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Dogs with Congestive Heart Failure

Dogs can have heart problems just as we can and knowing what symptoms to look out for may be the difference between life and death. Heart disease might take years to progress and the symptoms are not always obvious unless you are looking for it, especially if your dog is already in his senior years and showing symptoms of aging too. Heart disease might affect just one side of the heart or both and eventually leads to congestive heart failure where the heart now faces serious difficulty in pumping blood around his body. Causes can include old age, infection, injury and sometimes there is a congenital disease or defect at play. Your dog's general health, weight and exercise routine also have an impact. We have outlined signs to look for here as well as the treatment options and outlook for your dog if diagnosis of these conditions is confirmed.


Symptoms Revealing Your Dog has Heart Problems

Congestive heart failure happens when the heart is not able to pump enough blood around the body and which leads to pressure rising and fluids. The fluid then leaks out into another internal organ like the lungs. This is caused by congestive heart disease. That fluid around the lungs or in the lungs gets in the way of oxygen moving into the blood stream. This can lead to the following symptoms. If your dog has a combination of any of the following symptoms take him to your vet for a check up.

Easily getting tired

Breathing is labored

Exercising is too hard for him

Coughing a lot especially before bedtime or after exercise

Fluid buildup causing his stomach to swell

Fainting (due to his brain not getting enough blood flow)

Pacing and restlessness before bed

Not able to settle down easily

Tongue or gum color looking blueish or gray because of not enough oxygen

Loosing weight as he is unable to store healthy fat anymore

How a Confirmed Diagnosis is Reached

When you take your dog to the vet they will discuss with you his medical history and what it is you have been observing that has you concerned. He or she will likely question you about other behaviors or symptoms, any medications he is taking, if he uses heartworm protection and what kind of diet and exercise regime he has. A physical check up will be done on your dog and some tests will be needed that might include doing a urine and blood test, listening to his chest, doing chest x-rays, an EKG to check how fast the heart is beating and if it has a healthy rhythm, an ultrasound to look at the size and shape of the heart and a heartworm antigen test.

Treating Dogs with Congestive Heart Disease

Treatment for the heart failure depends on the heart disease causing it and how severe the heart failure is. First of all they will focus on reducing that fluid buildup and increase how much blood is pumped to the lungs and then around the body. This will help improve you dog's quality of life and also help extend it. There are several supplements, special diets and medications that combined can help achieve this.

Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor or ACE is a medication often used in dogs and cats with congestive heart failure. Another group of drugs used to control the fluid are Diuretics which move excessive fluid. Common types of diuretics are loop, thiazide and potassium-sparing. Your vet will decide which ones your dog needs and in what combinations. To dilate the blood vessels and reduce the pressure on the heart so that it can pump easier a group of drugs called vasodilators may also be used though ACE inhibitors also have similar effects. Finally positive inotropes may be given depending on the situation if your dog needs help increasing the force at which his heart is beating.

As well as giving your dog a number of medications there are other things that can be done to help prevent further deterioration or even help improve his condition. His diet is going to be a big factor. Your vet will probably give you special food and a diet to follow and make sure you follow his advice. It is very important that your dog limits the salt he is eating for example. Another factor is how much exercise he gets. He still needs to have some but it needs to be restricted and supervised. Overexertion could potentially kill a dog with congestive heart failure even if he is on medication.

See other articles on this site for tips on changing diet, treats to avoid and how to give medications especially pills to your dog!

Your Role at Home

It is important to have regular visits to the vet so that they can check medication levels and talk with you if you have any concerns. With treatment, regular check ups and the proper care at home your dog can live a longer life and certainly have it be a lot more comfortable. Be prepared to dedicate some time to caring for your dog when they first come home and being more aware of him from now on in terms of food and exercise, giving medication and watching for any signs of distress coming back.

You will probably have to make some adjustments as you go and always follow your vet's instructions when it comes to administering his medications and keep those appointments do not cancel them. Your role in seeing that your dog manages his condition as best as possible is crucial. You need to observe how he responds to treatment so that when the vet asks you can answer. It might help to keep a notebook you can write down those observations in.