The heart is one of the most vital organs in the body, so making sure your pet's heart stays healthy is essential for a long, happy life.

Thanks to the generosity of People’s Postcode Lottery players, who support PDSA with the costs of heart medications, PDSA treated around 12,000 pets in 2022 with heart disease.

For World Heart Day, Friday September29, PDSA is sharing their top tips and advice on how to maintain a healthy heart in your furry family members.

“Unfortunately, heart problems are quite common in pets, and can have a wide-ranging impact on their life,” explains PDSA Vet Nurse Nina Downing. “Some pets live with a heart problem for many years without it affecting them at all, but for others, heart problems can cause severe, life-threatening symptoms to develop quickly.”

The heart's main function is to pump blood, each beat allows it to send blood around the body taking oxygen to and waste gases from the cells. Anything that stops the heart from pumping properly can lead to problems – of which there are lots of different types and causes.

Fortunately, there are things you can do to delay the onset of symptoms. If your pet has symptoms already, it may be possible to slow down the progression of some of these and improve your pets’ quality of life.

“Everything we do to keep our hearts healthy applies to our pets too – so a balanced diet to maintain a healthy weight and provide the correct nutrients your pet needs is vital” adds Nina.

 It’s important to feed a complete, good quality, commercially available diet. Regular exercise is also vital for general health and for keeping weight under control which is important in dogs that may be pre-disposed to developing heart disease. Regular checkups with your vet are necessary, to make sure any heart problems are detected as early as possible.  If your vet finds any issues with your pet’s heart, they may advise further investigations for example scans, x-rays and blood tests. In some cases, your vet may suggest that your dog starts medication to help with symptoms or slow down the progression of heart disease. In some specific heart problems, though not all – specialist surgery may be necessary.

“Sadly, some breeds, such as Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Dobermans, Boxers, Great Danes and Maine Coon cats, are more prone to developing serious inherited heart conditions. If you own or are thinking of getting one of these breeds, it is always best to research any breed-related problems and discuss these with your vet if you are concerned. Ask the breeder about any breed health conditions that may have affected the parents and grandparents of the pet you are going to buy and speak to other owners that have bought siblings of the parents, in case they have experiences that they would like to share. Your vet will advise you about any screening tests that are available for the breed of your new pet. Ask for evidence from the breeder that shows the parents have been health tested and confirmed clear of health issues.

“We can’t always prevent our pets suffering from heart problems, particularly if they’ve inherited them. However, an early diagnosis can increase the chances of successfully managing the condition, so annual checkups with your vet are recommended, with more frequent visits if your pet is older or has other health problems.”

Signs of heart disease can include coughing, excessive panting, heavy breathing or breathlessness, breathing a lot faster than they normally would, even when they’re resting, slowing or stopping on walks, falling over or fainting suddenly as well as a bloated stomach caused by fluid build-up in the abdomen.

Many of these symptoms can also be seen with other conditions, so your vet will need to listen to your pet’s heart and might suggest investigations to find if your pet is suffering from heart disease.

Nina added: “Although most cases of heart disease cannot be cured completely, if it’s diagnosed early and treatment is started at the right time, symptoms can be managed, and pets can continue to feel well and have a good quality of life. Regular check-ups from your vet are essential. Treatment usually involves prescribed daily medication. It is also a good idea to keep a home diary of how your pet is your vet will guide you on what signs to monitor for at home.”

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