10 Signs of Heart Disease in Dogs & Cats


July 2019

Heart disease affects dogs and cats of all ages. Puppies and kittens can be born with an abnormal heart while older pets develop heart problems with age.  Signs of heart disease can be hard to notice so we developed this list of things to watch for in your pet that builds on our 10 Signs of Heart Disease in Dogs & Cats infographic. (Note that symptoms 1-4 always warrant a vet visit.)


1. Persistent Cough

Dogs and cats can cough for a variety of reasons, including allergies and asthma. However, a persistent cough—one lasting for at least two weeks—could indicate heart disease. When the heart can’t pump blood properly, fluid can back up in the lungs, causing dogs and cats to cough.

2. Difficulty Breathing

The same fluid backup that can cause dogs and cats to cough can also cause them to experience difficulty breathing. Dogs and cats that have trouble breathing will usually stand and open their mouths to breathe. Dogs in breathing distress may avoid lying down at all because doing so makes it even harder to breathe.

3. Fainting/Collapsing

Fainting is a loss of consciousness, while collapsing means the animal’s legs have failed. Both can be symptoms of heart failure if the heart cannot pump enough blood to the brain or body. In cats with heart disease, collapse may be caused by blood clots that prevent blood flow to the legs.

4. Abdominal Swelling/Distention

Dogs and cats can experience abdominal swelling, or distention, when they have intestinal parasites, a stomach obstruction, tumor, or heart disease. When heart disease is the cause, fluid builds up in the abdomen, causing the stomach to swell and appear pot-bellied.

5. Less Tolerant of Exercise

Panting and rapid breathing is normal when healthy dogs and cats engage in vigorous exercise. However, if your pet is taking longer to recover from exercise, or they avoid exercising altogether, they may have heart disease.

6. Heart Murmur

Healthy dog and cat heartbeats have a “lub-dub, lub-dub” sound pattern. However, when heartbeats include a whooshing sound, that is called a heart murmur. Humans and pets can live healthy lives with a heart murmur depending on the reason and degree of disease.

7. Change in Heart Rate

A healthy cat’s heart will beat 140 – 220 times per minute, while a healthy dog’s will beat 60 – 140 times per minute. A  heart rate outside the normal range can be a sign of heart disease.

8. Change in Body Weight

Heart disease can lead to weight loss. Rapid weight loss is concerning in any pet and can be a sign of advanced heart disease.

9. Restlessness or Hiding

When dogs and cats are in distress or pain, they tend to hide or become restless. The restlessness is typically because they can’t find a position that is comfortable for them.

10. Loss of Appetite

When an animal has heart disease, they may lose their appetite. Loss of appetite is dangerous in both dogs and cats, but particularly in cats. If cats don’t eat for too long of a period, other organ systems can begin to fail. If your pet is refusing food, contact your primary care veterinarian right away.

Steps Pet Owners Can Take

If your pet is showing any of the above signs, see your veterinarian immediately. Remember, each of these symptoms can indicate severe illness that might quickly become an emergency.

With proper treatment and diet, dogs and cats diagnosed with heart disease can live happily for years. In fact, pets with heart disease that are treated by both their primary care veterinarian and a veterinary cardiologist together have the best outcomes.

To learn more about how to keep your dog’s or cat’s heart healthy, or to schedule an exam with a cardiac veterinarian in our Kentucky, Maryland, Texas, or Virginia locations, get in touch with us today!

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