Congestive Heart Failure in Dogs
Veterinarian Reviewed on February 2, 2013 by Dr. Janice Huntingford
Congestive heart failure (CHF) is common in dogs. Small breed dogs such as poodles, Yorkshire terriers and ShihTzu tend to suffer from chronic valvular disease and this leads to congestive heart failure. In large breed dogs, the problem is generally with the heart muscle and is actually called cardiomyopathy. With congestive heart failure the heart is not able to pump efficiently so the rest of the body suffers because of the heart’s weakness.
Many times the first indication that there is something wrong with the heart is a murmur that is picked up by a veterinarian at a regular check up. Early signs of CHF can include intermittent coughing that is worse at night, tiring easily (especially after exercise), and decreased activity. As the disease progresses, the dog may have weight loss, lack of appetite, constant coughing, a swollen abdomen and rapid breathing.
Because the heart is not pumping the blood forward there is a back up of the blood in the vessels. If the left side of the heart is involved then the fluid back up leaks into the lungs and pulmonary edema results in coughing. If the right side of the heart is involved , then the fluid back up is in the liver and the abdomen swells. This is called ascites. Sometimes the legs swell too. Pleural effusion –which is fluid between the lungs and the chest wall can also occur.
Dogs suffering from severe CHF have laboured breathing, a rapid thready pulse, bluish mucous membranes, weakness, and sometime fainting. They tend to lay or sit with their heads extended and their mouths open. If you feel the chest wall you can feel the heart buzzing.
CHF is diagnosed with radiographs, cardiac ultrasound, electrocardiograms and other tests. Many times a referral to a veterinary cardiologist ( a dog heart specialist ) is required.
Treatments consist of restricting exercise, restricting dietary salt and using medications, drugs or herbs to help the heart work better.There are some holistic supplements that can be given to strengthen and support the heart . Some that I commonly recommend are Coenzyme Q 10, Omega 3 fatty acids, L-Carnitine and Taurine. These supplements are all very safe. Acupuncture can also help the heart to increase the strength of contraction and can be used for any heart condition. Chinese and western herbs should be used with caution as these may interfere with conventional medication. Only an integrative veterinarian who understands conventional medication and herbals should prescribe both together.
One herbal that has been used as a single herb for heart problems is Hawthorne ( berry and leaf). It works best for congestive problems and not cardiomyopathy. On its own, it is not strong enough to treat severe congestive heart issues, but it can support a failing heart. PetWellbeing.com carries a combination herbal called Young at Heart — link is http://www.petwellbeing.com/products/dog-heart-disease. It should not be used along with conventional medication unless okayed by your veterinarian but can be used for support for a dog with a heart murmur, or undergoing heartworm treatment.
HAS YOUR DOG SUFFERED FROM THIS CONDITION??
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Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan