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Congestive Heart Failure
Heart disease, progressing into congestive heart failure can affect any age, breed, or size of dog. However, miniature poodles, Cocker Spaniels, Miniature Schnauzers, and Dachshunds are the most commonly affected breeds. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, another commonly affected breed, tend to develop valve disease earlier in life with a faster progression into congestive heart failure than the other small breed dogs. Congestive heart failure is the end-stage of cardiac disease, particularly degenerative valve disease and is characterized by the heart’s inability to circulate enough blood to meet the body’s demands. When the heart muscle becomes weakened, the health of other organs suffers, including that of the liver, kidneys, and lungs.
CHF can be caused by any disorder with the heart that decreases its ablitity to pump blood effectively, which causes the heart to pump faster and work harder; this eventually causes the heart to enlarge, forcing the heart’s internal chamber capacity to decrease, which means less blood can be pumped out. This entire consequence is cyclic, again causing the heart to work harder and continue to enlarge. As the heart becomes less and less efficient, fluid can back up into the lungs or into the liver and abdomen. This is the hallmark of congestive heart failure.
A pet with congestive heart failure can continue to function normally for months, even years, without exhibiting any outward signs of something being wrong; therefore, it can be difficult for an owner to tell that a serious cardiovascular condition exists.
Early signs of congestive heart failure:
· Bloating or distended abdomen.
· Coughing during increased activity.
· Decreased activity level.
· Easily tiring.
· Lack of appetite.
· Pacing and restlessness before bed.
· Rapid breathing, even at rest.
· Unexplained weight loss.
Diagnosis of congestive heart failure
Identifying the cause of congestive heart failure is often an involved process. Diagnosis begins with a full physical examination, during which the veterinarian can find key indicators of congestive heart failure, including a heart murmur, an increased respiratory rate, a scratchy sound in the lungs when breathing, or a subdued sounding heartbeat. Following the physical, there are several tests the veterinarian may perform:
· X-rays – can depict fluid build-up in the abdomen or lungs. Can also show an enlarged heart.
· Blood pressure measurement
· Echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) – allows the veterinarian to visualize valvular deformities, cardiac muscle-wall thickening, and valvular leakage.
· Electrocardiogram – measures electric impulses of the heart.
Depending on specific indicators, other tests can be performed, including heartworm tests in dogs and feline leukemia virus tests in cats. The veterinarian will determine which tests your pet needs based upon the results of their physical exam.
Treating congestive heart failure
There is no cure for congestive heart failure, and the ability to treat your pet’s symptoms depends on the severity and underlying cause of heart failure. The goal of treatment is to enable a pet’s body to compensate for its enlarged heart, thus preventing further damage. Most often, CHF is treated on an out-patient basis unless breathing is extremely difficult, in which case a pet may need to be placed on oxygen therapy and monitored continuously by a veterinarian. Respiratory distress is considered a critical emergency, so if you notice your pet having trouble breathing, especially if you notice the gums or tongue turning a purple/blue/grey color then please seek veterinary attention immediately.
There are several medications that might be prescribed to help improve a pet’s quality of life once he has been diagnosed with heart disease or heart failure. Depending on the amount of fluid in the chest or abdomen, a diuretic may be necessary to aid with drying out the bodily tissues. Alongside a diuretic, various vasodilators can improve blood flow, while other drugs can improve the strength of the heart. Prescriptions are written on an individual basis, and the veterinarian will determine which medications are best for your pet’s needs. Usually it is beneficial for all CHF sufferers to limit their sodium intake, as sodium helps determine the amount of water in the blood vessels and body tissues, and drying up excess fluids is beneficial for CHF sufferers. Most commercial dog foods contain an appropriate amount of sodium for cardiac patients, but please consult the veterinarian about an appropriate diet for your pet’s needs. You should also limit any fatty or salty treats that your pet may be eating.
If you have any questions about congestive heart failure or would like to discuss any health concerns with our staff, contact our office today.