Circulatory System

Circulatory system diseases are very serious medical conditions that must be addressed promptly.

Congestive heart failure

With its ability to onset at any age, in any breed or gender, congestive heart failure (CHF) is one of the most serious canine and feline heart conditions. Congestive heart failure is characterized by the heart’s inability to circulate enough blood to meet the body’s demands. Because a heart muscle becomes weakened by CHF, the health of other organs suffers, including that of the liver, kidneys, and lungs.

CHF can be caused by the left, right, or both valves interrupting blood flow and causing blood to back up. Left side valvular disease occurs when blood accumulates in the lungs or abdomen, though this is less common in cats. Right side valvular disease arises when blood has collected in the vena cava and jugular vein, which causes the heart to pump faster and work harder; this eventually causes the heart to enlarge, forcing the heart’s internal chamber capacity to decrease, which means less blood can be pumped out. This entire consequence is cyclic, again causing the heart to work harder and continue to enlarge.

A pet with congestive heart failure can continue to function normally for months, even years, without exhibiting any outward signs of something being wrong; therefore, it can be difficult for an owner to tell that a serious cardiovascular condition exists.

Early signs of congestive heart failure:

  • Bloating
  • Coughing during increased activity
  • Decreased activity level
  • Easily tiring
  • Fainting
  • Lack of appetite
  • Pacing and restlessness before bed
  • Rapid breathing
  • Unexplained weight loss

Diagnosis of congestive heart failure

Identifying the cause of congestive heart failure is often an involved process. Diagnosis begins with a full physical examination, during which the veterinarian can find key indicators of congestive heart failure, including a scratchy sound in the lungs when breathing or a subdued sounding heartbeat. Following the physical, there are several tests the veterinarian may perform:

  • Blood pressure measurement – high blood pressure suggests CHF
  • Echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) – allows the veterinarian to visualize valvular deformities, cardiac muscle-wall thickening, and valvular leakage
  • Electrocardiogram – measures electric impulses of the heart
  • X-rays – can depict fluid build-up in the abdomen or lungs. Can also show an enlarged heart

Depending on specific indicators, other tests can be performed, including heartworm tests in dogs and feline leukemia virus tests in cats. The veterinarian will determine which tests your pet needs based upon the results of their physical exam.

Treating congestive heart failure

While there remains no cure for congestive heart failure, the ability to treat its symptoms depends on the severity and causes. The goal of treatment is to enable a pet’s body to compensate for its enlarged heart, thus preventing further damage. Most often, CHF is treated on an out-patients basis unless breathing is extremely difficult, in which case a pet may need to be placed on oxygen therapy and held overnight.

There are several medications that might be prescribed to help improve a pet’s quality of life. Depending on the amount of fluid in the chest, a diuretic may be necessary to aid with drying out the bodily tissues. Alongside a diuretic, various vasodilators can improve blood flow, while other drugs can improve the strength of the heart. Prescriptions are written on an individual basis, and the veterinarian will determine which medications are best for your pet’s needs. Usually it is beneficial for all CHF sufferers to limit their sodium intake, as sodium helps determine the amount of water in the blood vessels and body tissues, and drying up excess fluids is beneficial for CHF sufferers.

If you have any questions about congestive heart failure or would like to discuss any health concerns with our staff, contact our office today.

Heart disease

Pet hearts are very similar to human hearts; they both have four main valves: a mitral valve, tricuspid valve, pulmonic valve, and aortic valve. The mitral valve, located between the heart’s left atrium and left ventricle is a pet’s most fragile valve and is usually the first to fail. In dogs, this failure occurs slowly and causes the pet to exhibit tell-tale symptoms that could trigger a pet-owner to realize something is wrong. However, heart disease in cats progresses much more rapidly and involves failure of the entire heart, which makes a pet owner’s detection of it much less likely.

At the onset of heart disease, a pet’s circulatory system starts to fail. With that failure, the kidneys, liver, and other vital internal organs are flooded with stationary blood and cannot function properly. The organs no longer get the essential amount of oxygen they need and slowly start to die. Heart disease is a very serious medical condition that must be addressed promptly. If you notice any of the following symptoms, please contact our office at your earliest convenience.

Symptoms of heart disease in pets:

  • Bloated stomach
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Rapid breathing
  • Reduced appetite
  • Restlessness
  • Weight loss

Diagnosing a pet with heart disease

If a pet patient is suspected of having heart disease, the veterinarian will first listen to their heartbeat with a stethoscope. If a heart murmur can be heard, it signals the vet that one or more valves are not functioning correctly. The veterinarian will then perform an X-ray, checking for an enlarged heart. Additional testing may include an EKG or echocardiograph.

How is heart disease treated?

If heart disease is a pet’s official diagnosis, the treatment and prognosis varies based on pet species, breed, and the underlying causal condition. The veterinarian will formulate a treatment plan that focuses on getting the heart to pump efficiently to help your pet live comfortably. There are numerous medications that can help a pet when heart disease is caught early enough.

If you have any questions about heart disease or think your pet is demonstrating possible symptoms, please contact our office.

