This February isn’t just the time for Valentines Day, it’s also American Heart Month — a month when we should all be mindful of things that keep the old ticker healthy. But it’s not just us who should be trying to live healthier lives, our pets deserve some love too. Dogs and cats are equally at risk of developing heart-related illnesses and disorders, and the main defense we have against these conditions is awareness.
Like people, dogs can develop heart disease, either as a congenital condition or developing as they age. Clinical signs can vary, but the most common symptoms include exercise intolerance, coughing or fainting episodes. Diagnostics such as x-ray and heart ultrasound (echo) can help diagnose heart disease so that appropriate treatments can be implemented. Always report any changes in your dog’s breathing or the development of a new, persistent cough to your veterinarian.
Cats are also at risk for heart disease. More often than not, it is of the congenital (hereditary) variety and may manifest itself at an earlier age. Larger breed cats, such as the Maine Coon, are overrepresented for heart disease, so thorough and regular (every 6 months) examinations are even more important for these types of cats. Heart disease can present very differently in cats, and they can present suddenly in a life-threatening condition. Increased respiratory effort, particularly at rest, open mouth breathing or panting, or difficulty walking with crying out can all be symptoms of heart disease and should be addressed by your veterinarian immediately.
So, what can we do as pet owners to ensure that our pets have healthy hearts?
Just as obesity can increase the risk of heart disease and other health problems in humans, obesity in pets dramatically increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes and many types of cancer. Moreover, research reveals that moderate excess weight alone can shorten a pet’s life expectancy by as much as two years.
Healthy daily exercise helps your pet stay trim, fit and healthy. While walking remains a cornerstone activity for canine fitness, you can also play a game of fetch. Keep activities appropriate to your pet’s age, body condition and state of health, and if you’re unsure about the suitability of an activity, consult your veterinarian.
Cats are designed to engage in short bursts of activity rather than long sessions. Games involving stalking, and hunting are typically irresistible to cats and their predatory instincts. The use of fishing-rod toys and laser pointers can encourage aerobic activity, and the use of things like puzzle feeders and interactive toys can encourage cat activity when they’re alone.
Proper diet and dental care
Ever since cats and dogs became domesticated, their natural source of “dental floss” and teeth cleaning – their prey – has been in large part removed from their diet. Canned and dried foods, the nutritional replacement for your pet’s traditional diet, simply cannot provide the same level of oral hygiene and most pets suffer the consequences.
Dental disease is an infection of the teeth, gums, and surrounding structures and is by far the most common major health problem of cats and dogs. According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, more than 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats show signs of oral disease by the time they are 3 years old.
It starts with a build-up of plaque. Plaque eventually turns to tarter and quickly forms small pockets where an animal’s gums meet its teeth. The gums can separate from the tooth and this allows more bacteria and food to accumulate. This build-up leads to periodontal disease, which can allow bacteria to now enter the bloodstream leading to more serious health problems including heart, lung, and kidney disease if left untreated.
Regularly brushing your pet’s teeth is the single most effective thing you can do to keep their teeth healthy between dental cleanings, and may reduce the frequency or even eliminate the need for periodic dental cleaning by your veterinarian. Daily brushing is best, but it’s not always possible and brushing several times a week can be effective. Most dogs accept brushing, but cats can be a bit more resistant – patience and training are important.
It may sound like a lot of work, but these two main tenets will ensure that your pet has a healthy heart for years to come. Consistency is key, but we understand that sometimes life can get in the way — which is why our Pet Nannies at Pet Nanny Inc are ready and waiting to help pick up the slack. Our Nannies are well-versed in pet health and can help out when you aren’t around due to business or personal issues. Follow us on our social media accounts or give us a call at 734-981-6108. Alternatively, you can use our on-line contact form and we’ll get in touch with you!