Heart disease

Heart disease is commonly diagnosed in both dogs and cats and the diagnosis can be disturbing and confusing for pet owners. The differences between heart disease and heart failure are important to recognize.

Dog and Stethoscope

What is Heart Disease?

Heart disease in dogs and cats can take many different forms.

  • Heart disease can be the result of ageing changes within the heart which cause the structures of the heart (such as the heart valves) to become malformed.
  • Heart disease can originate in the muscle of the heart.
  • Heart disease can be the result of a developmental abnormality which causes the structure of the heart or blood vessels to be abnormal at birth and remain abnormal.

Heart disease, depending on the type and the severity of the disease, may be asymptomatic, with the pet showing no symptoms of disease at all. However, heart disease can also cause severe symptoms which may fatal for your pet. Symptoms of heart disease can also fall in the middle range, where the dog or cat has symptoms of heart disease but is able to live with the symptoms.

Symptoms of congestive heart failure in dogs and cats vary depending on whether left and/or right-sided heart failure is present. The most common clinical signs are decreased endurance and exercise, intolerance, lethargy, coughing, and difficulty breathing. In severe cases and/or those with right-sided heart failure, symptoms may include abdominal pressure with fluid accumulation (known as ascites), jugular vein distention and/or pulsation of the vessels of the neck, and the gums, lips and tongue turning from a normal pink colour to a pale or bluish colour.


Left-sided Heart Failure in Pets:

  • Decreased endurance and exercise
  • Intolerance
  • Lethargy
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
Right-sided Heart Failure in Pets:

  • Abdominal pressure with fluid accumulation
  • Jugular vein pressure
  • Pulsation of neck vessels, gums, and lips
  • Tongue turning from pink to blue

What is Heart Failure?

Heart failure, also often referred to as congestive heart failure or CHF, is the end result of any type of heart disease. Dogs and cats that suffer from heart disease may eventually suffer from congestive heart failure if the disease within the heart results in an inability of the heart to function normally. When the heart is unable to pump blood effectively to other areas of the body, congestive heart failure results.

Dogs and cats can have heart disease without experiencing heart failure. However, when heart failure occurs, heart disease is present in one form or another.


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