Keeping your pet's heart healthy

Having a healthy heart is really important. The heart is one of the most vital organs in the body, so making sure your pet's heart stays strong is essential for their health. Here are some tips from our vets to help your pet's heart health.


What causes heart problems in pets?

Heart problems are quite common in pets, and can have a wide-ranging impact on their life. 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.

There are lots of different types and causes of heart problems. The heart's main function is to pump blood; each beat allows it to send blood around the body and bring oxygen to the cells. Anything that stops the heart from pumping properly can lead to heart problems. Heart problems are usually caused by changes to the heart's shape, size or beating rhythm. 

Many pets develop symptoms of heart problems later in life, often due to the heart becoming damaged or changing shape over time, but some pets may have problems with their heart from birth. Luckily, there are things you can do to reduce the risk of your pet developing a heart problem and help with their symptoms if they have a heart problem already.

Our Pet Health Hub has lots more information on heart problems in pets.

Breeds and heart health

There are some breeds that are prone to developing heart problems. Often these are inherited problems which are passed down from parents to their children. It’s always important to research thoroughly before you take on a pet, to find out if they are more likely to develop certain health problems. In many cases, heart problems don't cause any symptoms until a pet is older, meaning when you choose them it can be hard to know if they (or their parents) might develop heart disease later in life. Because of this, health screening schemes have been set up for certain breeds of dogs and cats that are commonly affected by specific heart conditions, including Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Dobermanns and Maine Coon cats.

How your pet's weight affects their heart health

If your pet is over-weight or obese it means their heart has to work extra hard to keep their body working properly. As with humans, this puts a lot of strain on their heart and can cause problems, especially if they already have heart disease. If you’re not sure if your pet has a weight problem, give them an at-home weight check:

It’s never too late to make a change and small steps can make a big difference to your pet’s weight. Try these simple things to help your pet lose weight:

  • Weigh out their food to make sure you’re not giving them too much to eat. It's easy to forget how much food your pet has had each day, especially if there are a few people in the household that help care for your pet. By weighing out their food each day (or weighing out daily portions once a week), you can make sure your pet gets the right amount each day.
  • Cut back on unhealthy treats and don’t give them food from your plate (human food might be dangerous for them, as well as adding extra calories to their diet)
  • Help them get plenty of exercise. Making sure your pet stays active will help keep their weight down and help their heart stay strong.
  • Weigh your pet regularly. The best way to help your pet stay slim is to weigh them regularly. 
  • Get help from your vets. If your pet is overweight, or they've started putting on weight, it's a good idea to talk to your vets to get help and advice. Many vet practices will run weight clinics, be able to discuss your pet’s weight target (which is individual for each pet) and give you advice about the best way to get your pet back to their ideal weight.

Exercise and a healthy heart

Keeping your pet active is a really important part of keeping their heart healthy. Most of our pets need some help to encourage them to run, jump and play - games and toys are great to help your pets get the exercise they need while having fun. Lots of pets will enjoy a few activity sessions spread throughout the day and exercise helps keep their brains active as well as helping their bodies and hearts stay healthy.

Why not try:

  • Encouraging your cat to play active games
  • Gradually taking your dog on longer and longer walks or start jogging together- this will help you stay fit too!
  • Making your rabbit some homemade toys

If your pet already has a heart problem, it’s important to talk to your vet about how you can help them stay active. For some heart problems, extreme exercise (like lots of running and chasing) can put too much pressure on the heart. Often regular, gentle exercise is better for pets with heart conditions, so talk to your vet about the right exercise regime for your pet.

Vet checks

Catching heart problems early can make a big difference to your pet's long-term health. Make sure your pet has regular check-ups at the vet – once a year is ideal. Your vet can listen to your pet’s heart and check their heart rate and rhythm. They can often pick up signs of heart problems much earlier than we can at home and this allows them to take steps to help the problem from getting worse- in some cases they can even pick up a heart problem before your pet has any symptoms at all.

What are the symptoms of heart disease?

Heart disease can cause lots of different symptoms in our pets, which sadly tend to get worse over time. Signs that your pet might have heart disease include:

  • Stopping or slowing when playing, exercising or on walks
  • Difficulty breathing or not being able to catch their breath
  • Breathing faster than normal, even when resting
  • Low energy
  • Not settling down to sleep at night
  • Panting/ breathing with an open mouth
  • Coughing
  • A bloated stomach
  • Collapse/ fainting

If your pet is showing any of these symptoms, it’s really important to contact your vet. The sooner you go to your vet, the sooner your pet can get the help they need. Although most heart diseases cannot be cured, in many cases symptoms can managed and life expectancy extended with vet care and medication, especially if they’re identified early on, and many pets will continue to have a good quality of life.

Emergency: If your pet has collapsed or is struggling to breathe, it’s important to contact your vet straight away and give them first aid.

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