You might be wondering – what is congestive heart failure in dogs and how come your pet has it?
Few pet owners know that heart disease is very common in dogs. According to statistics, about 10% of all dogs in the United States have some form of heart disease. Congestive heart failure, in particular, is a condition wherein the heart is unable to pump a sufficient amount of blood. It is much more common among certain breeds, such as Pomeranian, Pekingese, Chihuahua, and Fox Terrier, but it can happen in any breed. It is not considered a disease, rather a condition which can be managed through medical intervention and improve your pet’s lifestyle.
Congestive Heart Failure: What Every Dog Owner Should Know
Congestive heart failure in dogs has many possible causes. Some dogs have heart abnormalities at birth (often hereditary) while others develop this condition over time due to infection or injury. Also, poor diet and lack of exercise may also increase a dog’s risk of such condition. Among dogs with hereditary congestive heart failure, symptoms may not show until later in life.
Congestive heart failure either affects the right or left the side of the heart. In the case of right-sided CHF, instead of blood going through the lungs for oxygenation, some leaks through the tricuspid valve, going back to the systemic circulation, causing fluid to accumulate in the abdomen. The left-sided congestive heart failure, on the other hand, happens when some blood leaks through the mitral valve and goes back up to the lungs. This results in a condition called ‘pulmonary edema.’ A dog with this type of CHF normally exhibits severe coughing and difficulty breathing.
Symptoms to Watch Out
Proper treatment and management of congestive heart failure in dogs start by knowing the symptoms. The sooner you find out that your pooch has it, the better. During the early phase of congestive heart failure, your dog may exhibit the following symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing
- Tiredness (your dog gets tired too easily)
As the condition progresses, your dog may experience more severe symptoms like:
- Swollen stomach (because his heart is unable to pump blood efficiently, this causes an increase in pressure and fluid that could leak into his stomach)
- Lack of appetite
- Breathing difficulties
- Extreme weight loss
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
It is indeed heartbreaking to find out that your pet has congestive heart failure and to know that it actually doesn’t have a cure. But don’t lose hope. With early diagnosis and treatment, your dog will most likely have a happy and normal life.
Aside from defects in the heart valves, congestive heart failure in dogs may also result from other causes. This includes increased blood pressure, infection in the heart valves, tumors, heartworm disease, and pregnancy.
Learning about the risk factors of congestive heart failure in dogs will undoubtedly help you make proactive measures and necessary lifestyle changes for your pet.
Age and Size
A major risk factor for CHF in dogs is age. Senior dogs (16 years and above) are more likely to develop the condition over younger ones. Furthermore, large dogs such as Golden Retrievers, Labradors and Dobermans are more likely to develop heart failure because of their risk of dilated cardiomyopathy. This condition is characterized by expanded heart chambers and thinned heart walls. These reduce circulation and slow contractions of the heart.
Periodontal Disease/Gum Infection
Gum infections and tooth problems are known to increase the risk of heart disease, particularly the inflammation of the valves. Taking your pet for regular dental cleaning and checks help prevent the onset of heart disease.
Presence of Heartworms
Heartworms are much more common in dogs than cats and ferrets. These parasites enter the body through mosquito bites. If not treated, heartworms can cause congestive heart failure in dogs over time. A proper heartworm prevention plan is necessary to prevent extra costs.
While soft heart murmurs are not a problem, they worsen over time, which could lead to congestive heart failure. A heart murmur is a disturbance in the blood flow through the heart, causing some blood leaks back to the heart chamber. If heart murmurs are found in your dog during a medical test, you might be advised to give your pet medications.
Lifestyle and Diet
Your dog’s diet and lifestyle are two major factors that can determine his likelihood of developing congestive heart failure. Dogs that have nutritional deficiencies (particularly taurine and amino acid), are into a high-salt diet, and are obese are at risk of CHF. Too many fats in dogs can hinder the heart’s ability to pump blood, causing heart disease.
How to Take Care of a Dog with CHF
Dogs with congestive heart failure require more love and attention so they can get through the debilitating symptoms and live a happy life. Here are the best things you can do:
Seek medical help immediately
Treatment for congestive heart failure in dogs will depend on its cause. But as mentioned, no medical procedure can undo or reverse this condition. Usually, the goal of the treatment is to reduce the buildup of fluids and increase the heart’s efficiency at pumping blood to all parts of the body, particularly to the brain. There are different prescription medications available to help manage congestive heart failure in dogs. Surgery may also be carried out, usually to insert a pacemaker in the animal’s heart to correct its heartbeat. Some medical procedures are expensive that’s why many get personal loans online for pet surgery costs.
Get your dog tested
If you suspect that your dog has a heart problem, you should get him tested right away. Don’t wait until your pet exhibit the late signs and symptoms of the condition before acting on it. Heart problems in dogs can be diagnosed through different tests and procedures. These include blood and urine tests, X-rays, and by simply listening to the dog’s heartbeat. Your vet may also conduct an electrocardiogram (ECG) test which measures the heart rate and rhythm in detecting any abnormality. Relying on the symptoms alone is not enough. These tests should be able to help you and your vet determine the best form of treatment for your pet’s condition.
Know your options
Your veterinarian should be able to provide your dog with the most suitable treatment for his condition. Prescription medications for congestive heart failure vary. There are the so-called diuretics which help reduce fluid build-up in his stomach, ACE inhibitors and inodilators that relieve constricted blood vessels. Your dog may also be given oxygen therapy. Take note that all these treatments are designed to improve your dog’s quality of life.
Keep an eye on your dog’s lifestyle
Dogs with congestive heart failure will certainly have several limitations. For example, they may be unable to engage in too many physical activities. They also require a special diet. Ask your veterinarian about the food, supplements, exercises and other lifestyle additions you can give to your dog. Their blood pressure and heart rate should also be monitored regularly. It is crucial to bring your pet to regular veterinary visit to keep track of his health.
Change his diet
If your dog’s diet isn’t healthy, it’s time to change it. The diet plan for dogs with congestive heart failure is similar to that of dogs with other types of heart disease. When creating a diet plan, always focus on maintaining or achieving the ideal body weight of your dog. Muscle wasting is very common in dogs with heart disease. It happens when muscles are broken down even before the body burns fats. Muscle wasting leads to poor immune function and reduced strength. Sodium restriction is also crucial in the diet plan. You may need to eliminate commercial pet treats and food. They are usually high in salt and replace them with fresh vegetables and lean meat.
Can Your Dog Survive Congestive Heart Failure?
Congestive heart failure is something that cannot be reversed. However, it can be managed to promote a longer and better quality of life. The most important thing is early detection. Do not wait until your pet shows the late signs of congestive heart failure. Taking him to the vet for regular checkups are crucial. There are varying tests and treatments for this condition, and your vet might use a combination of these as part of your pet’s health management program.
Your pet’s survival, happiness and overall quality of life are highly dependent on you. Taking the necessary measures to manage congestive heart failure in your pet will ensure that he lives a wonderful life with you.
About the Author
Lidia Staron has been working as a writer, editor and literary coach for 5 years. She contributes articles about the role of finance in the strategic-planning and decision-making process.