Quirks & Quarks

Do animals ever have heart attacks or is it just humans?

It is very rare for animals like dogs and cats, to experience heart attacks as we know them, but they do get various heart diseases

It is very rare for animals like dogs and cats, to experience heart attacks as we know them

A visit to the veterinarian. (AFP via Getty Images)

Originally published on November 9, 2019.

This week's question comes to us from Randolph Landry in Westlock, Alberta. He asks:

Do animals ever have heart attacks, or is it a purely human phenomenon?

Lynne O'Sullivan, a veterinary cardiologist at the Atlantic Veterinary College of the University of Prince Edward Island, says it is extremely rare for most animals to have a heart attack. A heart attack typically involves an interruption of the blood supply to a portion of the heart muscle. In humans, it is usually the result of disease to the blood vessels or arteries, or clogging of the arteries.

Most domestic animals like dogs and cats don't develop that type of disease, which makes heart attacks in those animals very uncommon. Dogs and cats do however experience other types of heart disease. Dogs get valve disease, which results in what is called a leaky valve. Both dogs and cats can develop heart muscle diseases. These can result in symptoms like difficulty breathing or episodes of collapse, but not heart attacks. This is also true for wild canine and feline species. 

There are a few species of birds, in particular those of the parrot family that are prone to lipid or cholesterol disorders that result in diseased heart arteries which puts them at risk of heart attacks. Non-human primates can also experience this type of heart disease.


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