You know that your dog has a big heart. It’s one of the many reasons you love them so much. But sometimes, just like in people, heart disease can set in, which leads to congestive heart failure. Congestive heart failure in dogs occurs when one or both sides of the heart are damaged, making it difficult for the heart to pump blood to the different areas of the body. Knowing that there’s something wrong with one of your dog’s most important organs can be scary, but it’s important to understand that there are treatments available that can help keep your dog with you for a very long time to come.
Genetics can play a role in congestive heart failure, especially of the dog was born with a heart defect. Most often however, this disease is a sign of infection, injury, or just simple old age.
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Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs
The symptoms of congestive heart failure can be broken down into two different types: those that will be present with the onset of the disease, and those that will develop as the disease worsens.
- Excessive coughing, especially during or after exercise and starting several hours before bedtime
- Difficulty breathing or exercising
- Tires easily
- Being unable to settle down, such as pacing in front of their bed before sleeping
- The stomach area may appear swollen due to the buildup of fluid in the lungs and other organs
- Collapsing due to a lack of blood flow to the brain
- Discoloration of the tongue and gum due to the fact that they’re not getting enough oxygen flow (usually a bluish-gray)
- Weight loss
Diagnosing Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs
Of course, just like any time you take your dog to the vet, they’ll perform some routine work and ask general questions. These will include what the dog has been eating and if they’re currently on any medication. With congestive heart failure, the vet will be particularly concerned with heartworm medication. This is because if the dog isn’t currently on any, they are not being protected against heartworms, which will make congestive heart failure an even greater possibility.
In addition to asking these questions and getting your dog’s medical history, there are standard tests that will also be performed to check for congestive heart failure in your dog. These will include:
- Blood and urine tests. While these might not necessarily indicate congestive heart failure, they will tell your vet if there’s another problem that’s affecting your dog’s heart and possibly making it look like congestive heart failure.
- Chest x-rays. These will allow your vet to look at the lungs and see if there’s any fluid buildup in them.
- EKG test: This is a test that focuses on the heart. After having electrodes placed on them, especially around their heart area and possibly on one leg, this EKG will measure the electrical signals your dog’s heart is sending out. By analyzing these signals, your vet will be able to determine if the heart is beating regularly and if the heart rate rhythm is normal.
- Ultrasound test: This too will look directly at the heart, this time focusing on the size, shape, and movement it’s making.
- Heartworm test. Heartworms are very serious parasites that can greatly interfere with your dog’s heart health. A simple test can indicate whether heartworms are present and if so, this is likely to be the cause of your dog’s heart problems.
Treating Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs
The treatment for congestive heart failure will be a combination of medication and lifestyle changes, although surgery is sometimes a very real possibility.
Medications are often enough to help with congestive heart failure. If your dog has an irregular heartbeat, these will help correct it, and other medications can help slow the buildup of fluid collecting in the lungs. If heartworms are the cause of your dog’s heart disease, they’ll first have to be eliminated through aggressive medications, and then heartworm preventative medication will be given to keep them from coming back. It’s important to know that if your dog is put on medication for congestive heart failure, it’s likely a regiment they’ll have to follow for the rest of their lives.
In addition to medication, your vet may also want to start your dog on supplements. Vitamin B has shown to be very effective in helping dogs with congestive heart failure. Taurine and carnitine, which are both amino acids, may also be recommended. Antioxidants such as Coenzyme Q and vitamin E will also fight free radicals in your dog’s system, which will in turn help the overall oxidization of the dog’s system.
If the congestive heart failure is due to a torn valve, or a valve has simply become damaged due to the heart disease, surgery will be required in order to repair the valve. Pacemakers have also proven to be very effective with dogs and so, your vet may want to perform surgery to put one in and help your dog’s heart.
Just like in people, when a dog is suffering from congestive heart failure their lifestyle will need to be changed slightly. This could include giving your dog a diet that’s lower in fat so there is less to constrict the heart and arteries, as well as giving your dog a low-sodium diet so that excess salt does not retain moisture in your dog’s body, exacerbating the problem of the buildup of fluids.
Exercise is still important for dogs that have congestive heart failure, but you need to remember to take it slow with them, or slow them down when their play is becoming a bit too rambunctious. Light, low-impact exercise will make sure your dog is still getting the exercise they need to stay healthy, but it should never be more than that. If your dog ever seems weak while playing or exercising, or they collapse, it’s important that you call your vet immediately.
Early detection is one of the biggest factors when it comes to diagnosing and treating congestive heart failure in dogs. Always keep an eye on your dog, especially as they get older, and look for the symptoms that could indicate heart disease. The sooner your dog gets to a vet and gets the help they need, the better the chances of their quality of living being improved for a long time to come.