Jesse commented that she thought her dog may be showing signs of congestive heart failure. Her friend Sara asked about the symptoms. She described a dog that was lethargic and showing an inability to cope with exercise. Sara noted that if those were the only signs, all of her lazy, fat dogs would be candidates for congestive heart failure.
Congestive Heart Failure Signs
The signs 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 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. The leaky valve condition allows blood to flow backward to the heart. Then the heart can’t function properly, and 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 muscle 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, the fluid having impact on his 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 will perform a physical exam including electrocardiogram and x-rays to determine if he has congestive heart failure.
Treatment for Congestive Heart Failure
Dogs are successfully treated for congestive heart failure by 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 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 medication helps the heart beat more regularly.
Prognosis for the dog depends on the treatment for the dog. Untreated dogs have expectedly shorter life spans; whereas treated dogs can live several more years.