If your four-legged best friend has heart disease, here are some key questions to ask your veterinarian.

  • What type of heart disease does my pet have?
  • How is it best treated?
  • How will I know if treatment is working?
  • What symptoms should I be watching for?
  • When should my pet be rechecked?
  • Can you refer me to a specialist?

Diagnosis of heart disease

Tests used to confirm the diagnosis of heart disease commonly include:

  • A thorough physical examination that includes auscultation (listening to the heart and lungs with a stethoscope.)
  • Blood tests including screening for heartworm disease.
  • An electrocardiogram (ECG) to evaluate the rhythm of the heartbeats.
  • Chest X-rays to evaluate the size of the heart and identify abnormal fluid in or around the lungs.
  • An echocardiogram (an ultrasound evaluation that provides a look inside the heart) to evaluate valve function, chamber size, and the strength of heart contractions.


What to look for

Early and advanced warning signs of heart disease can include:


  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Cough
  • Lethargy
  • Restlessness during sleep
  • Decreased stamina
  • Vomiting (occurs in cats)


  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Labored breathing
  • Distention of the abdomen with fluid
  • Blue/purple tinged tongue and gums
  • Collapse
  • Fainting
  • Sudden death
  • Sudden paralysis of the hind legs caused by a blood clot within the aorta (occurs in cats)


Nancy Kay, D.V.M., is a small animal internal medicine specialist. She graduated from Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine and completed residency training at the University of California, Davis. She is the author of the best sellers, Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health, and her weekly blog covers a wide range of topics. Dr. Kay has appeared on the NPR show Fresh Air with Terry Gross and she has received several awards recognizing her achievements as a veterinarian and an author.