If your dog is lethargic and seems unable to perform normal exercise, these could be signs of congestive heart failure. However, plenty of dogs may seem lethargic or low-energy for an almost endless list of other reasons. So how can you tell dogs with congestive heart failure signs from those without?
Congestive Heart Failure Signs
The signs of congestive heart failure in dogs can be subtle—intolerance of exercise, excessive panting and labored breathing, and coughing. Sometimes those signs are missed until the condition is more severe.
Because the signs are subtle, a yearly check up for your dog is in order to ensure that problems are picked up long before they become severe. The early signs often include a heart murmur, an issue that results from leaky valves. Not all leaky valve conditions will lead to congestive heart failure, but if you catch the heart murmur early, you’ll be prepared to watch for more signs and to get your dog treatment early on. A leaky valve allows blood to flow backward to the heart, and when the heart can’t function properly, fluid begins to accumulate in the lungs and other parts of the dog’s body.
Besides degenerative valves, other causes may be implicated in congestive heart failure including heartworm infestation, heart disease (cardiomyopathy), or a defect of the heart.
In congestive heart failure, the dog’s heart doesn’t function as it should, which leads to the dog’s body retaining too much water and salt, and this fluid has an impact on the lungs. The heart is a pump, and if there is a failure with a pump, then there is a fluid accumulation.
The disease often occurs during the degeneration of heart valves, which is a condition that may be more common in older, smaller dogs.
Your veterinarian can perform a physical exam including electrocardiogram and x-rays to determine if your dog has congestive heart failure. Or you may be referred to a pet cardiologist who can perform an echocardiogram, or an ultrasound of the heart.
Treatment for Congestive Heart Failure in DOgs
Dogs are successfully treated for congestive heart failure in several ways: first, through diet. Dogs with congestive heart failure should be fed a low sodium (low salt) diet. Specific diets have been formulated for dogs with congestive heart failure. Your veterinarian will be able to explain how to feed the new diet.
Medication including diuretics can help the dog expel the extra fluid, which reduces the load on the heart and other organs. Dilating medications can dilate the arteries or veins to relieve some of the fluid congestion on the heart. Digoxin is a medication that helps the heart beat more regularly.
Prognosis for the dog depends on early diagnosis and when the treatment can start. Untreated dogs have expectedly shorter life spans; whereas treated dogs can live several more years.
More on Pet Heart Care
Heart Disease in Dogs and Cats
Nutrition for Cats and Dogs with Heart Disease
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.