Canine congestive heart failure
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Canine congestive heart failure

Dogs
Health & Safety

Canine congestive heart failure is a condition of the heart that is caused by heart disease, a condition that in itself can come about for a wide variety of reasons. Congestive heart failure is often a very slow condition to develop, and may worsen very gradually over the course of several years before you even realise that something is amiss with your dog.

The condition develops when another problem with the heart causes a gradual failure of the heart muscle, causing problems in being able to pump and circulate blood around the body properly. Sometimes, the condition will affect just one side of the heart alone, but it may affect both sides simultaneously.

Congestive heart failure is one of the most common causes of death in old age for dogs, second only to cancer in the list of known conditions. Knowing that your dog is suffering from heart problems can of course be very concerning, however, with proper diagnosis and management, your dog may well be able to live into old age in good health once the condition is brought under control.

If you are concerned about your dog’s heart health or just want to check that you know the signs and symptoms to look out for, we will look at these factors in more detail within this article.

Why does congestive heart failure occur?

A whole host of underlying problems can cause congestive heart failure, and the condition occurs due to the development of an initial problem with the heart that affects its function. Hereditary conditions, infections, damage to the heart muscles and birth defects can all lead to the development of congestive heart failure in later life.

Signs and symptoms

It is wise to learn about the core symptoms of congestive heart failure in the dog, as it is of course not always easy to recognise when there is something wrong with one of your dog’s internal organs! The most common symptoms of congestive heart failure in the dog include:

  • Lethargy, weakness and a reluctance to exercise.
  • Shallow or laboured breathing that is not connected to exertion.
  • A taut, hard abdomen.
  • A soft cough that does not go away, and that worsens with exercise.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Pale, grey or discoloured gums.
  • Swollen paws that are not caused due to an injury.
  • Showing signs of discomfort or agitation when settling down to rest.

How is congestive heart failure diagnosed?

When you take your dog along to the vet, they will give your dog a full physical examination, find out about the symptoms you have noticed at home, and examine your dog’s clinical history. In order to confirm their suspicions, they will also need to run some tests, which may include:

  • X-rays of the chest.
  • Blood tests.
  • Ultrasound examination of the chest.
  • EKG testing.

Can congestive heart failure be cured or treated?

After your vet confirms the diagnosis of congestive heart failure, they have a range of different treatment options available to manage the condition. Congestive heart failure cannot usually be cured or reversed, but in some cases where surgery is viable and decided upon as the best course of action, this can greatly ease the underlying problem.

Some of the most common methods of treatment for canine congestive heart failure include:

  • Medicines to regulate an irregular heartbeat, and support the heart muscle.
  • Medicines to clear any fluid build-up in the chest cavity, which may accompany the condition.
  • A special low fat prescription diet.
  • Surgical correction of torn valves in the heart.
  • Surgical insertion of a pacemaker to regulate the heartbeat.
  • An exercise and feeding regime aimed to keep the dog fit while not causing more strain on the heart.

Taking care of your dog after diagnosis

Weight problems and general poor fitness can not only make congestive heart failure worse, but can actually help to lead to the condition occurring in the first place. It is important to review your dog’s feeding and exercise regime to bring them down to a healthy weight, and continue to monitor their weight and body fat on an ongoing basis to avoid placing additional pressure on the already compromised heart.

If your dog is prescribed medications for the condition it is vitally important that you administer them in accordance with your vet’s guidelines, and do not stop or change their medications without speaking to your vet first.

Obviously, it is important that you do not underestimate the seriousness of heart problems, and always consider the issue when making plans for your dog and even when out on your day to day walks. However, after diagnosis, your dog’s condition will usually be manageable on an outpatient basis, and it is entirely possible that with the right medications or surgical treatment, your dog will live for many more years while retaining a good quality of life.

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