Veterinary Cardiology for Pets with Heart & Lung Disease

Pet Cardiology

The Cardiology Department at Red Bank Veterinary Hospital specializes in diseases affecting a pet’s heart and lungs. Our veterinarians have experience in treating acquired and congenital heart disease as well as pericardial disease. In addition, we respond to your pet’s needs as a whole, ensuring overall comfort and wellbeing.

Understanding Pet Heart Disease

Pets with heart disease, or other ailments affecting the heart and lungs, may not always have visible signs of discomfort. Others may experience difficulty breathing, coughing, fainting, or lethargy depending on the stage of illness.

Understanding Pet Heart Disease—A Brochure from our Cardiology Department

Terms you should know:

  • Congenital refers to developmental changes in the heart that are typically present in patients since birth. The severity of these diseases is evaluated using echocardiography, cardiac catheterization, and angiography. Several diseases, such as pulmonic stenosis and patent ductus arteriosus, may be cured or have their severity greatly reduced with surgery.
  • Pericardial refers to changes in the sac, or pericardium, that surrounds the heart. The most common type is the formation of fluid in the pericardium. We are unique in our ability to perform many procedures using both invasive and non-invasive techniques, which helps patients avoid large incisions and long recovery times.

Our cardiologists diagnose and treat a variety of conditions, including:

Cardiomyopathy

Cardiomyopathy is a general term that refers to a pathologic change the muscle of the heart. There are several variations or changes that can occur to the muscle. The muscle can get too thick, which does not allow for proper relaxation. The muscle can get weak and, therefore, not push blood forward well. The muscle can also get stiff with certain diseases and not relax well and sometimes not pump well. Cardiomyopathy can affect dogs and cats. Very rarely, cardiomyopathy can be reversible. With our evaluations, including echocardiography and chest radiographs, we can help treat the underlying disease to make your pet feel better and improve length of life.

Congenital Heart Disease

Congenital refers to developmental changes in the heart that are typically present in patients since birth. The severities of these diseases are evaluated using echocardiography, cardiac catheterization, and angiography. Several diseases, such as pulmonic stenosis and patent ductus arteriosus, may be cured or have their severity greatly reduced with surgery and or cardiac minimally invasive procedures.

Congestive Heart Failure

Congestive heart failure is fluid buildup in the body that occurs secondary to heart enlargement from heart disease. Heart failure can result from heart enlargement due to cardiomyopathy (disease of the heart muscle) or both congenital and acquired valvular diseases. Fluid can build up in or around the lungs, causing trouble breathing or cough, or in the belly, causing abdominal distension.

Pericardial Effusion

Pericardial disease is a disease that affects the pericardium, which is the sac around the heart. Pericardial effusion, or fluid that forms within the sac, can cause a pet to feel weak. When present, this fluid may need to be removed. Pericardial effusion can be caused by cancer, heart failure, disease of the pericardial sac itself, or idiopathic (unknown cause). Diagnosis of pericardial effusion is made by echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart).

Pleural Space Disease

Pleural space is the potential space in the chest that exists around the lungs and heart. This space is small and normally has a very tiny amount of fluid in it. If there is disease of the tissue coating the heart, lungs, and chest wall, then abnormal amounts of fluid can form. When the fluid becomes a large amount, it can affect your pet’s breathing. Using echocardiography, cytology, thoracic radiographs (X-rays), and CT scan (computed tomography, CAT scan), we can try to determine the cause of the fluid formation and determine if there is a way to fix the underlying disease.

Pulmonary Disease

Pulmonary disease is a disease of the lungs. This includes diseases that affect the lung tissue and lower airway. Common types of pulmonary disease include pneumonia or other infections, bronchitis, feline asthma, pulmonary fibrosis, or cancer. Signs of pulmonary disease may include cough or trouble breathing.

Valvular Disease

The mitral valve separates the two heart chambers on the left side, the atrium and ventricle. It opens and closes with each heartbeat, allowing oxygenated blood to only move in a direction away from the lungs and toward the rest of the body. Over time, this valve can become thickened and allow blood to flow backwards, creating a heart murmur. This murmur can cause the heart to enlarge, can progress slowly or quickly, and can cause heart failure or fluid to build up in the lungs if severe. The large heart can also push on the windpipe causing a cough by itself. Some animals are born with valve disease, but it is usually an age-related change termed chronic valve disease.

You can expect the cardiologist to perform a physical examination and diagnostic tests, in addition to discussing observations about your pet’s health and behavior.

While some conditions require surgery, others can be managed with medications. In all cases, we are prepared to consult with other specialists, when needed. Our goal is to return your pet home with the maximum level of comfort and quality of life.

Board-Certified Veterinary Cardiologists

Board-certified veterinary cardiologists are specialists who focus on diagnosing and treating diseases of the heart and lungs. In addition to completing undergraduate training and four years of veterinary school, board-certified cardiologists complete an internship and residency in their specialized field (an additional three to five years of training).

This is followed by a rigorous examination to achieve board-certification status from the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM), which oversees specialties in cardiology, internal medicine, oncology, and neurology. Passing this examination grants the status of Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (DACVIM). The area of concentration is then placed in parenthesis after that title: DACVIM (Cardiology).

The ACVIM believes veterinary specialists bring greater understanding and knowledge of the more unusual, uncommon, and rare disorders in both large and small animals.