The Heart is probably the most important organs in an animal’s body.
It’s function – pump blood around the body which will provide oxygen, fluid and nutrition to the living being.
Obviously, when the heart no longer functions properly then blood circulation (血液循環) becomes compromised. There will be reduced blood provided to organs around the body.
How do I know something is wrong?
Signs that are related to heart problem can be vague at the beginning. It would also depend on the individual behavior of your pet. In more advanced heart conditions, pets will show problems breathing normally. One of the signs may be that your pet starts panting, and keeps panting. In the case of a cat – this is especially unusual, as cats do not naturally pant.
In the case for dogs, if your dog were to be quite relaxed and calm, it should not pant.
Panting is not a unique sign of heart disease. It can however be an indication of something is wrong with the lungs, heart or other parts of the body.
Some other signs related to (but not exclusive to) heart problem that may show up in your pet include:
- seizure-like activity
Since the heart supplies blood to the entire body, once this organ becomes inefficient or fails, other organs in the body will ultimately start to malfunction (or fail). Depending on which organ is suspected to be affected as a result of the heart disease, your vet will recommend the appropriate test(s) accordingly to investigate the health status of those organs.
What are the standard tests used to check the Heart?
There are a myriad of tests available to investigate the function of the heart.
The most common test, usually the first test used to check the heart is the stethoscope (聽筒).
This is used by your vet to listen to the pet during consultation. By listening to the heart using the stethoscope, we can tell:
- How quickly the heart is beating = heart rate (心率)
- Is the heart beat sound normal? (可有心臟雜音)
- Is the heart beating regularly? (可有心率不正)
- Are all the heart valves functioning properly? (心臟瓣膜功能)
Radiography (X 光造影)
Secondarily, we can use radiography (xray) to look at the size of the heart and the lungs. Radiography is usually inexpensive.
An xray can tell your vet whether heart is larger than usual and which chamber. An xray can also help your vet determine whether then lungs are affected too. However, an xray will not indicate nor locate the reason for a cardiac arrhythmia (心率不正) – which may lead to the patient “fainting” or appearing as if it is having an episode of seizure (抽筋).
Thirdly, in order to assess the reason behind an arrhythmia (心率不正), an electrocardiogram (ECG) is the most useful tool. An ECG shows a recording of the heart’s native electrical activity by attaching sensors on the surface of the body. These electrical activities generate muscle movement, resulting in a heart beat. If electrical activity is abnormal, then heart beat becomes abnormal.
Electrocardiography is usually inexpensive.
Echocardiography is the real-time imaging of the heart. It allows each part of the heart to be examined while the animal is awake. Sedation is not usually recommended. This type of imaging allows the examiner to locate whether there is a valvular malfunction, measure chamber pressure, heart wall thickness etc.
Echocardiography is a specialized skill and therefore not widely available in all clinics. This method of investigation is usually moderately expensive.
Cardiac Biomarkers (心臟生物標記物)
Cardiac biomarkers are not widely available in Hong Kong yet. It is a blood test used to assess the degree of damage to the heart.
Cardiac biomarker tests are moderately expensive.
The Heart is a very important organ in the body and its decline usually difficult to recognize until it is too late. The tests described here in this blog are generally available to clinics. There is no one magic-test that can tell you or your vet whether the pet has a serious heart disease. Each of the tests described above yields different information, so be patient and openly discuss with your veterinarian about your expectation!
If you notice your pet panting (氣促) non-stop, becoming unusually tired, suddenly fainting – please give us a call at 2915-2095 to make an appointment to see a vet!
Call us as soon as possible, as heart disease can have serious and deadly outcomes.