Published on May 28th, 2017 | by Debbie Martin
Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs
In humans, heart disease is biggest killer in the western world. In the canine world, congestive heart failure in dogs, is similarly deadly. If you own a dog, it may be the case that you are concerned about the possibility that they might suffer from the condition.
What is congestive heart failure?
Congestive heart failure is the sort of heart failure most of us imagine when we hear about a heart not working properly; it occurs when an animal’s heart can no longer adequately pump blood around the body, thus resulting in ‘congestion’. The consequences of this are obviously severe. It occurs in every dog, though some are likelier to suffer from it than others.
There are many causes of congestive heart failure among dogs. But perhaps the biggest contributing factor is to be found in the dog’s genetics. Some animals are genetically predisposed to suffer from a variety of health problems, with heart problems among them. Unfortunately, there is little that can be done about this and so efforts to reduce the chance that your dog suffers from congestive heart failure must lie in the others.
Environmental factors like injury and old age can also increase the likelihood that a dog will suffer from heart trouble. But the main cause of heart trouble lies in diet and exercise – or a lack thereof. We all know that we can protect ourselves against health problems through changes in the quantity and quality of food we eat and exercise we do. The same, too, is true of dogs.
With these causes in mind, dog owners should keep an eye out for a number of symptoms which might indicate that a dog is likely to suffer problems with their heart. But what are they?
If your dog becomes extremely tired after only a moderate amount of exercise, then this would strongly indicate that they are likely to suffer from heart problems.
If you notice that your dog is coughing excessively, then this may be taken as a sign of possible heart failure. This coughing typically takes place shortly after exercise, or shortly before bedtime and is the result of a build-up of fluid in the lungs brought about by the condition.
Dogs whose hearts cannot adequately pump blood to the brain may faint.
Dogs suffering from heart failure will lose the ability to store fat and so their weight will drop.
What can be done?
The first thing you should do if you suspect that your dog may be suffering from heart problems is to take it to a vet for a proper examination. It is important that this is done at the earliest possible opportunity, so that the disease is not allowed to progress to levels. The longer you leave it, the worse things will get.
You should explain the symptoms you’ve noticed to your vet. The diet will be of particular importance, as will be any medication the dog is already on. The dog’s heartbeat will be listened to, before a number of other tests are performed. Blood and urine tests will be undertaken to check for other factors which might have contributed to the dog’s condition. X-rays, ultrasound scans and EKG readings will also be taken. The vet will be keen to eliminate the possibility of heartworm, which dogs can contract through mosquito bites.
Through a mixture these techniques, the vet will build a picture of your dog’s health. Once this is done, the vet may, depending on the dog, offer one of a range of possible treatments.
In some cases, medication may be appropriate, both to help the heart and to slow the build-up of fluid in the lungs. In others, it is sufficient to simply give your dog a diet lower in salt and to engage in a programme of limited exercise. In the case of the latter, it is important to be sensible – you want to keep your dog’s weight down without placing unnecessary burden on the heart.
There are certain circumstances in which more drastic measures may be necessary. In the case of torn valves in the heart, for example, surgery may be required. The same is true should an artificial pacemaker be required.
Heart disease is a very serious condition. If left unchecked, it can have severe and ultimately deadly consequences. However, given the right steps, the impact of congestive heart failure can be greatly reduced and the suffering dog can still lead a long fulfilling life.