Skip to main content

Tip Sheets

Tips for recognizing heart disease in pets

Media Contact

Gillian Smith

February is American Heart Month – for your pets too!


 Bruce Kornreich

Bruce Kornreich

Associate Director for Education and Outreach, Feline Health Center

Dr. Bruce G. Kornreich, Director of the Cornell Feline Health Center and board-certified veterinary cardiologist at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, shares some tips about heart disease in your pets.

Kornreich says:

“February is American Heart Month, and it is important that every dog and cat owner is empowered to recognize signs of heart disease in their pets.

“Regular veterinary checkups are a key component in diagnosing and managing feline heart disease. The best thing that owners can do is to make sure their cats have thorough medical checkups — at least once a year for cat less than 10 year of age and twice yearly thereafter — during which their veterinarian pays close attention to the heart.

For cats:

“Signs of heart disease in cats include difficulty/rapid breathing, weakness, lethargy, exercise intolerance, and collapsing episodes. Cats very rarely cough as a result of heart disease. The normal resting respiratory rate for cats is between 15 and 30 breaths per minute. Respiratory rates above 35 breaths per minute when a cat is relaxed or sleeping should prompt consultation with a veterinarian.

“The most common heart disease in cats is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or HCM. HCM is a primary heart muscle disease that causes thickening of (usually) the walls of the left ventricle and is considered to be ‘acquired’, as it is usually not present at birth.

“Cats with clinically significant structural heart disease as opposed to electrical problems that can cause arrhythmia almost always have heart murmurs – the sound caused by turbulent blood flow) or other abnormal heart sounds that can be heard with a stethoscope. Approximately 20% of cats that have heart murmurs, though, do not have heart disease.”

For dogs:

“Signs of heart disease in dogs include difficulty/rapid breathing, cough, weakness, lethargy, exercise intolerance, and collapsing episodes. The normal resting respiratory rate for dogs is between 15 and 30 breaths per minute. Respiratory rates above 35 breaths per minute when a dog is relaxed or sleeping should prompt consultation with a veterinarian.

“The most common heart disease in dogs is age-associated degeneration of the mitral valve, also called myxomatous mitral valve degeneration, or MMVD. It is considered to be ‘acquired’, as it is not present at birth.

“Puppies can have low grade heart murmurs – the sound caused by turbulent blood flow that can be heard using a stethoscope – called ‘flow’ or ‘physiologic’ murmurs that are not associated with heart disease. These usually disappear by 8-12 weeks of age.”

Cornell University has television, ISDN and dedicated Skype/Google+ Hangout studios available for media interviews.