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Congestive Heart Failure

General Information

Chronic congestive heart failure occurs when the heart does not pump enough blood to meet normal body needs.

Pets with congestive heart failure tire easily, are short of breath, and cough deeply, due to poor circulation through the lungs. They may actually lose weight, but the abdomen may become enlarged due to fluid accumulation. The legs may also be swollen and puffy. Often these patients faint or collapse after excitement or exertion, and the tongue appears bluish-gray.

Congestive heart failure can result from heart-valve disease, heartworm infection, or heart defects present at birth. The term "congestive" infers that fluid accumulation is occuring somewhere in the body due to fluid movement problems.

Though congestive heart failure cannot be cured, many patients can live a comfortable life with proper medical management.

Important Points in Treatment

1. Treatment is aimed at removing accumulated fluids, improving the heart's pumping efficiency, and decreasing the heart's workload.

2. Radiographs (x-rays) and electrocardiograms (EKG) are used to diagnose the condition and monitor the response to treatment. An echocardiogram is helpful to further define the problem but we cannot always get adequate echocardiograms at the hospital here.

3. Give all medication as directed. Call the doctor if you cannot give the medication. Many of these medications may be required for the rest of your pet's life. Contact the hospital for refils before you run out of any medication unless that medication is to be stopped.

4. Diet: A low-sodium diet is essential in controlling congestive heart failure. Feed your pet as follows:

5. Exercise: Follow the instructions checked.

____Allow normal activity.

____Restrict exercise as follows: _____________________________

6. Special instructions: _____________________________________
Notify the Doctor if Any of the Following Occur:

* Your pet continues to cough.

* Your pet's signs tend to worsen.

* Your pet passes out or has seizures.

* Your pet vomits or has diarrhea.

* Your pet refuses to eat the recommended diet.

Question and Answer

What is congestive heart failure?

Congestive heart failure (CHF) is the accumulation of fluid outside of the blood vessels that develops when the heart cannot pump blood effectively. This fluid can build up in the lungs (pulmonary edema), chest cavity (pleural effusion), abdominal cavity (ascites), and under the skin (subcutaneous edema).

What causes congestive heart failure?

Congestive heart failure is a malfunction caused by many underlying heart diseases. These include acquired diseases of the heart valves, congenital heart disease, abnormalities of the heart muscle (e.g., cardiomyopathy), heartworm disease, and pericardial effusion.

What are the signs of congestive heart failure?

Signs of CHF usually relate to the accumulation of fluid outside of the blood vessels. Fluid in the lungs and chest cavity make breathing difficult, so animals often have labored breathing (dyspnea). Coughing is a common sign of CHF in dogs and often occurs first at night. Coughing is rare in cats with CHF. Fluid build-up in the abdomen causes bloating. Poor appetite, loss of muscle mass, and poor tolerance of exercise are other common signs. Fainting episodes (syncope) can also occur. Sudden death is sometimes the first sign of heart disease.


How is congestive heart failure diagnosed ?

Your veterinarian may suspect CHF after examining your pet but will probably run several tests to confirm the diagnosis and underlying cause. An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) is performed to look for abnormalities in heart rhythm that often accompany heart failure. A chest radiograph (X-ray) is performed to check for fluid in the lungs and chest cavity and to evaluate the size and shape of the heart. In some patients, an echocardiogram (ultrasound study of the heart) is required to determine the cause of heart failure. Blood tests including a heartworm test and thyroid test (cats) are often performed before and after treatment.

How is congestive heart failure treated ?

Your veterinarian has many heart failure drugs to choose from. The drug chosen will vary depending on the underlying cause of the heart failure:

What is the prognosis for animals with congestive heart failure?

The prognosis varies with the underlying cause of heart failure. Some causes of heart failure can be cured such as heartworm disease and hyperthyroidism. Unfortunately, most forms of heart disease cannot be cured, but with treatment, most animals can have an improved quality of life. The cause of death is usually progressive heart failure or sudden death. Cats with heart failure are also at risk for sending blood clots to their hind limbs and becoming paralyzed.

The information on this page was obtained from the site www.vetmedcenter.com