Everything you need to know about heart failure in dogs

April 13, 2012

What would you feel if the dog you have taken to the vet for a case of dry cough would be diagnosed to have an advanced stage of heart failure? Most dog owners would dread the word cancer coming out of the vet’s mouth but wouldn’t the pet’s heart failure deliver the same anxiety and hopelessness especially if the heart failure pronouncement is tagged with a not too good prognosis? Dogs are considered as part of the family. People that live alone consider the dog as the child they never had. These well loved pets are provided with all their needs and more. This is why it would be very frustrating to know that the pet is seriously sick. In spite of all the care and the precautionary measures pet dogs still do get sick. The only thing a pet parent can do is to know everything about the condition. If the dog cannot be saved, at least the pet parent has done everything to make the pet comfortable.

The heart has the vital role of pumping oxygen-carrying blood to all the cells of the body. To be able to perform this function, a heart has to beat constantly. A heart that ceases to beat would naturally result to death. Heart failure will occur when a heart disease prevents the heart from performing its functions. The heart’s blood pumping efficiency will be reduced if the walls of the chambers of the heart thicken. On the other hand, walls that are stretched thinner will result to the enlargement of the heart. An enlarged heart will cause the left chamber to pump less efficiently thus the heart will have to pump harder to compensate for the shortage.

The heart disease can be congenital or developed. The dog may be born with an abnormality in the structure of the heart like a hole or a blood vessel positioned the wrong way. The heart’s failure to deliver sufficient amount of oxygenated blood to all the cells of the body can be associated with an underlying disease that is not present when the dog was born. Non-congenital heart diseases commonly develop in middle aged obese dogs. The muscular walls of the heart are weakened or the valves of the heart would not close as they normally should so that irregular blood flow will occur. Bacterial infections that affect the interior lining of the heart, heartworm infestation, tumors of the heart are some of the conditions that cause the abnormal pumping of the heart. Unfortunately, heart failure symptoms are subtle. A dog with a heart condition can be its normal self for months and even years as long as the heart can still compensate for the deficiency in its functions. A heart that works harder will get more damaged. As the disease progresses, the dog will be plagued with dry hacking cough, sluggishness and breathing difficulties. The quality of life will be affected as the once energetic pet will tire easily even with mild exertion. The dog will lose weight due to inappetance. Fainting is a sign that the heart condition of the dog is already in an advanced stage.

Electrocardiogram is the main method used in diagnosing heart abnormalities. X-rays and ultrasounds are also done. Heart failure is a progressive disease. While there is no guaranteed treatment for heart failure early detection of the heart condition would mean better prognosis. Treatment for canine heart failure is almost the same with the treatment for heart failure in humans. Activity restrictions, low sodium diet, administration of diuretics, drugs that will normalize slow or fast heartbeats are some of the management for dogs with heart diseases. Surgery to correct heart abnormalities is now common in dogs. Heart failure will require lifelong treatment but dog owners would do anything possible to have the pet for a long time.

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