Just like us, our pets are at greater risk of heart disease as they age. And while the majority of human heart disease is cause by blockage of blood flow to the muscle of the heart itself (ischemic heart diasease), our pets tend to suffer from valvular heart disease (problems with the valves of the heart). The valve most commonly affected is the mitral valve, which seperates the left atrium and the left ventricle.
In fact, five percent of dogs aged five-to-seven have some degree of degenerative valve disease (DVD). This shoots up to 35% in older dogs (aged 12 and up). Unfortunately, some breeds, such as Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Chihuahuas, Minature Schnauzers, Maltese and Pomeranians (among others) are more prone to DVD at an earlier age.
How do you tell if your pet has DVD? Developing cardiac problems are typically found when a veterinarian hears a heart murmur during a routine exam. (This is another reason that vets recommend twice-yearly checkups for older pets.) While the grade of the murmur, overall health of the pet and x-ray results are helpful, an examination by a vet trained in cardiac ultrasonography is required for definitive diagnosis.
If your pet has been diagnosed with heart disease, your vet will work out a treatment regime that suits your pet’s needs. The good news is that, due to advances in medicine, pets diagnosed with DVD now have a better quality of life, for longer than ever before.
Fetch Spring/Summer 2010