Heartbeat arrhythmia

A cardiac arrhythmia (abnormal heartbeat) is any abnormality in pace, intensity, or regularity of a pet’s heartbeat. Though not every arrhythmia is cause for concern, others can be an indication of a serious, life-threatening disease. Cardiac arrhythmias can be caused by genetic abnormalities, environmental factors, or breed predisposition. They can occur in all canine and feline breeds, ages, and genders.

A pet’s heartbeat should be regular and strong. If beating slightly alters while breathing in and out, this can be caused by an unfamiliar environment or momentary stress; however, abnormalities, including a speedy or sluggish pulse, can indicate anemia, lung disease, pressure on the brain, or a failure of circulation. The only way to determine the underlying issue is to have a veterinarian develop a proper diagnosis. Until the origin is determined, an arrhythmia should not be taken lightly. The symptoms of an arrhythmia may come and go; regardless of whether your pet is currently showing indications of an irregular heartbeat, we recommend scheduling an appointment with the veterinarian to ensure there are not any serious underlying cardiac issues.

Possible indications of a heart arrhythmia:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fast heart rate when pet is relaxed
  • Lack of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Slow heart rate when activity level is high
  • Sudden, unexplainable collapse
  • Weakness
  • Diagnosing heart arrhythmia

In diagnosing an arrhythmia, a full physical will be performed with a complete blood analysis. The veterinarian will determine if an ECG or EKG are necessary. Blood work can establish whether a pet has anemia and can also detect whether the organs are working properly. An EKG can detect the arrhythmia, while an ECG can determine the type of arrhythmia. Chest X-rays might be necessary to determine if heart disease or heart failure has occurred.

How is heart arrhythmia treated?

After the veterinarian has obtained a positive diagnosis, they will discuss the various treatment options. Surgery and prescription medications are both available to your pet as possible therapies.

Prescription medication - Several medications are available to help control arrhythmias, and the veterinarian will discuss which prescription is best for your pet’s age, gender, and breed.

Surgery – There are two surgical options, both of which must be performed by a veterinary cardiology specialist.

Catheter ablation - destroys the defective electrical pathways within and around the heart that cause the arrhythmia. It involves inserting a catheter into the faulty blood vessel and using electrical impulses to destroy tissue. This method has been used in canines successfully, but has yet to be tested in felines.

Implanting a pacemaker - similar to a human implant, pet pacemakers control cardiac arrhythmias. Pet pacemakers have only been tested in canines.

If you have any questions about an irregular heartbeat, feel free to contact our office.


Allergies among pets are fairly similar to human allergies and can be described as an abnormal sensitivity when exposed to particular elements. While there is no breed susceptibility, it is believed that allergies can be genetically inherited. Most pets start to show signs of an allergy around the age of 1 to 4 years old.

If you think your pet is exhibiting the signs of an allergy or you have questions about pet allergens, please contact our office.

Common allergens for pets:

  • Cigarette smoke
  • Medical prescriptions
  • Cleaning products
  • Mold
  • Dust
  • PerfumeFeathers
  • Tree pollens
  • Food ingredients
  • Weed pollens
  • Grass pollens
  • Wool

How are specific allergies determined?

There are numerous tests that can help determine specific allergies in pets. The following two exams are the methods commonly implemented to test pets for allergies. If a more involved diagnosis is required for your pet’s particular condition, we will make additional arrangements.

Skin allergy panel – This test usually requires your pet to be sedated. During the test, the veterinarian will shave off a small section of your pet’s hair and will draw a grid directly on their skin. The vet will then inject common known allergens alongside control variables to determine which injections (allergens) the pet is allergic to.

Food trials – Food trials are simply the process of trying out different pet foods to alleviate a food allergy. The veterinarian will work with you to test various types of food (natural, organic, with or without by-product, gluten-free, etc.) and various proteins (beef, chicken, lamb, salmon, etc.) to determine which food works best for your pet. Each food’s trial period will last around 6 weeks and will require close observation and recording at home to be sure that the allergy is still present, or to determine if it has been relieved.

Symptoms of allergies in pets:

  • Continual scratching
  • Constantly licking skin
  • Frequent sneezing
  • Itchy ears
  • Itchy red skin
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Paw chewing
  • Scabbed skin
  • Swelling of paws
  • Swelling of eyelids
  • Vomiting

Treating pets with allergies

Depending on the allergy, there are several methods of treatment that can help alleviate the agony of allergies. More generic forms of relief include regularly shampooing your pet to reduce itchiness and remove any bacteria and scabs. Also consider washing and rinsing paws with a cool bath any time they seem to be suffering. The veterinarian might recommend applying hydrocortisone cream to the affected area, but it should be used sparingly and only under the veterinarian’s supervision. Also, consider over-the-counter antihistamines, namely Benadryl, but only administer medication under veterinary supervision to ensure dosage is appropriate for your pet’s size.

For indoor pets suffering from allergies, try removing the plants from inside your home. If you prefer to keep plants, prevent mold growth by covering the soil with activated charcoal bits, which you can purchase from an aquarium supply store. Also be sure to keep your house free from dust and other airborne allergens.

