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helpful information

Heart Disease in Pets: Early Detection Is Crucial

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Like us, pets can be affected by heart (cardiovascular) disease. Although we can’t prevent or cure most types of heart disease in pets, we can help improve heart function and quality of life in cats and dogs with heart disease. And the earlier we can diagnose it, the better.

What Is Heart Disease?

Heart disease is a term that encompasses many different types of problems or conditions related to the heart. Most types of heart disease are associated with a leaky heart valve or weakening or thickening of the heart muscle, eventually resulting in an enlarged heart.

Heart disease tends to worsen over time. Pets with heart disease may end up with congestive heart failure, a condition in which the heart can no longer pump blood effectively, causing fluid to build up in the chest or abdomen.

Fortunately, heart disease (and even heart failure) is manageable. Pets who are identified early in the disease usually have a better outcome than those who aren’t identified until the disease is more advanced.

Detecting heart disease before clinical signs are obvious can help keep your pet healthier for longer and may even help your pet live longer.

What Are Signs of Heart Disease in Pets?

The first sign of heart disease in dogs is often a heart murmur, usually noted during a veterinary exam and typically present months or even years before other clinical signs are obvious. Cats, on the other hand, may have advanced heart disease with no murmur.

Other symptoms of heart disease or failure that pet owners might notice include:

  • Abdominal swelling
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty, noisy, or rapid breathing
  • Exercise intolerance (reluctance or inability to exercise)
  • Fainting/collapse
  • Lack of energy
  • Loss of appetite and/or weight
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Weakness

What Causes Heart Disease in Pets?

Several conditions can make pets more prone to developing heart disease. Age and breed are the most common, but being overweight can play a role as well. Heartworm disease can also be a factor in heart disease.

What Pets Are at Risk for Heart Disease?

Heart disease in pets is often genetic. That’s why certain types of heart disease are more common in specific breeds or species. For instance:

  • Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) tends to affect certain breeds as they reach middle or older age. These are typically large and giant breeds, such as Boxers, Doberman Pinschers, Great Danes, and Newfoundlands, as well as Cocker Spaniels. But certain pet foods may now be causing DCM in breeds that aren’t usually affected (see below for more on this).
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the most frequently diagnosed heart disease in cats, is common in Maine Coons and Ragdolls.
  • Mitral valve disease (MVD), also referred to as degenerative valve disease, affects many smaller dogs as they age. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and Dachshunds are predisposed. Although MVD is very common in dogs, it is rarely diagnosed in cats.

Any dog or cat, regardless of breed or size, can develop heart disease.

What Role Could Pet Food Play in Heart Disease?

As grain-free pet foods have become more popular, veterinarians across the country started noticing a potential connection between dogs (and a few cats) who were eating a grain-free diet and developing DCM. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is working with veterinary nutritionists and veterinary cardiologists to determine what might be causing this problem.

The diets that have been reported are mostly dry food (kibble), and they generally contain a large amount of peas, lentils, other legumes, and/or potatoes in different forms (you may see ingredients like “peas,” “pea protein,” or “potato flour,” for example, listed toward the top of the ingredients).

We don’t yet have answers about why these types of pet foods seem to be causing heart disease in some pets, but we don’t want you to worry unnecessarily.

If your pet is eating a grain-free diet or you have questions or concerns about your pet’s food, please give us a call.

How Can We Help Your Pet With Heart Disease?

Regular wellness exams play a crucial role in detecting heart disease. However, if you notice signs of heart disease in your pet, don’t wait for your pet’s next wellness exam. Contact us right away.

Early detection and proper treatment of heart disease can help significantly improve your pet’s quality of life and possibly even how long your pet will live. Your St. Francis veterinarian will recommend the best treatment options to help your pet with heart disease.

Traveling with your pet and Health Certificates

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Are you travelling with your pet this summer? 

Do you need a health certificate from a United States Department of Agriculture – Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) Nationally Accredited (NA) veterinarian?

If you are travelling with your pet, a health certificate may be required! Health certificates prevent the unnecessary transmission of infectious diseases. They keep your pet safe as well as others. In addition to a health certificate, a consultation with a veterinarian is recommended to better understand regional risks. For example, the northeast region of the U.S. has a higher risk of Lyme while the midwest has a higher risk of fungal pneumonia. Lyme is entirely preventable. Health certificates are particularly important in our food industry. 

Travelling Between States (Interstate Travel):

Travel requirements will differ by state and intended purpose for travel (privately owner, research or resale). Please check with your veterinarian or by visiting the USDA-APHIS website ( All pets will require a rabies vaccination. Again, health certificates between states are subject to individual state and/or airline requirements. This includes all states entered while in transit to your final destination. Some states require only a rabies certificate by any licensed veterinarian. 

International Travel: 

Travel requirements will differ by country and airline. All international travel requires a health certificate by a USDA-APHIS NA veterinarian. At St. Francis Animal Hospital, we have a USDA-APHIS Category II veterinarian, Dr. Kaitlyn Childs. This means that she can inspect any animal; including, birds, ferrets, bees and exotics. The process can be quite strenuous and may take several months depending, again please visit the USDA-APHIS website ). 

Suggestions for International Travel:

  • Your pet must be healthy and/or free from communicable diseases in order for a health certificate to be valid. 

  • Allow adequate time to ensure proper documentation!!! The process may take as little as 10 days to 6 months depending upon the type of animal, country of importation and intended purpose. Vaccinations, diagnostics (fecals and titers) and/or medications may be required. 

  • Visit the USDA-APHIS website ( ).

  • Call your airline or travel agency to inquire about their specific pet requirements. 

  • Is your pet microchipped? To enter the European Union, an ISO compliant microchip is required. St. Francis is pleased to offer ISO compliant microchips. Any vaccine prior to this microchip is considered invalid by the E.U.  

  • Rabies vaccination is generally  required. Rabies free regions may require titers and/or quarantine procedures. 

  • Schedule accordingly! To enter the European Union a health certificate in addition to an E.U. certificate is required from a USDA-APHIS NA veterinarian within 10 days of travel. This must be “endorsed”  by a veterinary medical officer at the  USDA-APHIS-VS regional office. The regional office for this area is in Richmond, Va. Appointments are recommended and service fees apply. Plan time prior to travel to visit both a NA veterinarian and the USDA-APHIS VS regional office. 

Three Levels of Veterinary Certification

  • Licensed Veterinarian: A person who is currently licensed to practice veterinary medicine in the State. 

  • USDA-APHIS NA Veterinarian: A licensed veterinarian who has completed training as part of the National Veterinary Accreditation Program (NVAP) which is voluntary.

  • Veterinary Medical Officer: A federally appointed veterinarian trained in promoting public health.