or develop, the symptoms are all usually very similar.  Be aware of the common signs of heart disease, and if your pet is experiencing any of the following symptoms, we suggest seeking veterinary attention immediately.

Persistent Cough

When we say a persistent cough, we don’t mean just one or two days of coughing. Like people, dogs and cats can cough for reasons related to allergies, asthma, or even sinus problems. But if your pet has a cough that lasts for one or two weeks, it could be an indication of heart disease. This is because when your pet has a heart condition, the heart isn’t pumping blood like it should, which can cause fluid backup in the lungs, resulting in a cough.

Rapid, Shallow Breathing

While fluid build-up in the lungs usually leads to coughing, it can also cause breathing difficulties in your pet. These symptoms tend to be more noticeable in dogs, but you may also notice them in cats. Your pet may stand around with their mouth hanging open to try and breathe, and they may even seem distressed and resistant to laying down to relax.  Breathing rates (breaths per minute) may be elevated even when they are sleeping.

Fainting/Collapsing/Dizzy spells

Seeing your pet collapse can be alarming—and for a good reason. Heart disease can cause your animal’s legs to give out or for them to lose consciousness completely. There are many reasons why your cat or dog could be fainting or collapsing, but it’s best to get them to a vet immediately to understand the cause of the issue.

Abdominal Swelling/Distention

Most commonly, abdominal swelling tends to happen when your cat or dog has intestinal parasites, a stomach obstruction, or a tumor. Unfortunately, this can also sometimes be a sign of heart disease in your pet. Due to fluid build-up in their abdomen from the heart condition, your cat or dog’s stomach will swell, making them appear pot-bellied.

Less Tolerant of Exercise

Even if you’re not a fan of exercise, you should be making sure your pet gets enough of it to stay healthy. One of the less obvious signs of heart disease may be your pet’s unwillingness to exercise. It’s normal if they’re panting or breathing heavily after a vigorous round of play, but if it takes them a long time to recover or they don’t want to play at all, this could be a sign that your pet needs a checkup.

Heart Murmur

Just like humans, dogs and cats with heart disease can also develop something called a heart murmur. Typically when you listen to the sound of a heartbeat, you know that a “ba-dum, ba-dum” rhythm is the sound of a healthy heart. If there’s a “whooshing” sound that’s present, though, it means that there’s a heart murmur. Fortunately, as long as the size or reason for the murmur isn’t too severe, humans and pets alike can live healthy and normal lives with one.

Change in Heart Rate

Most of the time, you won’t notice a change in your pet’s heart rate without the help of a professional, but it can be an early sign of heart disease. For instance, a cat’s heart rate usually ranges between 140 and 180 beats per minute, while a dog’s heart will beat anywhere from 60 to 140 times per minute. If their heart rate is outside of that normal range, it may indicate heart disease.

Change in Body Weight

As humans, we usually see weight loss as a good thing, but your cat or dog’s rapid weight loss does not carry the same positive meaning. When your pet has heart disease and is losing a lot of weight quickly, it’s because there is poor cardiac output during heart failure. This results in muscle and weight loss in your pet.

Restlessness or Hiding

Typically it’s easier to tell when your dog isn’t feeling well as opposed to your cat. Your dog will usually become visibly distressed when they’re in pain or feeling sick, or even hide from you. Cats, on the other hand, are very good about hiding when they’re ill. Typically heart disease starts appearing in cats between the ages of 4 and 6 years (but it can occur at any time), so make sure you pay close attention if you notice your cat being particularly more aloof than usual.

Loss of Appetite

If your cat or dog unexpectedly stops eating, it’s a good sign they’re not feeling well, but it could also be a sign of heart problems. Sometimes your pet may not eat for many hours, and that’s okay. However, if they go more than a day without food, this could cause problems, especially in cats. If cats don’t eat for an extended period, organs other than the heart can start to fail, so it’s essential to make sure they’re getting enough nutrients. A sign that your cat or dog isn’t feeling well is if they refuse to eat even one of their favorite treats.