After positively diagnosing your pet with a specific allergy, the veterinarian can recommend a more detailed treatment for their particular case.

Breathing problems

Breathing problems in a pet suggest a problem within the respiratory tract. While the cause of this problem may range from a mild allergy to a complicated cancer, it is critical that your pet be examined by a veterinarian the moment you notice a change in their breathing pattern. Changes in a pet’s breathing pattern indicate distress and should not be confused with panting, which can be described as fast-paced, open-mouthed breathing that dogs perform to relax or cool off.

When at rest or around the house, a pet’s normal breathing rate is between 10 to 30 breaths per minute. Faster breathing suggests anxiety, fever, pain, or a serious health issue. If your pet appears to have rapid breathing or labored breathing, we advise against trying to manage the situation on your own and recommend seeking veterinary care immediately.

Symptoms of breathing problems:

  • Coughing
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Eye discharge
  • Excessive and labored/forced breathing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nasal discharge
  • Rapid breathing
  • Shallow breathing
  • Sneezing
  • Snorting
  • Weight loss

Common causes of respiratory complications:

  • Allergies
  • Laryngeal paralysis
  • Bronchitis
  • Nasal tumor
  • Cancer
  • Obesity
  • Complications of heartworm disease
  • Pneumonia
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Poisoning
  • Pulmonary thromboembolism
  • Foreign object in throat
  • Severe anemia
  • Heat stroke
  • Shock
  • Kennel cough
  • Swelling of larynx
  • Ketoacidosis
  • Trauma

How are breathing problems treated? After a pet has entered the exam room and the purpose of the veterinary appointment is communicated, the veterinarian will check if labored breathing is visibly apparent. If it is, the veterinarian will immediately try to regain normal breathing by administering oxygen therapy or corticosteroids. In extreme cases or situations where the pet owner has witnessed their pet swallowing an object prior to the veterinary appointment, the vet might try removing the foreign object lodged in the throat or may perform a tracheostomy. After stabilizing the pet’s breathing, a thorough physical examination can be performed to determine any additional causes of the breathing difficulty.

Pets that are diagnosed with more serious conditions usually require hospital care until the veterinarian can ensure that they can breathe sufficiently on their own. Once a pet’s breathing is stabilized, it can be released to the owner with prescription medication. The owner will need to continue giving the pet its medication and restrict their pet’s activity (preventing strenuous exercise), in order to help the pet fully recover.

While some conditions are curable, others will require medicated management or activity reduction for the remainder of the pet’s life. Also, any pet with a history of breathing difficulties should immediately see the veterinarian when there are questionable changes in their breathing patterns.

If you have any questions about breathing irregularities in pets please contact our veterinary office.

Kennel cough

Kennel cough (also known as bordetella) is a highly contagious bacterial disease that can affect dogs, cats, and humans. Dogs are most commonly affected, though cats are often carriers of the disease, never showing any symptoms but spreading the disease to other pets and pet owners. For pets and pet owners, the disease is most common among those with compromised immune systems, such as the very young or the elderly, and extra precaution should be taken with both age groups.

A pet contracts kennel cough when they inhale particles of a virus or bacteria which then lingers in their respiratory tract, trapping the infectious particles and resulting in an inflammation of the trachea and bronchi. Several factors are believed to expose pets to these contagious particles, some of which include cigarette smoke; crowded and inadequately ventilated areas, such as a kennel or shelter; cold weather; stress caused by traveling long distances; and dust. If you suspect your pet to be experiencing any of these conditions in the near future, it is recommended that a bordetella vaccination be administered; however, please keep in mind that the vaccination cannot prevent all strains of bordetella, as the virus comes in various forms.

What are the symptoms of kennel cough?

  • Cough that sounds similar to honking
  • Dry hacking cough
  • Eye discharge
  • Fever
  • Retching
  • Reverse sneeze
  • Runny nasal discharge
  • Sneezing

Treating bordetella

Numerous tests can be performed to diagnose a pet with bordetella. Pets suffering from indicative symptoms usually have a complete blood count and chest X-rays performed. Additionally, the veterinarian may swab nasal passages or the throat for any discharge and send the samples to an external lab for testing. An external lab can tell the veterinarian exactly what type of microorganism is infecting your pet.

The most common type of kennel cough is relatively mild and does not need to be treated with antibiotics. The infection will run its course, similar to a fever or cold in humans. More severe infections will be treated with oral antibiotics for a period of 10 to 14 days, sometimes longer if the symptoms are more severe. If secondary health issues are a concern, such as pneumonia or dehydration, hospitalization might be required, so the veterinarian can administer IV fluids and additional antibiotics, as well as monitor the pet.

Because kennel cough is severely contagious, it is important to thoroughly sanitize an infected environment as soon as the contamination is known. Bowls, bedding, and litter boxes all need to be disinfected as well as any other object a pet has come into contact with.
If you have any questions about bordetella, feel free to contact our office at your convenience.