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Post Categories: Pet Health Tips

Heart Health Month Is Also for Pets

vsec cardiac health for pets

February is recognized as American Heart Health Month. Each year at this time, medical professionals and health organizations strive to educate the public on heart disease, because according to the CDC, heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in the US.

Healthy Lifestyle

As we are reminded to take care of our own health, we can’t forget about our pets. A good diet and regular exercise play a big role in keeping their heart healthy and strong too. It keeps their muscles limber, aids digestion, prevents obesity, and benefits mental health.

Heart Murmurs

Along with a healthy lifestyle, annual wellness checkups with a primary care veterinarian are vital to catch any emerging disease processes early. During the wellness exam, your veterinarian will listen to your pet’s heart with a stethoscope. A heart murmur is an abnormal sound caused by high velocity, or a disruption in blood flow. Instead of a steady “lub, dub” sound, your veterinarian may hear a whooshing sound. A heart murmur does not necessarily mean your pet has heart disease, but it warrants further investiation. Therefore, your veterinarian will recommend diagnostic tests to find out the cause of the heart murmur.

The Veterinary Cardiologist’s Role

Your primary care veterinarian may refer your pet to a board-certified veterinary cardiologist for testing and/or treatment. A veterinary cardiologist is a specialist that has completed advanced training in the heart and circulatory system. As such, they are experts in diagnosing and treating diseases of the heart and lungs in pets. In many cases, your primary care veterinarian and the veterinary cardiologist will work together to manage your pet’s cardiac health. At VSEC Thousand Oaks, we are fortunate to have two veterinary cardiologists, Dr. Nick Russell and Dr. Reid Nakamura. Consultations with Dr. Russell and Dr. Nakamura are accepted by referral from your primary care veterinarian. To schedule an appointment please call 805.492.2436 or email

Two Categories of Heart Disease

There are two categories of heart disease in pets: acquired and congenital.

Most forms of heart disease in pets are acquired, meaning they are not born with it. Acquired heart disease is generally seen in middle to older aged dogs and cats, but it can also be caused by infections like heartworm and parvovirus. Many of these infections are preventable with regular use of heartworm and flea/tick medication to protect your pet from diseases such as Lyme disease, caused by tick bites, and heartworm, caused by mosquitoes. We encourage you to carefully choose these preventive medications with your veterinarian’s guidance.

Congenital heart diseases are heart defects present at birth. A dog living a healthy lifestyle with proper diet and exercise can have a congenital heart disease. But if detected early, your pet can typically live a very comfortable life with proper treatment and management.

Signs & Symptoms of Cardiac Disease

Here are some common symptoms of cardiac disease. If your pet exhibits any of these signs, contact your primary care veterinarian to have them examined.

  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath, inappropriate shallow or fast breathing.
  • Changes in behavior – lack of desire to play
  • Reduced ability to exercise
  • Restlessness (e.g. pacing back and forth)
  • Swelling of abdomen or extremities
  • Weakness in limbs
  • Weight loss (decreased appetite or loss of appetite)

The following are emergency symptoms and your pet should be taken to your veterinarian immediately or the nearest emergency animal hospital like VSEC. We are open 24/7, every day of the year.

  • Blue or grey gums
  • Fainting or collapse
  • Difficulty breathing such as rapid shallow breathing or open mouth breathing
  • Limb paralysis in cats


For some additional resources on Heart Disease, please visit these websites:
Vet Specialists: Cardiology articles
American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA): Diet and exercise tips for your pet
American Heart Association: Diet and exercise tips for you